Looking dapper and relaxed Sunday night in a red, flame-retardant suit, former U.S. Sen. George McGovern greeted friends in the pit at Huset’s Speedway before taking a turn in a sprint car.
The roar of the cars blanketed the grounds, but McGovern was unfazed. His face was a serene mask as car owner Rocky Brenden strapped McGovern in place and taped buds in his ears so he could hear the tower.
McGovern’s track time was a way to bring attention to his favorite campaign – combating hunger.
Feeding hungry kids has been an ongoing theme in his life.
“Bob Dole and I co-sponsored a school lunch program when we were both in the Senate. I’m using public focus to plead for more support for hungry kids,” McGovern said.
He dedicated the race to helping address famine in east Africa through the World Food Program.
The 700-horsepower sprint car isn’t the only mighty machine McGovern has piloted. It’s much less powerful than the 6,000-horsepower B-24s he flew during World War ll.
“Those were the biggest bombers we had. If I can fly a four-engine bomber, I should be able to take this buggy around the track,” he said before his spin between heats.
Sprint cars have only a brake and an accelerator. “It’s stripped down, so there’s very little weight but lots of noise,” he said.
They don’t have a transmission. “You have to have a vehicle to push you. Once you get it up to 25 miles per hour, you flip on the switch and the car starts.”
At 89, McGovern wondered whether he is the oldest man to drive a race car or jump out of a plane at 18,000 feet, the latter a stunt he performed last year to celebrate his birthday. The spin around the racetrack was born when someone asked him what he would be doing to commemorate this year’s birthday. He didn’t intend to outdo himself, but inspiration struck.
Brenden, 51, said he thinks it’s fantastic that McGovern wanted to take a drive, but the car owner said he wouldn’t do the same thing himself. “I had to take it for a test drive, and that was enough for me,” Brenden said.
Bart Brown, 43, of Rock Rapids, Iowa, had an opposite view. “I would do it if I lived that long,” he said of McGovern’s adventure.
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Reach reporter Dorene Weinstein at 331-2315.