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Eckhardt still has racing bug after 35-plus years

Karl Eckhardt's racing career has earned him a number of accolades, both in motocross and in his 1990 Ford Mustang. Dan Determan/Echo Journal

Karl Eckhardt's first official race was a motocross event in Bemidji in the early 1980s. From there, it became a passion for him.

More than 35 years later, he has no plans to give up his passion, although now it is in a car instead of on a dirt bike.

"I started at a young age, and I really enjoy it," Eckhardt said. "It's like a disease, and I don't know if you'd call it a good or bad disease. It gets into your system and you can't get rid of it. Once you get hooked, you are a motorhead for life."

When he was about 5 years old, Eckhardt's family moved to Pequot Lakes where his parents owned the Bradmor Motel. Growing up, he and a friend would build dirt jumps for their bikes. When he took a serious interest in motocross racing, his father, Elmer, was happy to take him to his events.

"My dad used to take me to the races," Eckhardt said. "He would wake me up in the morning, and I would be so excited I probably didn't sleep the night before anyway. He would take me to the races and wait in the car all day - reading the paper, sleeping or whatever - and when it was time for me to race, he would come out and watch me and then we would go home. We did that for quite a few years."

As a teenager, he left high school but eventually earned his GED and attended college to become a small engine technician - all while racing on the side. While attending college, he spent a few years living in a shack with no heat before finding some success on the track - enough success to enter into a sponsorship program with Brainerd Yamaha and attend some national-qualifying races.

After a few more years of success, he was approached by a sponsor about signing a contract to race full time.

"I was about a year into a marriage, and with this contract, I would have been eight months on and four months off," Eckhardt said. "I went home and told the wife and she said, 'No, you're not.' That kind of started the end of my motocross racing career, but I got to ride with some of the best."

In his career in motocross, Eckhardt has toured the nation - racing in Florida, California and a number of other states.

"It also took me to the hospital a few times," Eckhardt said laughing.

After stepping down from his motocross career, he took an interest in buggies, even building a few of his own, but his itch to race again never faded.

"To this day, I can't even watch a motocross race," Eckhardt said. "I get the shakes so bad and I get nervous and everything. Would I love to race bikes again? Sure, but my body says 'no.' That was my passion."

In the past five years, Eckhardt has turned his attention to drag racing, racing in the Street Car Showdown three times a summer at Brainerd International Raceway, winning the 11.50 class event over Memorial Day weekend.

"I just have a little Mustang that my buddy and I built up a bit," Eckhardt said. "We did a couple of Wednesday night things at BIR. We were just having fun with that and not really expecting anything, and then we started going to the Muscle Car Shootouts. Those are a lot of fun."

When not racing, Eckhardt owns and operates Affordable Automotive in Merrifield.

"You can't get another car in my parking lot. I am very proud of that. It takes a lot of guts to (start a business), and I was scared to death, but if you take care of your customers and you are honest and fair, they will come back," he said.

His years in racing have given him a house full of trophies, as well as a life full of memories.

"I am very proud of what I have done - some things a lot of people could never have done," Eckhardt said. "I have built some fabulous buggies out of piles of steel. I have built a fast car, which I never thought I could do. Some of these drag racers come in with all of their fancy stuff, and I can beat half of them."

Though he has raced for more than three decades, he has made it clear that he is not done yet. In fact, he hopes to start racing more than three times a year.

"I would actually like to do a little more," Eckhardt said. "I hear the Dakotas have some pretty nice tracks, and I want to start traveling more. That is in my future. I am definitely going to expand racing my car more. I can't do the bikes anymore, so I want to start getting a little more involved in cars. I just love it."

Dan Determan
Staff Writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper