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Family, friends cheer on local drivers

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For Nathan Mensendiek and Colin Miller, Friday night’s Midwest Mini Sprint Association races at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds were a great way to put on a good performance in front of their hometown fans.

Mensendiek, who graduated from Columbus East High School, credits his dad, Mike, for getting him involved with racing.

“Back then, my dad would watch races in Brownstown when he was a kid, and that was when he took interest in it and got me into it,” Mensendiek said. “So my dad is kind of living his childhood dream in me with me racing.”

Mensendiek, who is now 20, started racing when he was just 8 years old.

“When I was little, my dad tried to get me involved in numerous athletic sports,” Mensendiek said. “When he noticed that I did not seem to like it at all, he decided to put me in a go-kart, and I have enjoyed it ever since. He owns the car I drive in now. Without him, I don’t think I would be racing right now.”

Miller, 30, got his start in racing when he was in high school in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Miller comes from a family of racing. His oldest brother Justin, and his other older brother, Adam, both race full-time mini sprint cars.

“I started racing in Wisconsin when I was 16 years old racing pavement go-karts,” Miller said. “It wasn’t until 2002 that I rented my first mini sprint and got hooked on it ever since.

“My brothers got into racing around the same as I did,” he said. “Justin races a 360 winged sprint car back in Wisconsin, and Adam races a non-wing sprint car in Pennsylvania.”

Miller has been racing part-time in Indiana for several years since 2007, but he now owns his own mini sprint and is in his second season racing full-time for MMSA.

“I have been racing dirt go-kart events for a few years when I moved down here to Indiana in 2007,” Miller said. “I bought my mini sprint off of Andy Bradley, who races in this series, as well. It was one of his older cars, so I bought it from him as one of my own to have, and I have been racing with it since then.”

The MMSA runs races every weekend around various racetracks in the Midwest starting in early May and ending in early October. Having their families travel with them to races and spending time with them and supporting them help Miller and Mensendiek cope with the countless hours spent on the track and on the road.

“Even though I do it as a hobby, racing is a like having another full-time job,” Miller said. “You spend hours and hours doing maintenance on the car, which takes up a lot my free time outside of work.

“My wife, Amy, and daughter, Bella, travel with me to races, so I try to stay as close to home as possible,” he said. “Whenever you can get your family to come out and watch you, it makes the experience that much better.”

Mensendiek agrees.

“Every weekend racing is so much fun,” Mensendiek said. “My two best friends and girlfriend come out with me to events. My grandpa comes as much as he can and my dad, as well, when he is not working. Family is the No. 1 thing because they are always the biggest help to me.”

Mensendiek initially finished in third place, and Miller placed ninth in Friday night’s event.

However, race winner Jimmy Gardner was disqualified for failing post-race inspection. Gardner’s car weighed 905 pounds, under the minimum 910-pound requirement.

That disqualification meant Mensendiek placed second and Miller eighth. Series points leader Collin Ambrose, who was initially the runner-up in the race, wound up as the winner.

“As a driver, it is about having confidence each time you go out,” Miller said. “Once you trust your car, you can sling it out each lap and further build your confidence. Anytime I can have a strong finish and make smart decisions on the track, it helps me get better and better.

“The Ambrose family has been racing in this series for a long time so they are always tough to beat,” he said. “That is the benchmark for the other drivers, is finding a way of beating them. If a racer is as good as they are in the series and beats them, they are doing just fine.”

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