Chris Marek is currently second in the late model points standings at Elko Speedway, and he’s fighting for the best finish of his career.
Marek has seven championships at Elko, a 0.375-mile semi-banked asphalt oval track in Elko, Minnesota, four of which have come in the track’s Division I series. But in all those championships, the highest Marek has finished in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings is 18th.
With two NASCAR races remaining, Marek is 32nd in the national points, and has a goal of cutting that in half.
“I’d really like to get in the top 15 in points,” Marek said. “If we can get up into top 15 that would make it my best year. I think that would be a pretty big goal for us.”
Marek has been racing at Elko for 16 years, starting in the lowest hornets division and working his way up through the ranks.
His family has a long history at their home track, which is about four miles from his team’s race shop. Marek’s uncles raced there in the early ’80s, his grandparents sponsored cars, and his dad ran sportsman cars for a national ASA touring series.
Marek’s father-in-law also raced at Elko. While Marek didn’t technically meet his wife through racing, both his and her parents have known each other since high school and continued their friendship through racing.
“We met through family friends but I think it all kind of boiled down to the race track,” he said.”Pretty much all sides of my family have been out there for a long time racing and have been champions.”
The rule in Marek’s family growing up was that he couldn’t start racing until he was 16, putting him a bit behind others in the sport. As soon as he was able he was in the car, something he’d wanted to since since he was little.
“I kind of had tall dreams and didn’t really think that I would make it really far,” he said. “I was just a young kid who wanted to race go-karts and things like that. I kind of made the most of it, went out and found some sponsors and got going that way. With my dad putting his eggs in my basket and quitting the traveling series that helped me out a lot.”
He gained the nickname “Cruiser” from his dad’s racing days, and it’s stuck to this day.
Marek is in the only one in his family who still races, but he’s far from alone at the track. Races are a family event for him. Along with his dad, uncles, wife, and kid, his sister, her husband, and kids also enjoy racing, as do his in-laws.
The Marek’s own a family towing business, and have made sure to understand racing is just a hobby. They focus on mostly racing at Elko so the family doesn’t have to take too much time away from the office.
“When we leave it’s taking three out of the seven employees that we have out of the office to go racing,” Marek said. “So we try to make sure that we understand that it’s just a hobby and we’re just doing it for family fun.
“We were a little bit more serious about it earlier in my career, but I’m 30 and married with a kid now so we just don’t work quite as hard at it anymore.”
Even if they don’t spend as much time on the sport as they once did, racing is still serious to the Marek’s. It’s both the family bonding time and the competition that keeps Marek coming back year after year.
“I’m a big competitive person. I really like showing up and kind of picking my brain every week” he said. “But I’d say the biggest thing is definitely the family thing.
“Some weeks you have a rough week and you don’t want to show up or you’d like to take a week off but seeing my 3-year-old crawl in the racecar and ask if we can go to the race shop, and work on the car and spending that time with my parents and brother-in-law and what not, it makes it a little bit more personable than competition. I guess I like both aspects of it.”
Even if racing is just a hobby, Marek isn’t giving up on going for new goals. He has a chance at a fifth track championship, and if not, he still has an opportunity to climb up the national standings.
If that doesn’t happen, as long as he runs consistently and has good finishes every week, he’ll be happy.
No matter what, his family will still be by his side at their home track.
“At Elko, we have a little bigger fan base and have more fun,” he said. “We’re real close, and real fortunate to have a real nice racetrack close to home.”
NASCAR racing will return to Elko Speedway on September 14 with late models, thunder cars, power stocks, legends, and bandoleros.