JAMES KRAUSE La Crosse Tribune
High School Racing Association division action at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway in West Salem this summer will mean a little more for the Melrose-Mindoro High School competitors.
The Melrose-Mindoro School Board became the first in the state of Wisconsin to offer auto racing as a student sport after approval at its Feb. 28 meeting.
According to a March 7 HSRA press release, students who compete must be in good academic standing, show good sportsmanship and compete in a minimum of four HSRA events at an HSRA-sanctioned race track. to obtain a letter from the school district.
“HSRA is about getting new faces, new kids, new families involved in sports,” said HSRA Director Jonathan Eckelberg. “Not all students want to throw a ball or run. Some of them are mechanically inclined or interested in the automotive industry or at least interested in race cars. HSRA gives them a safe place to do it.”
Two of the best drivers in the division represent Melrose-Mindoro. Sophomore driver Mitchell Berg won the HSRA National and Wisconsin State championships last season. Another Melrose-Mindoro driver, Brayden Lockington, finished third in the national points and won the HSRA track championship from La Crosse Speedway.
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Berg, who represents his school in his HSRA-required paint scheme, relishes the opportunity to have his work recognized.
“With the amount of work we put into the cars, it’s nice to be recognized by the school,” Berg said. “I hope that many more children participate because it was a kind of dying sport. Now, things are changing, so more people are getting involved and that helps.”
Melrose-Mindoro Athletic Director Heather Young will serve as the school’s HSRA advisor. Young takes on the new role familiar with auto racing, as her husband, Michael, is part of the Onalaska-based late-model Jerimy Wagner team.
“Someone mentioned in casual conversation that we should make racing a lettered sport, since these are high school students running under the name Melrose-Mindoro,” Young said. “We recognize the trap shot and the rodeo, wouldn’t it be nice to recognize the racing as well?”
Young’s case for literacy in racing relates to the responsibilities children learn by competing in sports, in addition to gaining knowledge in technology and business.
“Careers teach auto mechanics, auto body repair and budgeting,” Young said. “I feel like this sport is not just getting in a car and driving around in circles. Teach these kids dedication. It takes a long time to build these race cars. It teaches them perseverance and communication skills too.”
Berg has competed in a variety of sports, including wrestling, soccer, and baseball. Since he started competing two years ago, he said the responsibility of managing his own career is what makes the sport stand out.
“It’s about responsibility,” Berg said. “I’m on my own. I have to set everything up, and it’s been a revelation.”
Eckelberg hopes the HSRA can reach out to more high schools to further expand the league and automotive programs across the state.
“We are really excited and thankful for Melrose-Mindoro and encourage other school districts to reach out to us,” Eckelberg said. “Let’s talk about what it means to have HSRA in your school district and offer these opportunities to students. We’re seeing a lot less interest, it seems, in schools for automotive programs. This is a great way to take those shows and try to drive that engagement.”
HSRA’s tentative schedule for 2022 includes a total of 20 events at four tracks in the state of Wisconsin. Along with La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway, races will be held at Dells Raceway Park in Lyndon, Madison International Speedway in Oregon and Tomah-Sparta Speedway in Tomah.