OSCEOLA — Steve Schmitt will never forget Father’s Day 2013.
That’s the day he and his son, Tyler, each won their respective class at the Osceola Dragway. It was not only a first for this racing family from Edwardsburg, but also a first for a track that opened in 1957.
“I lost my father in 2005 and I had a lot of thoughts of him running through my head on this Father’s Day,’’ Steve Scmitt said. “I’ve been racing for seven years and haven’t even reached the final round of an event, so to think that both Tyler and I could win on the same day — Father’s Day — wasn’t something I even thought about to be honest.’’
But there they were, both in the finals on Sunday, June 16.
Tyler was the first to reach and win the finals and he easily topped Goshen’s Royce Farmwald in the finals of the Sportsman Class. Tyler Schmitt, the 2011 track champion in Sportsman, is also leading the points race this year. It was his 15th career class win.
That left it up to Steve, who would face Kenton Pebler in the Pro Stock finals. The race as close all the way down the track, but the winner’s light went to Steve thanks to a run of 10.34 compared to a 10.92 for Pebler.
“When I saw that light come on ... well I can’t explain the joy I felt,’’ Steve Schmitt said, his voice cracking. “My emotions were astronomical at that moment, just through the roof. When the track announcer came down for an interview, all he could talke about was the way my family was reacting to the win. That makes it even more special.’’
The Schmitt’s are a family deeply embedded in drag racing.
When Tyler and his brother, Tony, were young, Steve Schmitt was a mechanic for Elkhart’s Terry McMillen, who at that time was driving a Funny Car in NHRA.
But with two young sons, Steve eventually stepped away from the constant travel for several years until the racing bug bit again about eight years ago.
That’s when the Schmitt’s made a trip to a pole barn near Cassopolis to get his race car.
“I had a friend with a 1968 Camaro SS in a barn and I knew it was just sitting there,’’ Steve Schmitt said. “The car was wedged in there pretty good, so we had to take a tractor up to pull it out of the barn sideways. That’s how it all started for me again.’’
It took the Schmitt’s several years of hard work to get the car ready to race.
“I spent a lot of time on my back under that car in the cold of winter and heat of summer,’’ Steve Schmitt said. “I talked to a lot of guys in the drag racing business, including Terry McMillen, to make sure we did things right. It took a little extra time, but I’m proud of the job we did. Not a lot of people know how much work we put into that car.’’
Eventually, the boys decided they wanted to race, so the family went looking for a car.
“We found a 1967 Nova alongside of the road in the Niles area and that became my present for my 16th birthday,’’ Tyler Schmitt said. “My brother and I shared it for awhile, but he’s mostly on the business side now. We broke a lot of stuff the first few years, but things have gotten a lot better.’’
While Tony Schmitt rarely gets behind the wheel of a race car now, seeing his father and brother post their wins was also a great experience.
“Our family has been into cars and racing for as long as I can remember and my dad is the smartest man I know when it comes to cars ... as well as a lot of other things,’’ Tony Schmitt said. “Luck hasn’t always been on his side these past seven years, so when he crossed the stripe and got the light on Father’s Day, there was no better feeling in the world. To see the joy that came out of my father that day was really special.’’
In addition to racing at Osceola, the Schmitt’s travel to tracks in Martin, Mich., and Milan, Mich., to challenge the best of the North Central District. Both drivers have qualified to race at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis at the NHRA Indinapolis Raceway Park Summit Racing Series Division 3 Finals the last several years.
“Racing is what we do as a family and I’ve had some great memories in racing, but our Father’s Day win is by far my favorite memory,’’ Tyler Schmitt said. “We travel and race as a family and eat a lot of burgers and hot dogs at tracks around the area. It makes me pround to know we built our cars from nothing to where we are now.’’