If you’ve never seen a rock crawler, think of remote-controlled cars with oversized tires that can go over rocks (hence the name), except these are the real deal, the big-boy variety.
“I asked her if she could drive a stick, because it was a manual (transmission), and she said, ‘Yup,’ and she drove that right away,” Rose said. “Ever since Day 1 when I met her, I knew she could drive.”
Boy, can she drive.
Marken, of Duluth, won her first feature race in the Hornets class on Season Championship Night Aug. 28 at Gondik Law Speedway in Superior. With the strong end to the regular season, Marken finished second to Cloquet’s A.J. House in the season points standings, the highest points finish ever by a woman in track history.
Marken, 36, certainly earned this one. She started the 12-lap feature in the ninth starting spot in her 2003 Dodge Neon, took advantage of a couple of cautions and worked her way to third with six laps to go. She battled Hunter McDougall for second and then battled teammate Casey Fitzpatrick for first, running side by side for two laps. She got past Fitzpatrick and once out in front, built a two-to-three car lead the rest of the way, with DeJay Jarecki coming on for second.
“I did it — finally,” Marken said, laughing. “Oh, my gosh, I’d have to look at how many times I’ve come in second. I’ve been in the top five, top three, almost every race. Like they said, I’ve been knocking on the door all season.”
This is Marken’s third year racing and easily her best. She knows the car and what it can and can’t do, and that is what has made her such a good racer. She said experience has made her a better driver.
“I’m coming out of my shell, honestly,” Marken said. “I’m not a teenager anymore. They have no fear, where I’m in my head too much, so I’ve had to come out of my shell and push my comfort zone. I’ve learned how to handle the corners and be more aggressive.”
Marken’s father, Tim, was a mechanic by trade and a weekend dirt-track racer, so Kristy was accustomed to going to the track growing up, nostalgically recalling how, back then, the pits used to be located in the middle of the track.
“I grew up hanging out in the garage while my dad worked on his stuff,” Marken said. “Then when I started driving, I’d call him up and say, ‘Dad, it’s making this sound.’ But he would force me to figure out things for myself. It was a lot of tough love and learning cars as I went.”
Marken raced a few enduros over the years and believes she was the first woman to win an enduro at Proctor Speedway in 2009, albeit with a technicality (the car was registered in her sister’s name, Dayna Marken, though she never let Dayna drive, she just rode shotgun as the co-pilot).
With the advent of the four-cylinder Hornets class in recent years, here was a true beginner’s class that Marken and others could not only afford, but really enjoy.
“A lot of these bigger classes are intimidating, to me personally, to even consider racing out there,” Marken said. “But I am very much a competitive person.”
Racing has become a family affair.
Between Marken and Rose, now her fiance, they have four children: Marken’s son, Tyler Kachinske, 17, and daughter, Brooklynn Kachinske, 14, and her stepsons, Nathan Rose, 15, and Noah Rose, 12. Marken gave “a huge shout out” to Nate Rose, who built the cars and does the bulk of the maintenance work on them.
“The kids started ice racing snowmobiles, but they age out of that at a certain point,” Rose said.
Dirt track racing, meanwhile, you can pretty much do for life.
Kristy Marken was asked how much longer she could see doing this.
“Endless,” Marken said. “With snowmobiles, in that sport, they age out at 14 years old. When my son was 14 then we decided, ‘Let’s take up stock car racing.’ It’s something they can take into their adult life and do forever.”
This year, Marken, along with Nate and Noah Rose, have raced in the Hornets class, while Tyler Kachinske has moved up to Pure Stocks.
Marken, a 2002 Duluth East graduate and a former softball player, isn’t your stereotypical grease monkey. She graduated with a civil engineering degree from Minnesota Duluth in 2017 and currently works as a civil engineer at Krech Ojard and Associates in Duluth, primarily designing infrastructure projects and providing support for local construction projects.
“I had a whole career before I finally decided to go to college, raising kids and working,” Marken said, laughing. “It took me six years to get the degree, but I got it.”
In 2017, Brittany Smith of St. Joseph, Minnesota, held off her brother, Jake Smith, to capture the season points championship in the Hornets division at Proctor Speedway, becoming the first woman to capture a season points championship at the track. She became the first woman to win a Wissota national championship the following year.
Now Marken has taken the baton locally and carried on the tradition.
Marken was asked if she was a trendsetter, and it’s a label she doesn’t mind. She thinks of younger female drivers like 13-year-old Kambria LePage about how they gravitate toward her.
“It’s a girl-to-girl thing,” Marken said. “To see her pull up to the track, it’s encouraging, it’s exciting, I love it. I think it’s great. We girls can run with the boys, if not faster.”
And if Marken had a motto, that would be it.
“I like the saying, ‘Most girls chase boys, I pass them,’” she said.
32ND ANNUAL NORTHERN NATIONALS
What: Gondik Law Speedway’s annual year-ending invitational; includes the Russ Laursen Classic
Tickets: Admission for those 13-and-older is $15 for Thursday, $25 for Friday, $30 for Saturday and $50 for a two-day band for Friday-Saturday; 12-and-under are admitted free.
Special event: Tonight there will be a practice from 6-9 p.m. that will include 1-on-1 Hornets two-lap bracket races, NCAA tournament style, with the loser being eliminated. Then to end the night, there will be eight Midwest Modifieds and eight Super Stocks competing for $1,000 to win, with free fan admission.