Fifth Generation Keeps Family’s Legacy Up And Running — And Winning
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published June 8, 2010.
Kathryn Stoehr was not quite sure how to react when her dad, Northeastern Midget Ass’n owner/driver Greg Stoehr, approached her about being crew chief. “Surprised, awed,” the high school freshman accepted.
Joined by sister Bethany, 14 months younger, Kathryn Stoehr, now 16, heads up the youngest pit crew in all of racing.
“Gear changes, oil changes, springs, tires, putting the wing on and taking it off, they do it all,” offers dad, tolerating no disbelief. “They get their hands dirty. I could not do this without my daughters.”
Greg, now 46, and older brother Russ, 47, a five-time champ, are NEMA stalwarts (49 wins between them), the sons of longtime driver Paul and the grandsons of Bill, a mechanic. The continuum is older than NEMA itself.
Kathryn and Bethany, along with 13-year-old first-cousin Avery (Russ’s son), are fifth-generation racers, presently driving in kart action Monday nights at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway.
“Bethany is definitely a driver,” says Greg Stoehr. “She’s a lot like her uncle Russ, very smart, very smooth.”
Look for Bethany to be in a NEMA Lites car — full midgets with less power specifically designed as a less expensive entry into the sport — later in the 2010 season. Avery gets high marks as well from his uncle.
Kathryn and Bethany insist they’ve never felt pressure to be involved in racing. Each, in fact, has lots going on outside the sport. They adhere to their father’s favorite quote: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.”
Still, there was never a time in their lives when their father, their uncle or both, were not racing.
“They tell me I was at the Chili Bowl when I was 4 months old,” says Kathryn.
Her mother, Tara, actually has a photo from victory lane at Seekonk in 1994 with “one daughter in a snuggly and one in the belly.”
Stoehr’s daughters have grown to play a major role. They were instrumental in his getting out of the cockpit and getting back in.
The story begins with Tara approaching her husband. She had been part of his racing since they were high school sweethearts, was “sort of the crew” during the pre-midget kart and stock-car days and “still in love” with the vagabond lifestyle that running with NEMA and ARDC demanded.
She was at Thompson Int’l Speedway in October 1993 when Greg, driving the Zahar car, beat Russ in a race many still talk about.
“Never would I have ever asked Greg to quit,” Tara remembers. He was informed, however, that daughters 14 months apart made her “remaining totally involved difficult.”
“Hanging around” with the very successful Russ made Greg’s “retirement” easier. They are business partners in Motor Cars Int’l in Bridgewater, Mass.
Greg says “the girls were about 8 and 9” when he saw a kart at Thompson Int’l Speedway. “Would they be interested?” he wanted to know. Getting an affirmative answer, he purchased the kart and, according to Bethany, “we each drove it on alternating Saturday nights at Sugar Hill Speedway in New Hampshire.”
“We liked it right away,” says Kathryn (which didn’t surprise either parent) and soon each had her own kart.
At the end of 2002 Russ, after winning three-straight championships for the legendary owner Gene Angelillo, retired. The reason was business and family responsibilities.
“My daughters were racing and doing well,” Greg says about his decision to resume racing. “I decided it was time for me to do the same.” The fact that Russ was available was a key factor in the decision.
Returning with a Mazda-powered machine and with the help of his brother and longtime family friend Bruce Beane, Greg was a definite factor by 2005. His victory at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H., in 2007 was his first in 13 years.
Then in 2009 Russ returned to the Angelillo car and Greg decided to talk to his girls. A new chapter was about to begin for Greg, his teenage daughters and his wife of 22 years who, although she seldom misses races, is now “mostly in charge of sandwiches.”
They all celebrated in victory lane at Monadnock Speedway last September when Greg won the Marilyn’s Passion event.
“My proudest win to date,” says Stoehr of the race that honored the memory of Marilyn Angelillo, Gene Angelillo’s widow. Angelillo has since died, too.
In customary Stoehr style, both girls went to victory lane with proper degrees of decorum.
“It was a great night, a great thrill,” says Kathryn of her first win as crew chief.
Calling the Stoehr brothers “quiet” is a classic understatement. Communication is, however, no problem. Kathryn insists she and her sister have it as well, calling it “talking with our eyes.”
Last summer Kathryn spent two weeks in Africa with a missionary group from her church. “It was,” reports Bethany, “the first time we were apart for that long.”
Although Bethany looks forward to moving up as a driver, auto racing is, at best, going to have to share the Stoehr sisters. Raised to not be afraid of failure and with the security of family support, they are accomplished kids.
Kathryn, a top-rated gymnast at Bridgewater-Raynham High where she ranks in the top 10 of her class academically, says she favors working on the cars to driving them. Able to play several instruments, she lists music, medicine and missionary work among her career possibilities.
Also musically gifted, Bethany claims she “communicates best through dance.” She refuses to pick a “favorite” between dance and racing. Accomplished in ballet, she is currently a candidate in the National American Miss Pageant.
“The pageant is about gaining confidence in yourself,” explains Bethany, who will both sing and dance for the judges. The interview should also go well. She appears to be well prepared and racing can claim some credit.
Both girls have no trouble equating their individual interest with racing. “You can’t zone out in any of them,” explains Kathryn. Be it a race car or a balance beam, either challenge demands total concentration.
NEMA has welcomed female drivers. Erica Santos, another with a long family history, is a major attraction. There is great anticipation involving teenager Bethany Viets, currently a NEMA Lites competitor.
The possibility that a fifth generation of Stoehrs — driving and turning wrenches — is no less exciting.
Even sharing them will be a great day for New England racing.