It takes a special person to make history happen. Especially in the competitive world of Sportsman Modified racing. Many drivers love the thrill of competing week in and week out, trying their best to earn as high a finish as possible given the resources at hand. But to be more than competitive, to be considered among the best in your area when the rules dictate that the cars are as evenly matched as possible, takes amazing amounts of hard work. It takes a level of dedication and a duty of care beyond what some others might put into their program. To get an edge, the devil is in the details, the things others might overlook or might not double check, the small things that add up to big differences at the end of the night.
|Patrick Miller Photography|
Ellwood City, PA native Chelsie Kriegisch has the mentality, focus and everything necessary to accomplish all that and then some, and in three years with the RUSH Sportsman Modifieds, has made herself a better driver in the face of increasing car counts and competition as the years have gone on. And indeed, has made history happen.
It all starts with the desire, but not necessarily the desire to win right off the bat. It's the desire that it takes t to make oneself a student of a new type of car, to learn everything that makes it do what it does and then to study and be honest with how she's driving and how she can improve. For Kriegisch, it started in Go Karts in and around Western, PA and beyond after catching the racing bug from her father.
"I have to thank my dad for that one," Kriegisch said. "He started in the Micro's and Sprints and had raced and every week we'd go and watch him race so I grew up around it and I'd always wanted to do it so we got a go kart and ran them for a few years I did pretty good with them."
And when it came to moving up to full sized cars, local Modified veteran Jerry Schaffer came up with the idea to try an idea with Kriegisch. The RUSH Sportsman Modified Series had just been created in 2014 and opportunities for drivers who'd always wanted to race but had not been able to find a way to race were now available. Schaffer put her in a car that first season where she would show clear signs that she had a natural ability to drive, despite the obvious struggles that every new driver experiences.
"The first time I got strapped in was in was actually at Sharon and I was so excited. I finally got to go out and I'd never had a practice or hot laps and we had transmission problems so I didn't actually get to run my first race for a while after that and it was a blast because my night actually ended in the feature and we were running fourth or fifth and the drive shaft broke with about five laps to go."
From the moment she found herself motivated to continue on a weekly basis, Kriegisch learned quickly what it would take to keep her car towards the front and maintained all season long. It's a process she actually enjoys and engages in, as she puts in the hours in the garage week in and week out.
|Patrick Miller Photography|
"For this off season, our stuff was pretty good so we stuck with a lot of it, and I go over other stuff like the starter and alternator, things like that which are still in pretty good shape and I double check things like that to make sure they're ready. We basically tear everything down and go over everything. I check the tires and go over every single bolt and I'm double checking to make sure everything is where it's supposed to be. And if it's a good night, and nothing got tore up, it's all good, and if not then it take more time working on it and giving myself the best car that I possibly can. So during the week, it's basically like another job and I take a lot of passion and pride in that. You can ask anybody else that's close to me, that car is my baby and I'm always shining it, I love a shiny race car too."
Kriegisch had what it took to make her car better each week, but learning to bring her driving to another level would take a whole new level of hard work, and perhaps that's what's helped separate her from the pack in her area. The commitment to learn what it takes to improve, driving a car she had never been in before, was at the center of what she was trying to accomplish, to become a standout driver within her division.
"I had never really been around a modified much so it was a brand new so it took a while to learn what the car did, and how it would react because I was so used to watching dad in a sprint car and this was a new opportunity. It was really a learning year that first year. I really got to learn how the car worked. Then in my second year we struggled. I'll be honest, it was frustrating as a driver because I tried everything I could to get it to acclimate my to driving style and I was trying to learn. And my dad was getting frustrated because he was doing everything in his power to get the car running for me. But with all that, you have to keep your composure. But my biggest thing that helped me in my second and then third year was video. It actually became my schoolwork. I study every single video I can watch and learn from myself. I'd watch video and learn every mistake I made, realize what I did wrong and know not to do it again. And then I'd watch big block videos and learned how those guys handled their cars. And it finally clicked, and more of my passion for them came though So for me, getting in that car this past season was like second nature. I was more able to read the track and know what to do setup wise. I could say to my dad, this is what I think the track is going to do by the feature, and here's what I want to do, and he tell me to go for it and it either worked out great, or we'd miss it slightly."
The hard work paid off. She went through struggles, a few spins while in contention for a podium finish, some hard luck, and even more learning experiences along the way. However she showed flashes of brilliance along the way that those who were paying attention could see every week. It was only a matter of time before it all came together.
Kriegisch's historic moment came on July 13, 2016 at the historic fairgrounds in Trumbull County, OH on a 5/8 mile oval known in the area as Expo Speedway during a RUSH touring event. She managed to hold off some of the top competitors in the area in winning her first feature event that evening. It was a win that tested her mettle under pressure too as the caution flag had appeared just three laps from the finish. Kriegisch pegged the restart and refused to be caught the rest of the way. It was the first time a female driver had ever won a Sportsman Modified touring event in any North East Modified sanctioning body.
"When I came out of four, I was never so excited in all my life. I was yelling, but I think my sister and my father were way more excited than I was. That was such an accomplishment."
Kriegisch was met in victory lane by her fellow driver and sister Jessica, and then a swarm of fellow drivers who climbed out of their cars to congratulate her on making history. Such displays are not uncommon within the RUSH weekly and touring series. It's a mix of drivers with a wide range, and a rather large segment of young adults, some still in high school, who often can be seen high fiving, hugging and congratulating the winner on any given night as if they were part of a team perhaps. It is a unique thing in racing these days, a sense of camaraderie and togetherness which Kriegisch has come to embrace over the years.
"The atmosphere that all the drivers have created has been phenomenal. All of us drivers, we range from all the different ages and genders. We all bring food to the track, we all feel like family. We always park together at every track we go to, even the new tracks we're always saving a spot for each other. We're always hanging out and talking and we're friends. Even on the track I've noticed that even though they are my competitors, they're my friends too. It's pretty incredible and normally you don't see that. I just love being at the track from the time I walk in, to the time I leave. I love the moment I strap in to my car and being with my family. "
|Patrick Miller Photo|
Another part of what makes Krigisch's story so unique, is her daytime occupation. She works with the elderly, preparing their dietary needs and creating delicious desserts and other baked goods to help make life better for the residents in her community. It is not a common occupation among drivers, one that takes pride, commitment and a duty of care, the same sorts that she puts into her racing program.
"I've worked my way up to being a baker and I love it and I enjoy it because I get to show my creative side,and I basically have free reign. And my favorite part is when I make something new and the residents try it and they like, and it feels good. It grew on me and I never thought it would. At first I was just a 17 year old trying to get a job, and now five years later, I'm still loving it."
Her residents even take an active interest in her on the track activities and were as almost as thrilled as she and her family were upon hearing of the history she'd made in 2016.
"I had promised the residents that my sister and I would bring our race cars to work so we did it one day and they came out and it was supposed to be only 30 minutes but it turned into two hours. It was a beautiful day out so we fired them up and I've never seen their faces light up like that before. It was cool, I won that race on a Wednesday, and on Thursday they knew. They always ask when our next race is and I got to tell them that I finally won. They're so awesome, they were actually proud for me and I took in the video to show them and they loved it."
Kriegisch will return in 2017, and if here progress through her first three years show anything, it is that she will continue doing the things that have helped her become one of the top drivers in her division, in her area. Her attention to detail and passion will dictate so. It is the passion that will take her places in 2017, and beyond.