When dirt racing fans think of crown jewel races, they might picture places like Knoxville or Eldora—hallowed facilities with long-standing traditions and red-hot competition. Over time, these landmark races become destinations, a circled date on the calendar for fans, attracting the brightest stars among dirt racing’s national ranks. Positioned far north of these two oval track meccas, there’s another crown jewel affair, unlike any other the race, quietly gathering momentum.
Welcome to Rice Lake, Wisconsin. Named after the wild rice that Native Americans collected from surrounding lakes and bogs in the 1880s, Rice Lake is now known for its hiking trails and pipestone quarries. And for Rice Lake Speedway.
Out on the edge of the cozy town, this 1/3-mile banked clay oval track has been racing since 1951, making one of the longest-running dirt tracks in the Midwest. Like Knoxville, this modest municipality can proudly boast about their marquee event every August. And while it may not possess the same level of polish as other high-dollar dirt affairs, its overwhelming support from the community firmly plants this race among the list of bucket list attractions.
The Street Stock Little Dream at Rice Lake Speedway is unlike any race on the dirt calendar. The 2021 race paid $27,027 to the winner. An insane amount of money considering the class of cars that race in this event. Most street stock races throughout the summer award less than $1000 to the winner. Little Dream’s five-figure payday places it as the highest paying street stock race in the world.
That’s not even the most unique aspect of this Midwest showcase. In a unique twist of tradition, the promoter does not set the purse for this event. In fact, every competitor that shows up to Rice Lake Speedway is unaware of just how much they are racing for. This is where the support of the fans kicks in.
Throughout the night, those in attendance—and watching around the world via a streaming broadcast—donate to the purse. They are encouraged to donate any amount of money to any finishing position or race situation (such as first car to break or cause a yellow). These donations determine the final event pay. Most fans donate money to first place in hopes of breaking the previous year’s record. Regardless, of where the money lands, it’s rather remarkable to see how much money is doled out from the Rice Lake community and dirt racing fans at the end of the night.
The Little Dream is contested solely by WISSOTA-sanctioned Street Stocks—a Midwest racing series that stretches from Wisconsin to Idaho. While these cars are far cries from mangy junkyard dogs, the perennial goal of any street stock class is to provide budget racing.
And so, these purpose-built race cars are conceived from the frames of old American manufactured street cars. Drivers must utilize the stock frame, suspension, firewall, and floor pan of the original vehicle. Steel, stock-appearing panels—most often from 1970s and 80s Monte Carlos, Camaros, and Grand Prix—are sourced from salvage yards or purchased as re-pop from a Speedway catalog.
While certain modifications and aftermarket parts are acceptable, they must reside in the original location of the stock parts. These street stocks produce just north of 400 horsepower with domestic small blocks ranging from 307 to 350 cubic inches. All cars must meet a minimum weight requirement of 3200 pounds (including the driver). Competitors race on grooved Hoosier rubber made specifically for WISSOTA competition.
“The amount of money we could win in just one race is mind-boggling.” said racer Ryan Satter, a seasoned veteran of street stocks. Satter’s weekdays are spent owning and operating a farm seed dealership. He has yet to find victory at the Little Dream.
The race’s trajectory and success are things that even catch event promoter Chris Stepan off-guard. “Who would’ve thought we could make a street stock race, on a Tuesday evening, in the middle of Wisconsin, the spectacle it has become.” said Stepan.
Rice Lake Speedway brought Stepan’s promotions group, FYE Motorsports onboard to promote the race beginning in 2012. A decision that has paid dividends with a record-breaking payout year-after-year. The winner’s share has quadrupled in the decade since Stepan and his group took the reins. Paired with the additional legwork of announcer Scott Tiefs, this race is poised to grow even bigger.
In recent years, many fans and drivers have asked for the ballooning purse to be spread out amongst the field. For Stepan that is an option that goes against the very concept of the race. “This race is about one driver winning a ton of money,” says the promoter. “These guys put on a show everywhere they race around here. They deserve to race for this amount of money.”
For the 2018 WISSOTA National Street Stock Champion Justin Vogel, the win would be beneficial to his racing program and his pocketbook. The Minnesota racer, who manages a family auto repair shop during the week, has nearly as much into his racing program as last year’s race paid to win. “If I won the Little Dream, I could fund my program for a season or two”, says Vogel.
Raising funds for a race purse solely on the generous contributions of loyal supporters is no easy task. When you plug in the variable of the race being held mid-summer on a Tuesday night, the hill is an even tougher climb. This year, a horrendous forecast added another element of difficulty. Weather reporters announced a 100% chance of rain throughout the big night.
Not even a dreadful forecast couldn’t keep the faithful fans and drivers away from the race. Fifty-three competitors signed into the pits and the grandstands were packed. The dreary forecast forced race officials to expedite the show, and they made it all the way through the heat races before being delayed for a tornado warning in the area. Once that subsided, racing resumed, and the donations continued.
As the A-Main rolled onto the track, the winning purse was announced. $28,212. The crowd whooped and hollered at their accomplishment as the field took the green flag.
Barron, Wisconsin’s Nick Traynor found himself in a familiar position in the closing laps of the race. He was out front and pulling away. Traynor won the 2020 edition of the race, netting himself a $26,000 payday for the victory.
After almost two years (to the date) since his first Little Dream crown, Traynor crossed under Rice Lake’s flag stand, and a fluttering checkered flag, first. “Never have I envisioned collecting $28k in one night of racing in my life, let alone over $54,000 in just two wins.” Traynor said reflecting on his second Little Dream victory in three seasons.
To put the amount of money that is at stake into perspective, a Street Stock racer could win 50 WISSOTA Features, the National Championship, and the WISSOTA 100 (the sanctioning body’s marquee race) and they would still be nearly $10,000 shy of what Nick Traynor made in one night.
And it’s all thanks to the community of Rice Lake and WISSOTA’s devout fanbase. It isn’t Knoxville. It isn’t Eldora, but for one lucky winner, it’s an absolute dream.