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Hassler family continues tradition of dirt-track racing

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 | 6:56 p.m. CDT; updated 10:15 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Galen Hassler stands aside as his brother Thomas investigates a gear on the underside of the racer. The youngest of the Hassler brothers, Galen continues to compete in racing events.

COLUMBIA — As the Hassler brothers move effortlessly around the race car, working on it from all angles as a team, it is obvious racing runs in the family.

“Ever since I can remember, we’ve been going to races,” said Galen Hassler, 26, the youngest brother. “If it wasn’t to race, it was to watch.”

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Dale Hassler, who recently died, was the father of Brooke, Thomas and Galen. He ignited the family passion. His wife, Pamela, also shared their love of the "grass-roots" racing, as Galen described it.

“Racing has been part of all of our lives from day one,” said Brooke Hassler, 35. “(My dad) picked me up early from school one day to get the white Camaro lettered. That was a big deal for me.”

The boys grew up in Columbia but went to Hallsville for elementary through high school because their mom taught first through third grade there.

Brooke has a tattered photograph of himself at 11 days old sitting in his dad’s sprint race car. Dale owned sprint cars, though he never drove them himself. He raced late-model cars, also known as stock cars, after 1981.

The only stock car race Dale ever won was raced without brakes. He placed first in his heat after tilting the car on two wheels and breaking off 4 to 5 feet of brake line. He was able to start the final race at the pole and did not allow anyone to pass him for the entire race.

The three boys took to racing as they grew up, and two became drivers themselves.

“Dad’s rule was that we couldn’t race until we got our high school diplomas,” Galen said.

“He teased me with a Monte Carlo,” Brooke said. “I think he even raced it before I could.”

Brooke raced three days after his high school graduation but wrecked the Monte Carlo before Thomas was old enough to race it.

Brooke raced hornets, and Galen continues to race B-modified cars today. Thomas, 33, raced go-karts and builds hot rods on the side.

Each track has different rules, but regulations for cars on different tracks are fairly consistent:

  • A hornet is a four-cylinder front-wheel-drive car that is “off the street” with a few modifications such as a racing seat. Examples are Cavaliers and Escorts.
  • A modified car is a hybrid of an open-wheel car and a stock car. The rear wheels are covered with a fender, and the front wheels are in the open.
  • A sprint car is one of the fastest dirt-track race cars, weighing 1,500 pounds with open wheels and a large wing on the top of the car.
  • A late-model car, also called a stock car, in the early ’80s was a sports car. At the time, they were American-made V-8 cars with rear-wheel drive. Examples include Camaros and Firebirds.

From 1975 to 1979, Dale was the track promoter for the Missouri Sprint Nationals in Sedalia. Drivers from all over the nation came to race, including Doug Wolfgang, Steve Kinser and current NASCAR driver Ken Schrader.

“He was the one who knew all the contacts,” Galen said of his father.

At the time, the Missouri Sprint Nationals was competing with the Knoxville Nationals, one of the biggest dirt-track race events in the world.

“Racing was big in the 1960s and ’70s, but it needed more sanctioning and rules,” Brooke said.

That’s when Dale came in. He set up a race and gave it rules and prize money. Both Dale and Pamela were influential to dirt-track racing in Missouri during this time.

Ted Johnson, president of World of Outlaws, was Dale’s assistant at the Missouri Sprint Nationals.

World of Outlaws, a motorsports sanctioning body that endorses two national sprint car touring series, was described by the brothers as “NASCAR on dirt.”

“It’s the big-time, big-money races,” Brooke said.

Gary Scott, a sprint car racer in the ’70s and ’80s, often raced for Dale. In 1980, Scott bought Dale’s car and stopped racing for Dale.

At the Knoxville Nationals in 1981, Scott was killed in a racing accident when the seat belt of his sprint car malfunctioned. Dale decided to get out of racing shortly thereafter. He and Scott were good friends, and the accident had a significant impact on him.

“It was a big deal for Dad,” Brooke said. “We always had to get new seat belts every year.”

Galen waited a while after high school graduation to start racing. He bought his first car, a hornet, in 2007. Brooke Hassler had won a hornet championship in 2006, prompting Galen to get involved.

“I figured I could do it too,” Galensaid.

Galen worked for Joe Machens Ford for four years, which taught him a lot about car repair, a talent he now uses at his own business.

He opened Galen’s Paintless Dent Repair in June 2009, just after his first daughter was born. The shop does paintless dent repair, collision repair, auto body painting and custom bike and truck painting, and it is the only freehand pinstriper in Columbia.

It was a difficult decision for Galen to leave the comfort of Joe Machens Ford.

“It was time for me to do something different,” he said. “It was nerve-racking. I didn’t know what to expect.”

Galen is the only brother still racing and said he does so in memory of his dad. He races modified cars. Brooke said he would like to get back into the sport. He and Thomas help Galen set up his car before races, and they support Galen by going to the track.

“Brooke has experience driving, so he knows what to tell me,” Galen said. “He points me in the right direction.”

Despite the support from his brothers, Galen said his biggest supporter was always his dad. Dale bought Galen his first motor — of course, Galen had to pay him back.

“He wanted me to have the best of the best,” Galen said.

With the support from his dad, Galen was able to start racing with a better quality motor.

Galen met his wife, Danelle, at the racetrack. They dated later on and now have two daughters together. The racing tradition lives on in their children.

“I take them in the pit,” Galen said. “They will be involved in racing. My 2-year-old loves it.”

Brooke and Thomas also each have two daughters, all of whom have been involved in racing.

“They love it,” Thomas said about his two girls.

In 2007, the Hassler family took a trip to Greenwood, Neb., for Galen’s race at I-80 Speedway. He took seventh place out of 86 cars. The event brought in drivers from all over the nation.

Galen had wrecked his car the weekend before the race at I-80 Speedway, so the family had to pull together to get the car ready. All of the brothers look at this race as one of their most memorable family trips.

“It was just a family trip, and we happened to have racecars,” Brooke said.

Brooke also fondly remembers his championship run in 2006, the run that got Galen into driving.

“The most fun year was racing against Galen,” Brooke said.

Galen won Rookie of the Year at 24 Raceway in Moberly when he and Brooke raced together in 2007. Brooke took second place in points at the Moberly track that year, and Galen took third place.

Outside of racing, Dale was a hard worker. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service before serving in the Army as a postal worker. He owned and operated Dairy Queen stores and owned Mizzou BBQ for many years in the 1970s.

“He never forgot to come to ball games and whatever else we were involved in,” Galen said.

And the boys were always involved in something.


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