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Park Rapids racing team earning points on the track

Fran, left, and Pam Hauber were on the racetrack again this summer, Pam as crew chief and Fran behind the wheel of the modified Pinto. He's Mod 4 points champ on the Bemidji Speedway. (Anna Erickson/Enterprise)

Motorists cruising down Stevens Avenue in Park Rapids are likely to do a double take at the 4th Street intersection.

Sitting in Fran and Pam Hauber's garage is a colorful, re-constituted Pinto, the Mod 4 (modified four-cylinder) earning points on the racetrack.

"I never thought I'd be driving one of these," Fran said, grinning. (The Ford subcompact earned a sooty reputation for erupting in flames when rear-ended.)

But he's in the saddle throughout the summer, with Pam as his crew chief. This year he won the Mod 4 points championship at Bemidji Speedway. He's currently ranked 36 out of 107 in the Wissota-sanctioned nationals.

"It's a high speed game of chess," Fran, 48, explained. "Who's going to make what move?" The initial challenge is getting around the first and second corners without piling up.

"Speed is the driving force," he said of oval track dirt racing. "The challenge is reading everyone on the track."

As crew chief, Pam is responsible for setting up the car, "staggering" the tires, checking tire pressure and panhard bar adjustments.

"It took me a long time to trust her," Fran admits.

"I had to learn to read dirt," Pam explains. "Wet, tacky, dry, slick, I make the adjustments accordingly. Within two laps, I know if I screwed up."

"New tracks are tough," Fran said. "You need a few nights to figure it out." But that merely adds to the allure.

The Haubers became interested in the competition 10 years ago through a friend, Gary Condon. Fran drove a car for him, purchasing it the next year. The first year he competed in Fergus Falls, racing on asphalt. "We've raced on dirt ever since."

Initially, son Tony raced also. "But he didn't know what brakes are," Pam said. Now it's a crew of two.

In June, they head to Ada for Thursday night racing; Sunday finds them in Bemidji and they race at the Buffalo River track. "We shoot for 20 to 22 nights a year," Fran said.

The "old school-new school" car has a fully modified 1976 Pinto engine, transmission and rear axel. The frame is new; the car's body is crafted from aluminum sheets. "We pound out the dents."

The one-seater, with the original Pinto stick shift, tips the scales at 1,650 pounds. "With me in it."

Fran dons a helmet, gloves and a fire-retardant driving suit for the races.

Points are earned in the heat races, which determine the line-up for the feature race. An additional 10 points are added for showing up, acknowledging "consistency," Fran explained.

"I've damaged the car quite a few times, but I've never been injured," Fran said. "It's fun."

"As long as it doesn't interfere with my hunting and fishing," said Pam, an avid archery and rifle hunter and ice fisherwoman.