Racing is in her blood

Racing is in her blood

  • Article by: KELLY JO McDONNELL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 5, 2011 – 2:06 PM

Following in her granddad’s and dad’s footsteps, Anna Kouba looks to make her mark on dirt tracks, including Elko next week.

Sprint car racer Anna Kouba , 19, of Lino Lakes, received some help from crew member Keith Hodnefield strapping into her car before the start of her heat at the dirt track in Princeton, Minn., on June 25.

Anna Kouba has been drawn to the family business since she was 8 years old.

In her family, the business is driving cars — race cars — at triple-digit speeds on a dirt track.

Kouba, 19, of Lino Lakes, is traveling a path blazed by her grandfather, Earl Kouba, in the 1940s and ’50s and continued by her father, Joe, and brother, Joseph, as well as her Uncle Jimmy.

“My whole family is basically in the racing gig,” said Kouba.

Earl Kouba is in the Colorado Motorsports Hall of Fame, and her dad, who raced for more than 30 years, founded the Upper Midwest Sprint Car Racing Series. “I race under that sanction,” she said.

This is Anna Kouba’s rookie season, and she wants to race into October. She’s been in about a dozen races and has some top 10 finishes to show for it. Her next scheduled racing is coming up at Elko July 15 and 16.

Sprint Car Racing isn’t cheap. Most of her winnings go back into maintaining her car. For race day, average transportation and fuel costs run about $350.

“The more I perform, I’ll be able to get more sponsorship,” she said. “The ultimate is getting a full-ride sponsorship, like the professionals, but ours comes from our own money mainly.”

Joe Kouba said his daughter definitely has the drive and commitment to excel in the sport.

“Anna is extremely competitive,” he said. “She’s gotta beat her brother first and see where she can take it.”

Anna will learn patience as time goes on, he said. “When she doesn’t do well, she gets mad at herself and the world… It’s a fine balance,” he said. “Life has a tendency to teach you that you can’t always run down the hill, you have to walk sometimes. If she’s patient, I believe in my heart I can get her beating and racing with the local guys.”

At this point, it’s almost all guys she’s facing. “I’ve only raced against one other woman,” Anna said.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being the only woman on the track. She especially likes it when young girls come up and talk to her. “It’s pretty fun to see the girls cheering for me because I’m a woman.”

On the other hand, she said that sometimes she’s not taken seriously enough. But she brushes it off. “I’ve grown up with men and this sport. Besides, my friends think it’s really cool.”

Her drive to succeed isn’t just in racing. She was a soccer standout at Centennial High School and went to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on a Division I scholarship.

This fall, though, Kouba will be transferring to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to be closer to home, racing and her mother, Kathy, who slipped on the ice last year and suffered a serious brain injury. Today, she is almost fully recovered.

Kouba’s plans for the future are right in line with her racing passion. Her main priority is to finish college, where she is majoring in marketing and communications. “If for some reason racing doesn’t pan out, I still want to be involved in racing in some aspect,” she said.

For now, her racing goals are to keep making progress and someday make it into the “World of Outlaws,” the professional league for sprint car racing. “Either that or going in NASCAR and getting a sponsorship,” she said excitedly. “I just want to be in racing.”

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