HARRY Droste has never raced a sprintcar.
The Warrnambool businessman has done a handful of laps on “fun days”, but that’s the extent of his career in the driver’s seat.
“I always thought if I make a mistake and take someone out, then I would feel responsible for the cash,” he said.
But to judge his value to sprintcar racing by the hours, or lack thereof, he’s spent clocking up laps is to do him a major disservice.
Droste, 70, is one of the unheralded backers who ensure sprintcar racing remains strong.
He has had about a dozen drivers, Australians and Americans, race his cars since the early 1980s, all because he loves the sport.
“Out on the track my knees shake, especially when my car is out there,” he said.
The extent of his passion is such that Droste, a builder, came out of retirement last year to ensure his car stayed on the track.
“My wife (Denise) doesn’t like speedway, well she doesn’t like spending money on speedway,” he said.
“When it came time for me to pay a few bills, she wasn’t too keen on parting with any money.
‘‘So I said ‘all right, I’ll go back to work and earn my own money’.”
Droste, one of six children to parents Hank and Lily, was born in the Netherlands in 1943.
The family migrated to Australia in 1952, staying in army camps at Albury and Hastings before settling in Warrnambool.
Droste started watching hot rods at the former track at the racecourse and became hooked.
His sprintcar adventures started in the 1980s, when Warrnambool teen David ‘Chook’ Hetherington approached him wanting sponsorship.
Droste turned down the offer and instead suggested they unite and buy a car.
“He’s been my best friend ever since,” Droste said.
Hetherington and Droste contested the Lucas Oil Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic for the first time in 1983 and raced together for a decade.
“We qualified on pole one year and we were leading the Classic halfway through and the right rear tyre went down,” Droste said.
“David was crying on the infield and I was crying in the crowd.”
Since then, Droste has entered a car in every Classic bar one since, making him potentially the longest-serving owner the event has known.
Ian Lewis, Phil Johnson and Americans Greg Wilson, Paul McMahan, Lucas Wolfe and Randy Hannagan are among those who have driven for him.
Hannagan delivered him his best result, fourth in the 2009 Classic after transferring from the B main.
Droste reckons the Californian would’ve won had there been at least one stoppage in the race: “We were up high, down low, we were real fast”.
The latest driver to unite with Droste is Tasmanian Shaun Dobson.
The pair joined forces on December 31, 2012, contested the 41st Classic in 2013.
Dobson, 21, is second on the Sprintcar Racing Association of Victoria standings and is in contention for the Avalon track championship.
He is one of the best Australian hopes to claim victory in the 42nd Classic at Allansford’s Premier Speedway, which gets under way tonight.
“I’d seen Shaun race quite a few times and thought if I can get him in my car, that’d be pretty good,” Droste said.