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Photo Essay: A little faster: Race day at the Gallatin Speedway

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Charlie Hirst waits in his car before competing in the IMCA Sport Compact class at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

Charlie Hirst had hardly driven his 1998 Toyota Celica before he lined up at the Gallatin Speedway for the first time in early June. He had bought the car for $500, installed a roll cage and painted the number 411 on it. Before he knew it he was careening around the quarter-mile dirt track, gas pedal slammed to the floor, with no idea what was going to happen. 

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Charlie Hirst, from Ennis, competes in the IMCA Sport Compact class at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

“It was terrifying,” said Hirst. “When I got in the car I thought I was gonna throw up.” He placed third out of three drivers in the sport compact class that day, yet left the speedway empowered and inspired.

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Ron Weber, from Helena, scrapes mud off his tires after doing pre-race laps on the track at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Weber competes in the WISSOTA Street Stock class.

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Scott Salsbury, from Belgrade, adds tape to his car to prevent sun glare before racing in the WISSOTA Street Stock class at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

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A sign at the concessions booth at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade announces an absence of pretzels for sale on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

gallatin speedway

The IMCA Modifieds class does a rolling restart during finals at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

The track at Gallatin Speedway is filled weekly in the summer by big, loud machines whose sole purpose is to go really, really fast. There are generally a handful of different classes of cars competing on any one night, and most of these cars have little in common with the standard passenger vehicle, save the four wheels and a driver’s seat. The sport compact class was introduced this year to make track racing more accessible. Rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars to buy a specialized racing machine, Hirst was limited by rule to spend less than $1,500 on his.

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Emory Wells, of Belgrade, zips his fire-retardant jumpsuit before racing in the IMCA Modifieds class at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

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The quarter-mile track at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade is wetted and packed before races on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

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From left: Wayne Wagoner, Bob Petroff and his father Hank Petroff, linger around his son, Robert Petroff's, car at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

gallatin speedway

Doug Martin, from Belgrade, signs a checkered flag for a young fan after racing in both the IMCA Modifieds and WISSOTA Super Stock classes at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

Still, starting a racing career from scratch isn’t easy. “In your head, you might think you’re a good driver,” said Hirst, “but you get humbled. And you go back next week, and you go a little faster.” 

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The trophy awarded to Paul Lease, from Deer Lodge, for winning the WISSOTA Super Stock class is backlit by the lights of Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

Hirst found the seasoned drivers in the bigger classes to be supportive, yet his biggest challenge was having enough competition. Because the sport compact class is so new, people just didn’t have time to put a car together this year.

In the last race of the season, Hirst placed second out of two drivers. Despite the loss, he returned home to Ennis motivated to come back next year, and go a little faster.

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Dav Weisz, promotor of races at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade, watches cars on the track on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Weisz is responsible for nearly every aspect of the goings on at the track and spends many hours each week preparing for the next race.

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Marty Frizzell goofs around before working on the track at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

gallatin speedway

Aaron Amundson drives practice laps before racing in the WISSOTA Street Stock class at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

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Ross Olmstead, a member of the crew at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade, monitors a race on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

gallatin speedway

Trevor Smeija, right, weighs Jeff Meirhofer's car after a IMCA Modifieds race at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

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A tire is caked with mud during between races at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

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The crowd at Gallatin Speedway watches cars circle the quarter-mile dirt track on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

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