SELINSGROVE — Wes Irwin doesn't look like your typical sprint car driver.
And that's not a knock on him.
He is a hair stylist by trade, his chassis is fluorescent orange and he's a prime example of the phrase "necessity is the mother of invention."
Irwin, a former jet ski racer, goes all out to raise money to race. When he's not cutting hair, he's cutting grass.
"I have a lawn care business and all the money I make cutting grass goes into the race car," he said. "We have a lot of fundraisers, we do Monte Carlo nights, luau's, concerts in the backyard, sell subs, anything to keep this car on the track — and it's working."
"We do have some great sponsors and I don't ask them for a lot," he said. "I felt that I have an ability to raise money as I have always been involved in fundraisers and we did a lot of promotions with the jet skis.
"To be honest with you, I like doing that," he said of getting money to keep the car going versus the traditional marketing pitch. "It brings people into our sport that may never have seen a sprint car before. We always involve our sponsors and they like that, so there's a little more money that comes from them each year."
Irwin, who works in a salon in the Hershey area, has cut hair by his RV, but he won't reveal what driver has used his services. He was supposed to cut hair for driver Fred Rahmer's wife, Deb, but it didn't happen.
Racing for the Irwin family began with his dad.
"He raced at the little Fredericksburg track but when he got out of racing I recall going to Silver Spring all the time," Irwin said. "So we spent our weekends at Silver Spring and the great thing about Silver Spring was it was always about family."
After he and his late brother, Mike served their country (Wes in the Army and Mike in the Navy), they came back to racing, but at different ends of the spectrum.
Mike went on to race Super Sportsman at Silver Spring while Wes wanted to live the beach life.
"My brother and I had one thing in common and that was racing," Wes Irwin said. "From there, we went in opposite directions. I was a beach kid, he was a mountain kind of guy. He did the deer hunting thing, I went surfing."
Mike ended up running for Troy Godfrey, who owns the 5G sprint car, and Godfrey builds the engine that Irwin runs.
"Mike was a really good driver and he a good life ahead of him but he passed away about 15 years ago to Hodgkin's disease and who knows where he would be at now," he added. "He'd probably be in a 410."
After the Army, Irwin headed to Florida.
"Racing was always still there and I searched out car tracks, but something caught my eye when I arrived and the man I was working with in the jet ski business was involved in jet ski racing. I thought that was pretty cool and I wouldn't mind giving that a whirl," he said.
"I won the first race he entered me into as a novice and it grew from there," he said. "I ended up with West Coast SeaDoo, a factory team. I love the sport and I probably came into the sport a little later in my life. It seems like I am always a day late and a dollar short in this world. But the whole time I was running jet skis, my heart was always like, someday, I want to drive a sprint car."
He had a soon-to-be famous musician on the team, Robert Matthew Van Winkle, a.k.a Vanilla Ice.
After seeing a major sponsor pull out and TV time dwindling and the jet ski rental business starting to get expensive, Irwin saw the opportunity to move back to Pennsylvania.
Irwin bought his first car, a 4-cylinder, three days after he returned to the state. He likes to say that he got his start in car racing at Linda's Speedway, Jonestown.
He raced his 4-cylinder at Trail-Way, Hanover, and Winchester (Va.), speedways, but it took two years of pestering the guy he drove for at Linda's to buy a sprint car.
"He finally bought one and I am glad as I waited my whole life to drive one of these things," he said. "I'm no spring chicken, but the drive is there like a young person because it's new to me. I feel like I can race another 10-15 years providing we stay healthy."
Irwin, whose nickname is Hollywood, started his sprint car career in 2005. He suffered a broken back and neck in a wreck at Selinsgrove in 2006. This is his second year back as owning his own team.
"The main thing for me is that we are a low budget team and it's a team thing," he said. "My friends and I own the car and for what we are spending, we're pretty competitive on the smaller tracks. We're talking about what we're going to do for next year and we might do Trail-Way for the whole season and see what happens. This year we have better equipment and we're stepping up our game a little bit. I try not to look too much towards next year, but our goal for the rest of the year is to make a feature. To make a feature is a win for us."
A few weeks ago, Irwin finished runner-up at Trail-Way Speedway.
"I'm doing something that 10,000 would probably love to do and only an elite few get to do, so I am happy and I keep my head up above the clouds for that reason."
Wes Irwin has a trophy around the bar in his basement for everything he's ever run. The one trophy missing is from sprint car racing. There's no doubt, he'll keep his entrepreneurial spirit going of doing whatever it takes to race to achieve that goal.
SELINSGROVE — Wes Irwin doesn't look like your typical sprint car driver.
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