MATT FRITZ,The LaPorte County Herald-Argus
11:16 AM EST, January 4, 2013
LAPORTE, Ind. (AP) — On a summer day in 2011, La Porte resident Jason Cogswell was spinning out of control on the South Bend Motor Speedway, his mini-stock car at the mercy of oncoming traffic.
Cars shot to the right and left of him.
Then one came down the center at full speed.
"He never had a chance to slow down," Jason told The LaPorte County Herald-Argus (http://bit.ly/Wh1als ).
The racer collided with Jason's driver side door, T-boning him and taking his vehicle— a stock car assembled by his younger brother Justin — out of commission for good.
Jason walked away a little sore, but no worse for wear. It was just another day in the trials and tribulations of mini-stock car racing, a sport that once made him airborne (literally, when an accident catapulted his car above his fellow racers) and continually thrills him and his family whenever they enter the track.
"Me and my brother have been racing since high school, since '98," he said while he and his brother tinkered on a racer in his garage, a hobby of theirs throughout the winter. For them, racing was a yearlong sport.
"Dad raced in the '70s out by Chicago, in Blue Island, Illinois. That's how we all got started. My brother, my cousin Danny, it's a pretty big family deal."
Last June, he and his brother won the Mini Stock Special at the South Bend Motor Speedway, beating all the other cars in a 50-lap race to claim a $1,500 prize. His brother was the driver.
It was a culmination of years of work, with the brothers honing their skills both behind the driver's wheel and in designing and maintaining the mini-stock cars they drove, vehicles they built all by themselves using their welding and engineering skills.
"We build everything from the ground up," he said. "By hand, right here. Some buy chassis but we prefer to build our own. It's a lot more work, but it's cheaper.
"And the guys that don't build usually don't have the tools or the experience in welding. It took eight months to build this car," he said while gesturing to his ride, which he shares with his brother.
They determine the driver by flipping a coin at each race.
As he explained it, the construction of a car is important too, and something they have to alter for every new race track.
"There's a lot that goes into these chassis with the suspension," he said. "They are not like a regular car where all the springs and shocks are alike."
He said all four corners of the car are unique and adjusted accordingly to get the car to turn left repeatedly. Each tire has a different pressure. The left side of the car is smaller than the right, but if it is too small the car will spin out, so there has to be a balance. The brothers also put the car on a scale to see where the weight is going.
"We're only allowed to put as much as 58 percent of the weight on the left side," he said. "The more you have, the better it goes around, so you have to max it out. Then you start working on the springs to make it all right."
Although Jason said he enjoyed working in the pit almost as much as driving the actual car in a race, Justin, who continued racing even during the four years he spent in the Navy, said driving was the best part.
"It's the speed, but we just like cars in general," Justin said. "We're both really competitive, even when we were kids. Friday and Saturday, that's what we did. It's a family affair with us too."
Their father used to take them to the track every weekend when they were children. Jason got his first car when he was 18, and they raced against each other every weekend until Justin joined the Navy. After he returned four years ago, they realized they just did not have the time or the money for their own stock cars. So they started sharing.
They have even shared a crash or two.
Once on the Plymouth Speedway, Jason got hit so hard it lifted his car off the ground, allowing his little brother to drive beneath him. Which he did.
"He just flew right over my head," Justin said.
And Justin had his own dangerous experience some years back when a wall decided to collide with his ride.
"I cut the right front tire (and went sliding) and I watched the wall coming and I rammed into it head-on," he said. "Knowing that it was coming and you're going to hit it hard (was something else)."
He said paramedics told him he looked like a limp piece of cheese at the accident. And his car looked no better. The front tire was pushed all the way back into the firewall.
Jason pointed out that despite the competitive nature of racers, there is also a wonderful sense of cooperation among them.
"The sense of community in racing is amazing," he said. "Any one of the guys, if I needed a part, they would loan it or give it to me, even if they knew I would beat them."
Information from: The La Porte Herald-Argus, http://www.heraldargus.com