GREENFIELD — In the pits behind the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds Multipurpose Arena, Matt Pfeiffer walked straight over to Michael Starks.
Behind Pfeiffer, the hood of his gutted-out compact car was raised. The handful of minutes he pushed the throttle wide open during his Mini Car AutoCross Enduro heat race to qualify for Tuesday night’s feature revealed a problem.
“Do you have any oil?” Pfeiffer asked Starks, a fellow Greenfield native.
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“Let me see,” the co-owner of Starks Lawn Care in Fortville replied. “We’ll figure it out.”
Competitors on the 1/5 mile short track, both walked in unison toward Pfeiffer’s No. 21 navy four-door Honda with yellow trim and decals. Both understand the unwritten rule — racing is a brotherhood.
“It’s just fun. It would be like a bunch of us decided to go to Walmart and race around the cart bin with no rules,” Pfeiffer said with a laugh.
“I’m not here for money or a trophy. This kind of deal is fun because it gets the juices flowing.”
It’s entertainment, Pfeiffer added for those in the stands and behind the wheel. During the Night of Thrills presented by Rouse Promotions, race fans were treated to plenty of fender-bending excitement.
“This is motorized mayhem folks,” the public address announcer proclaimed before the field of 14 drivers cruised onto the track for their 15-minute enduro feature.
“This is the largest field we’ve had here in recent memory.”
A 4-H fair tradition that dates beyond anyone’s knowledge, local heroes like Starks, Allison and Steve Butler and Pfeiffer put on a show.
“My dad has been doing these sorts of things since I was born,” said Pfeiffer, 35, whose family owns Mueller Auto Body & Glass Shop in Greenfield. “I’ve been around cars all my life. My dad (Mike) has done demolition derby and amateur racing. He wanted to get a car and come out here, but he’s 66 and said it’s more work than he’d like right now. He’d tried if he had a car, though.”
For Pfeiffer, the race marked his first in five years and only one he plans to do this year. Able to secure a car in enough time to enter, others compete weekly.
Connersville’s Jeff Garci, last year’s points champion in the Mini Car AutoCross series and the current leader, calls it his addiction.
“It will consume you. It’s not even about the winning,” Garci said. “It’s about going out there and being able to raise hell, legally and race clean. If you see a clean opening, take it.”
A backyard racing veteran, Garci has run demolition derby cars for 25 years and the enduro for three. He gets a thrill from winning but also giving his 13-year-old daughter something to cheer for from the stands.
Not to say there aren’t moments when brothers will turn on each other.
“You can be enemies one day and best buddies the next,” Garci said. “There’s a lot of drama, but it all depends on how far someone wants to take it. When it’s on you, you have to accept it. I rolled my car in Connersville. A guy came over and apologized, and I told him, don’t. It was on me. We know the risks, and it’s fine as long as we’re on the same page.”
Kenny Burchfield of Greenwood said he agrees.
A former racer at the Indianapolis Speedrome for eight years, he joined the dirt-track circuit for several reasons. The costs were more reasonable, he said, especially when some cars alone can run anywhere from $500 to more, and the mutual respect between drivers.
“At the Speedrome, if you’re not pumping a bunch of money into your cars, you’re not going to do anything,” Burchfield said. “And they’re too serious out there. These guys here, yeah, we’re serious about the points, but we’re here for the fun. We’re not trying to run each other in the walls.
“These are a good bunch of guys. At the Speedrome you would see a fight every weekend. I don’t need that, I’m 57 years old.”
The camaraderie was evident from start to finish during the enduro feature as drivers helped each other restart with nudges and pushed others off to the side due to breakdowns.
“It’s fun and pretty chaotic,” Pfeiffer said. “There are 12 or so cars out there at once, and you see how small this track is. It’s like real-life bumper cars. We’re trying to race but have fun and safe.”