GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Ken Shaver

Tuesday Toolbox: Ken Shaver

Tuesday, October 26, 2021 | 6:35 PM
Tuesday, October 26, 2021 | 6:35 PM

The Ironman GNCC wrapped up over the weekend and despite some nasty weather on Sunday it still managed to raise the bar. Over the years it’s became the “Who’s Who” (Kids you’ll have to Google that reference or ask your parents/grandparents.) of the racing industry. Every manufacturer and after-market company seems to be involved in making Ironman what it is today.

Now the fans, wow! Camping out a week in advance across the road to ensure they get the perfect spot once the gates open. Lines that seem to go on forever at Moto Tee’s for the event shirt and lines that seem to never end for registration. Everyone wants to take part in this incredible spectacle. In fact, around Indiana once we hit late September you can rest assured the local XC enthusiast will be asking one another, “Ya’ Goin’? Ya Racin’? Mornin’ or Afternoon?” It’s become a staple in Central Indiana as much as the Covered Bridge Festival which is held about 30 miles south of Montgomery County, Indiana.

There are several people to thank for Ironman becoming what it is today, with a few big names at the center of it. It goes without saying, I have to recognize Bob Sloan. The Ironman himself. But I’m talking about Big Dave Coombs, a freshly retired from racing Jeff Russell, and this week’s featured interviewee Ken Shaver.

Ken Shaver looking out over Ironman Raceway during an event. Photo: Courtesy of Lori Shaver Facebook
Ken Shaver looking out over Ironman Raceway during an event. Photo: Courtesy of Lori Shaver Facebook Ken, thanks so much for taking some time to talk today. How are you doing?

Ken Shaver: I’m finer than frog hair, Mikey.

I imagine you’re still working on the property after the chaos of this last weekend.

Yeah, it looks like a heard of cattle went through in some places. A stampede.

Alright, well before we dive into this past weekend, let’s go way back. Tell us a little bit about you and how on earth you ended up hosting the largest GNCC on the schedule?

Well, I used to race GNCC. We actually just talked about this the other night with the crew from Polaris. Jeff Russell was standing here, and we reflected back on when he first came out here to scope things out. We were the first race track Jeff looked at. First as in, he’d retired from racing, he had married Carrie Jo and his retirement gig was working for his father-in-law, Dave Coombs. For those that don’t know, Jeff was and still is very knowledgeable about what to expect out of a track for GNCC. Having raced himself with KTM over the years. When Jeff looked at it, he told me, this is going to work, we can run a GNCC here. So Big Dave showed up to the property at about 9:00 at night, after driving from West Virginia. Big Dave gets out of the truck and he’s cussing Jeff out, saying, “Where in the world are we going to race here? All I’ve seen for the last 50 miles is security lights. Nothing else.”

Oh yeah, it’s dark, it’s Indiana. No mountains, hardly any hills. I believe those fellas from West Virginia refer to us as “Flat-Landers.”

For sure, the son-in-law or future son-in-law, new to the business and here we are in the dark in Indiana, as far west as the series as ever been. Far away from the tracks normally ran out east. But Jeff told him, you just have your riding gear on in the morning and we’ll go into the woods and see what you think. Honestly that’s how it started.

So did you know Big Dave prior to this?

Yeah, me and some buddies actually went to the last Blackwater 100 they held. One of our guys made it over the Moon Rocks, if the people reading this are familiar with the Blackwater 100, I know they’ll know about the Moon Rocks section. Anyway, my buddy made it over with his quad. Well when they did the track sweep, they swept up to the Moon Rocks but not over them. Now my buddy was one of those guys that wasn’t scared to drink what was left in the bottom of the beer can he’d find or smoke the cigarette butts he’d find on the ground. Well anyhow, we didn’t get towed out until around midnight. Big Dave was livid at his track crew for not finding us earlier. So, it was an interesting way for us all to meet.

Looking back at the timeline, was it 93-94 when Jeff and Big Dave came out to Indiana?

Yeah, I believe it was in that time frame. They put us on the schedule for 1995. We were the last race of the year and I believe we had almost 1,000 people show up.

Sunrise at Ironman Raceway during the 2021 Ironman GNCC. Photo: Mack Faint
Sunrise at Ironman Raceway during the 2021 Ironman GNCC. Photo: Mack Faint

When you put that in perspective to what you had this past weekend at Ironman, that’s incredible to think of where it started versus where it’s at now. Ironman was the last round in 1995. Was that because they anticipated it being this big finale celebration like we know it today, or was it, hey let’s throw this track on at the end because most championships will be decided and if that location way out west in Indiana doesn’t work out, oh well.

I think we got put on the end of the season because they thought we’d be a flop. Almost a trial-basis just to see if it’d work out. I mean everything was east coast states, there was Florida but most everything else was reasonable driving distance to West Virginia. So yeah, in my opinion they were taking a gamble on us. And I’d say it’s worked out pretty well.

What was the feedback like that first year?

You know I don’t really remember. I mean it was positive, sure. But it was a different time. I don’t think anyone really kept track of the numbers quite like we do now. That would be a good question for Rita (Coombs), I’d say she could almost tell you the exact number of people in and out of there.

Eventually you started hosting a Pro Motocross as well. I know I’m biased, being from Crawfordsville, but I have to say it’s one of my favorite tracks of the year for Pro Motocross. What led to you hosting the Pro Motocross race as well?

So there was this little meadow down where the starting gate is located now. It was great, but we couldn’t really utilize that area for anything agriculturally speaking. We’d try to bale hay, but it was so steep you couldn’t really get it out. Back in the day Jeff Russell and I were the track builders and we were the guys towing you out. So one day we were down there taking a break from towing people out and we got to talking about a Pro Motocross track. It was his idea, he told me, you know I think this area would make a great Pro Motocross track. So I went to work and started clearing out some trees. Now I will say, I wanted to leave as many trees as possible. I thought about other tracks and the openness is great, but those spectators are in the blistering sun. So originally, I had a lot more trees throughout the area around the track. But as time goes on and more and more coverage from TV came in, they needed things cleared for shots. Which is fine, I get it. Originally the track was much bigger too. But we had to get the size down a bit to make it easier to watch.

You’re more than a property owner. You seem to really take pride in making sure you and the property are working together with Racer Productions to ensure everything is working like a well-oiled machine.

 That’s just me. I’m the guy that goes in through the gate, I dress in my regular clothes and I’m there with the spectators watching the race. I want to see it from every angle to appreciate what the fans are watching.

Ken Shaver (far left) pictured with family inside Tom's Marine Sales & Service. Photo: Courtesy of Lori Shaver Facebook
Ken Shaver (far left) pictured with family inside Tom's Marine Sales & Service. Photo: Courtesy of Lori Shaver Facebook

We’re not too far off from this being around for 30 years. How has the GNCC Ironman evolved to what it is today?

I don’t really know what the answer to that would be. How or why? I don’t really know. I think Central Indiana was hungry for something like this. You look at Sprint car racing, I don’t know, I think we wanted something else to do in the dirt. The infrastructure we have here helps too. Even this last weekend, as bad as the weather was on Sunday. We’ve worked hard to make sure people can get in an out easily and if we do have to tow somebody, we’ve got the equipment to get the job done. I mean years ago we’d be pulling them a mile through the mud in the cornfield.

I was talking to my buddy, Matt, about that Sunday afternoon. I have to think years ago, we likely wouldn’t have been able to run the PM race. You and everyone else would have been way too busy hauling RVs and campers out onto the road. I mean a guy could drive his Mazda Miata out there this past Sunday morning in the pouring rain and he’s likely going to be able to get out with no issues. That’s a difference maker.

You know, I kid you not, I actually towed one of those out yesterday morning at 9:00AM. And a Mazda Miata does have a hook on the back, which was news to me. But yeah, last year we loaded in 750 tri-axle loads of asphalt. And I hate to even guess how many loads of the millings we’ve put down out here. The first access road we put in was with the Duraberm from Nucor Steel in town. There’s a 2’ base of Duraberm out there. We hauled that in for four days solid. So, it all works out, and I know the crew from GNCC likes us because we’ve got the equipment to get things done.

Yeah for those that don’t know, you farm as well. How many acres do you farm?

We till 2,100 acres. I need to get with Lori (Shaver) and see how many acres we race on. I’m not 100% sure on that. But in the farming world we refer to how many acres you till because they’re your livelihood. I know Lori knows the exact number because she’s the one paying the taxes on it.

What is the perception of the Ironman GNCC in the local community.

I think everyone is good with it for the most part. After a mudder like we had we’ve got to spend some extra time making sure the roadways are cleaned up. But I will say the economic impact is huge. We had people telling us the closest hotels they could get were 45 minutes away from the track. So all the hotels book up in about a 45 mile radius. So, it’s not just good for our community, it’s good for central Indiana.

Tom's Marine donated a Side-by-Side to Road 2 Recovery as a raffle item for the Racers 4 Waverly program going on. Photo: Ken Hill
Tom's Marine donated a Side-by-Side to Road 2 Recovery as a raffle item for the Racers 4 Waverly program going on. Photo: Ken Hill

Have you gotten everyone hauled out and it’s back to harvesting?

We’re finally back to harvest yes. There are still a few things to get done around the track, but we need things to dry out. You know Jeff Russell actually hauled some grain for us. Ryan and Bob were blowing him some smoke about getting the Micro Track completed because he was out hauling grain. He actually planned on staying if it was dry and help us finish up harvest this week. But things are such a mess and so wet right now we need some time to pass so we can get back there and get things fixed up.

Tom, thank you so much for taking some time out today to talk, I know you’re a busy guy. Two more quick questions. Is there anyone in line for Ironman 2022 yet and who would you like to thank?

You know what, there is one car out there across the street. So either he’s here late or he’s here really early for next year. And if I thank anyone it’s got to be my Lori, she does so much to keep the wheels turning on everything I don’t think I could do it without her. And I’ll give a shoutout to our shop, Tom’s Marine Sales & Service. We’ve been in business since 1969 selling boats and outboard motors and we’ve been selling Snowmobiles since 1975 and Polaris ATVs & Rangers since 1985.