Calling it a career – Hinrichs retires from racing circuit on his terms

In a photo from Enhance Racing Images from 2017, Chris Hinrichs races his car. (Photo submitted)

Chris Hinrichs of Monticello has retired as a racecar driver after 14 years.
Pete Temple
Express Sports Editor

     For Chris Hinrichs of Monticello, it was a privilege to be able to race. It was also a privilege to be able to retire, on his own terms.

     The 39-year-old did both, driving through an auto racing career that lasted 14 years.

     “Many, many people go to the racetrack and wish they could do it, and never get the chance. But I got that opportunity for 14 years, and for that I am forever thankful and blessed.”

     That career came to an end with a final feature race Aug. 29 at Maquoketa Speedway. Hinrichs made the decision in August that it would be his final race.

     “So many times, with guys who race,” Hinrichs said, “they don’t really get this (kind of) retirement. They’ll say, ‘Next year we might not have much money, and we’ll see what happens.’ Then they miss a year, and then all of a sudden they’re done, and they didn’t even realize they were done.

     “I didn’t want that for me. I wanted to be able to do it on my terms and say we’re going to call it a career, and we’re going to enjoy the fact that we’re retiring, and celebrate it.”

     Hinrichs often uses the term “we” when describing his racing career, because his father Jerry Hinrichs and best friend Tony Schmit have been with him for nearly every lap.

     It led to an emotional moment as Chris was getting into his car to drive his final race.

     “I gave kind of a short speech to Dad and Tony and gave them both hugs,” Hinrichs said.

     That last race proved to be a good one, as Hinrichs finished third in the feature. It was a great night overall, he said. Racetrack officials in Maquoketa announced over the public address system that it would be Hinrichs’ last race, and he posed for a photo in the infield with the track’s promoter.

     “It was such an awesome night because there were so many family members and friends there,” he said. “Several members of the (renowned racing) Hughes family came, and it was just a fun night.”

     Hinrichs has had his share of success driving a racecar. First, though, as a youngster, he dabbled in motocross racing.

     “I found that I wasn’t very good at that, the jumping and the whole nine yards,” he said. “I found it was going to be much safer and cooler to be on the ground, with four wheels.”

     He also became a fan of NASCAR – Mark Martin was his hero – and followed the career of the late Steve Spahr of Monticello, who worked on the crews of a number of top drivers.

     “I first dreamed of being a driver somewhere around 10 years old,” Hinrichs said.

     His first auto race was in 1998 in Farley, in what was called the Fun Class, which is comparable to today’s Hobby Stock classes, he said.

     Hinrichs won the points championship in his class at Farley in 1999, and went on to win at the Great Jones County Fair in 2000, which he called “probably one of my biggest accomplishments.”

     He also graduated from Monticello High School in 1999, and went on to study computer numerical control at Kirkwood Community College. In 2001, after four years, he stopped racing.

     “I graduated from college and life got real, and the money wasn’t necessarily there,” Hinrichs explained.

     He was interested in becoming a paramedic, and decided to move to California, and then to Arizona, to gain experience in larger cities. He wound up becoming a flight medic on a helicopter in Arizona, which he stayed at for 2½ years.

     He also met his wife, Courtney, while in Arizona, and they were married there in 2008.

     Some time later, they made the decision to move back to Monticello. Hinrichs also got the itch to get back into racing.

     “While I was in Arizona, knowing I was going to be moving back here at some point in time, I ‘accidentally’ bought a race car on eBay, in Missouri,” Hinrichs said.

     His friend Schmit went to Missouri to get the car for him, and it sat for a while until Hinrichs moved back.

     “We got it all built up and ready to go, and then we had our first night of racing in May of 2011,” he said.

     He raced at West Liberty Speedway until the track closed for auto racing after the 2017 season.

     Hinrichs then shifted to Maquoketa, where he raced until his retirement this August.

     He won a heat race last year, but was never quite able to win a feature at West Liberty or Maquoketa. Still, he is proud of what his team accomplished.

     “We proved that you can still do things low-budget, and a lot of things on your own, and still be very competitive. And we became very competitive over the last few years,” he said.

     Hinrichs added that he has enjoyed all aspects of the sport.

     “Obviously driving; you can’t get past that part,” he said. “There’s really nothing in the world that I’ve done that compares to that, controlling that car and focusing on absolutely nothing but what you’re doing at that moment. That is the one thing that can absolutely take you away from anything else going on in this world. That part is just amazing.

     “One of my other favorite parts is the challenge of trying to make the car work well. And then building engines has always been a fascination of mine, and the part I enjoy the most.”

     Despite that, Hinrichs said it was time to retire, to spend more time with Courtney and sons Gavin (10 years old) and Greyson (8).

     “It’s a combination of things,” he said. “The boys getting older and getting into (activities), wanting to have more family time, and then the money aspect. It is definitely not a cheap hobby.

     “I have been blessed beyond belief with awesome sponsors, ever since I started, local businesses and people that have helped me out. The only way I could do it is with that help.”

     Hinrichs has also benefitted from advice he has received along the way, including members of the Hughes family.

     “And Paul Beckman, back in the day,” he said. “Guys that have raced for a long time. Without all of them, I don’t think we’d have hardly made a lap.”

     Hinrichs said he toyed with the idea of racing one more year, retiring at 40 instead of 39.

     “It was one of those things. You’re lying in bed at night, and you’re like, ‘Oh, let’s gut it out for one more year,’ ” Hinrichs said. “And then I was like, ‘What am I gutting it out for? If I’m done, just be done.’ You don’t get an extra prize for going one more year.”

     Instead, the Hinrichs family will have more camping trips, and follow the boys’ activities.

     Also, he added, “My youngest son is a dirt bike rider, not a racer, and we’re going to get back into doing some family off-roading with dirt bikes and four-wheelers. I’ll keep my hands dirty that way.”

     Hinrichs said he also will always follow the sport, particularly NASCAR.

     “We’ll still be fans,” he said. “We’ve already talked about loading up the van and the cooler, and we’ll go watch races together. We’ve been going to Chicago Speedway since they opened, and last year we went to Bristol (Tenn.).”

     Plans such as those are on hold. COVID-19 has affected racing across the country, even in Maquoketa, where the early April start to the season was delayed to early June.

     But Hinrichs was able to race his final year, and to enjoy it, right up to his final night.

     “We had a great night,” he said. “We had a great-handling car. It was just a great way to ride off into the sunset, so to speak.”

     It enabled him to look back on the success story that his career became.

     “We learned, and we persevered, and we just had an absolute blast doing it,” Hinrichs said. “And we met tons of cool people, lifelong friends, and did things that we never dreamed possible with it.

     “So yeah, it’s hard to leave it, but at the same time I feel good about it.”



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