JEFFERSON, S.D. -- Don Tank, 85, smiles as he bends close to his red and yellow Chevrolet Cavalier. Pouring a quart of oil, he talks about being at home under the hood and behind the wheel, in the pink when it comes to his hobby, stock car racing.
“I race because it’s fun,” Tank says moments before a heat race at Raceway Park near Jefferson, South Dakota, the venue that finds this retired farmer putting pedal to metal every Sunday night.
“We heard earlier this year he’s the oldest regular driver in stock car racing,” says Rick Stanislav, Tank’s one-man pit crew.
“Rick drives me back and forth to the track, so I can rest,” says Tank, who, like Stanislav, comes from tiny Blencoe, Iowa, in Monona County, about an hour or so from here.
Folks in Blencoe honor Tank on Sunday prior to the regular go-cart racing competition at Bobcat Speedway, a dirt oval whose Bobcat name pays homage to Tank’s alma mater, the Blencoe High School Bobcats. He graduated from Blencoe High in 1951.
Stanislav says Tank is a one-man track pro in Blencoe, giving his tender-loving-care in prepping the site that hosts go-carts on a weekly basis. The racers and organizers surprise Tank on Sunday by forming two lines and drawing close to Tank as he’s perched on his trusty Minneapolis Moline for a ceremony prior to Sunday’s races.
“It was very special,” Tank says. “I was really surprised.”
Stanislav says Tank deserves recognition for all the hours he’s spent at the track in Blencoe, moving and leveling dirt and more, all in his quest to make the sport the best it can be for drivers and fans.
Tank got into racing in the late 1950s. He built a couple of cars for fellow drivers then built one for himself. His wife, however, asked that he set racing aside as money was a bit tight at the time.
“I got back into it in 2005 or 2006 when they opened Blackbird Bend by the casino near Onawa,” he says. “That track was just 15 minutes or so from home, so I could go there.”
In time, Tank added Raceway Park and Park Jefferson Speedway to his slate of tracks. Tank races two to three times per year at Park Jefferson, located a third of a mile or so from Raceway Park. At Raceway Park, he’s a regular, a friendly sight bent over the engine of his 2002 Cavalier, poking, prodding and fine-tune in advance of another heat race to open the evening’s festivities.
“I’ve gotten third, fourth and fifth this year in the feature races, I just haven’t won one yet,” he says. “My goal is to finish in the top four.”
That doesn’t happen Sunday as Tank, who finishes second in his heat, ends the feature back in ninth place, a feature won by Ramsey Meyer, the same driver who won Tank’s heat race.
“People were flopping around in the feature and I gave up a few spots to keep the car in one piece,” Tank says.
He and Stanislav load the Cavalier and head back to Blencoe, where corn stretches high as an elephant’s eye this month, poised for a solid crop. “You get a little east of here and the corn is hurting a bit,” says Tank, who will help with the 2017 harvest, as he has for years. “Right around here, it looks pretty good.”
And so does the No. 1 Sport Compact and its senior driver, Don Tank. When asked if he’ll be back on the track soon, Tank doesn’t hesitate.
“Sure,” he says. “The car is good. We’ll race again, on whatever nights they’ve got left.”