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Spicin’ things up

Melinda Mawdsley

Little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice,” according to the Mother Goose nursery rhyme. Apparently, Mother Goose never met Vicki Stahl.

Raised by her father, Dan Stahl, she grew up a tomboy in Craig, not feeling comfortable in a dress or wasting time on perming her hair until after high school. Her favorite pastimes included snowmobiling, camping, hunting and fishing.

The story of how she met her husband, Justin Gallegos, isn’t even romantic. But Vicki Stahl didn’t have time for all that love-at-first-sight, fairy-tale drama. She was too busy trying to fix her racecar.

“I was reaming out a wheel rim to go on the car because it was sticking on the hub, and Justin walked by,” she said.

Huh?

“I was bent over,” she translated.

Justin Gallegos proposed six months later, and the two were married soon after at an outdoor ceremony at Craig’s Loudy-Simpson Park on a Saturday that didn’t conflict with racing season. The pair discussed getting married at the Hayden Speedway where they met but decided against it because every couple they knew who had exchanged vows at a racetrack is divorced.

In an effort to further prevent a trip down that path, Vicki and Justin Gallegos made a verbal agreement to leave whatever happens at the Hayden Speedway, at the Hayden Speedway. The couple raced against each other for the past several years with mixed results until Justin Gallegos, the Hayden Speedway president, stopped racing this season.

“Some nights, she won,” Justin Gallegos said. “Other nights, I won. Every night we were bumping and rubbing to beat each other. We had to separate the marriage from racing.”

Vicki Gallegos, 29, began racing her father’s car against other women a decade ago. She moved on to race the men the next season and picked up a 1995 street stock championship. Gallegos also won the 2000, 2001 and 2002 super truck championships, having accumulated the most points to defeat a field of men in the full-size truck division all three years.

The only extended leave Gallegos has taken from racing was because she was pregnant, five years ago. After moving into her second trimester, she became too big for the car.

“After four months, my belly stuck out so far the belt was only touching my belly and no other part of my body,” she said.

Trey Gallegos is now 5 and “probably my biggest fan,” Vicki Gallegos said. She also has a 9-year-old son, Heath, from a previous relationship.

In addition to making room for a family in her racing life, Gallegos, who works at The Memorial Hospital in Craig, has embraced the arrival of two more women drivers to the Hayden Speedway.

Michelle Powers, 26, started racing street stock cars three years ago, while Samantha Johnston, 29, joined the street stock class this summer. Gallegos competes in the limited late model class.

The street class is for any American, steel-bodied automobile made in 1955 or after with a wheel base of 108 inches or longer. The limited late model class is for any American manufactured car or truck made since 1980 with a minimum wheel base of 103 inches and a weight of at least 2,500 pounds, including the driver.

“The first car I drove was Vicki’s,” Johnston said. “She insisted. Vicki has been more than helpful, but I think it was the guys at the track that said if you want to do it, go for it. If I decide I want to do something, I’m going to go for it.”

Unlike Gallegos and Powers, whose husband, Brian Powers, races in the modified class, Johnston didn’t have much exposure to dirt-track racing until she joined the Hayden Speedway’s board of directors near the end of the 2002 season.

In her first season, Johnston, often seen in business suits and heels as publisher of the Craig Daily Press, has discovered the actual race is only one cog in the wheel of owning, maintaining and operating a racecar. She picked up a second-place finish in a race earlier this season.

The notion that dirt track racing in Northwest Colorado is nothing more than “people going out to a junkyard and putting a car together and showing up at a track,” is a myth, Johnston said.

“I had no idea how much time and money and energy went into it,” she added. “There are a lot of challenges. There’s a lot more skill involved than you might think.”

For Powers, the challenge of racing is balanced equally by the challenge of raising three children. Nicknamed “Mad Mama Michelle” by her father-in-law, Powers is thrilled that her children — Jovanna, 6, Ethan, 4, and Derek, 3 — can come to the track and watch their parents race. Brian Powers does most of the work on his wife’s car, a car he used to drive, but Michelle Powers doesn’t mind.

Michelle, who was going to cosmetology school during the day and racing by night when she first started, is in third place in the street class this season.

“People always say I can’t believe you race,” Powers said. “I have my nails done every week. I have them polished pretty nice. For being such a girly girl, I can go from one end of the spectrum to the other.”

A lesson, Michelle Powers said, daughter Jovanna already is learning.

“She wrestles for the Bad Dawgs, the youth wrestling program in Craig,” she said. “She loves it. She’d rather do boy stuff than girl stuff, but on the other hand, she’ll go with friends and play dolls.”

So maybe Mother Goose was right. Perhaps there is a little sugar and spice in every little girl; some just have more spice than others.

— To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208

or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com


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