Staying on the dirt has led Craig Priewe to several Modified championships
By Bert Lehman
Editor, Full Throttle Magazine
Craig Priewe got his first race car when he was around 19 years old, but he didn’t buy it. In fact, it wasn’t his intention to go racing. At the time he had been in Pete Firari’s pit crew for a few years along with Frank Firari, Wade Fletcher and Tim Fletcher.
“We were at a Chilton special up north in the A-Stock division with Pete and all those guys,” Priewe recalls. “The show finished and Pete turned to me and threw me a set of keys and said, ‘Here, start racing.’ He gave me the car.”
That was in 1992. Priewe never did race the car in the A-Stock division. Instead, he converted it to a Stock Car and raced the car only seven nights before jumping up to the Modified division. He says the main reason for the switch to a modified was the fact Pete and Frank Firari instilled in him that he should race in a division that could make him a better racer by racing against better drivers.
“The modifieds were growing in the area so we thought instead of building a new Stock Car, we’d go right into a modified,” Priewe says.
Priewe raced a TNT chassis the first two years in the modified division. This was a homemade chassis built by himself and a group of his friends. After two years racing a homemade chassis, Priewe switched to a Pro manufactured chassis because Dennis and Barb Baye from De Pere joined his race team.
Dennis and Barb Baye are still with Priewe’s race team 15 years later, along with Jim Krahn of Krahn Performance. It was by chance that Priewe and Baye met. Baye was attending the races in Beaver Dam with his brother Bernie Baye who owned Kurt Jordan’s modified at the time. Dennis Baye helped set up the chassis for that car.
“Denny had watched me race the previous year,” Priewe recalls. “We started to become friends and he wanted to come onboard and try to get me to the front and win championships. At the time I was at a really young age, and he wanted to push me to the asphalt. That was our intentions originally.”
Due to the time commitment needed to go asphalt racing, the move to asphalt never happened. But Priewe did start collecting victories and championships. He says the first year he raced at the IMCA Supernationals in Boone, Iowa he placed 11th in the main event. He also won the $1,000-to-win September special at Dodge County Fairgrounds three straight years — 1995, 1996 and 1997. He was also the 1996 Dodge County Fairgrounds Modified track champion.
Priewe says he then started racing for other teams until 2006 when he was back racing with his own team. It didn’t take long for him to win a championship, as he was crowned the 2006 Beaver Dam Raceway Modified track champion.
In 2009, Priewe enjoyed a lot of success. He won an extra $1,000 after winning the Tri-State Challenge Modified race at Beaver Dam Raceway the same night the World of Outlaws Late Model Series visited the Raceway. He won the track championship at Beaver Dam Raceway, as well as the $2,000-to-win year-end Modified special at the Raceway. For his accomplishments, Priewe was named the 2009 Wisconsin Racing Expo Modified driver of the year.
The track championship last year at Beaver Dam Raceway didn’t come easy, though. Priewe says he swept the Modified division the first three weeks of the 2009 season at Beaver Dam Raceway and ran consistent the rest of the season. He led in points the whole season except for one or two nights during the middle of the season.
Priewe says he was battling for the championship with Eddie Lemay and Jeremy Christians late in the season. Lemay had motor problems one night dropping him out of contention.
“Jeremy Christians and I were in a battle at the end,” Priewe recalls. “Going into the last night with both us qualifying into the feature, I knew I had to finish fifth or better. I was actually six points ahead of him going in. If I finished fifth or better I would win the championship.”
But that’s when disaster almost struck. Priewe remembers being worried about the start of the race and being involved in a wreck. The race started without a hitch, but the caution flag waved three laps into the race. Priewe says when the race was restarted there was a crash on the backstretch. He tried to drive around the outside of the crash but another car hit him in the side, forcing him into the wall and then down into the infield.
“The caution came out and I knew the car was bad,” Priewe says. “But I had enough to get it into the pits to the trailer. The pit crew and everybody I had were awesome. They changed center links, tie-rod ends, everything in the front of the car during the caution. There were parts hanging off the car everywhere.”
When Priewe returned to the track there were 16 laps left and he knew Christians was running up front. He started dead last and gradually made his way toward the front, grabbing the fifth spot with three laps remaining.
“The car was actually good enough where I think I could have made a run for the win,” Priewe says. “But I knew we just had to get to the fifth spot to win the championship. I got to the fifth spot and then coasted it the last two laps down on the inside to make sure I held it. I won the championship by one point.”
Priewe says he once again plans on racing weekly at Beaver Dam Raceway in 2010, as well as adding Oshkosh Speedzone Raceway to his weekly schedule. He plans on making occasional visits to Wilmot Speedway, Darlington Speedway and Seymour Speedway. Modified specials he plans on racing in include those at Luxemburg Speedway, 141 Speedway and Shawano Speedway.
(This article first appeared in the May 2010 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)