Sheri Berger rolled up to the pit on a plume of warm and dusty exhaust, popped off her helmet, unscrewed her drivers’ wheel, unlatched the multi-faceted seatbelt and hopped out the drivers’ side window in time to greet fans and sign autographs.
The Jetmore native competed at Dodge City Raceway Park on Driver Appreciation Night July 26 in front of 5,000 spectators. She placed 6th out of 12 racers in what raceway manager Tommie Estes calls "the heart of dirt track country."
At least 10 of those spectators were members of her family. One was even there for each of the 12 revolutions she completed around the course. On the hood of her car was a memorial for her nephew Clayton Klein, who died in a car wreck.
There are a lot of good memories for Berger and her family at both the old McCarty Speedway and Dodge City Raceway Park.
"My dad was the one who used to chase the ostriches off the track 30 years ago," she said.
Her mother, Janice Baca, started taking her to the races in 1975. But time flies, and now so does Berger, driven by a competitive spirit that, until recently, was satisfied as a spectator rather than a competitor in this sport.
What drove her over the starting line two years ago was a 1982 Monte Carlo turned hobby stock car her husband David gave her as a 47th birthday present.
Now Berger, a licensed practical nurse at the Dodge City VA Clinic, is one of only two female racers in her class. And she said she has been improving.
"The first year, I was the one getting lapped," she said. "But now, I’m getting there. I’ve got down the right drive pattern, I know when to brake and hit the gas, and I’m not afraid of the wall."
Estes said Sheri is a driver people look up to, especially young girls.
"It gets your heart pumping and shows that just because we’re women doesn’t mean we can’t do things," she said.
Racing is good for any gender and has no average age for drivers, Estes said.
"We’ve got to do something to get anybody who is fascinated or enticed by the sport out here to introduce them to the sport," Estes said. "They are the future of this sport."
Bloom resident and go-cart driver Isabella Holt, 9, and her four older sisters were among the crowd of kids asking for Berger’s autograph after the race.
When asked what exactly she found enjoyable about the sport, the youngest Holt shrugged shyly. Her sisters, however, whispered in her ear words like "adrenaline," "compete," and "fast."
Her introduction to the sport was as a stand-in driver for a go-cart that had been built for another young girl who raced it only once.
Holt’s father Ben recruited her because of her size. Now, it’s a family affair. She credited him as being the person who helps her with racing the most.
In a follow-up interview with the Daily Globe, Holt was still strapped into her go-cart, having just completed her own race when she said, decidedly, "I just like to ride."
The Dodge City Raceway is located at 11322 110 Rd., near the intersection of Highways 400 and 283
For more information about upcoming race dates and how to get involved call 620-225-3277, or go www.dodgecityraceway.com or visit the Dodge City Raceway Park social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
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