By Dean Reller
Growing up in the Brainerd area of Minnesota, Nate Thiesse took his love for racing and became a dirt track racer, turned asphalt driver. Along the way he earned an engineering degree. Thiesse worked for few race teams and then worked in the racing industry for a while. “I knew I wanted to get back to the race track and I had a really good working relationship with Kevin Cywinski from back when he was racing and I was working on his stuff as a team engineer for LaFavre Racing and Country Joe Racing”, said Thiesse during a recent interview at an ARCA Racing Series event at Elko Speedway. “So when Joe Miller decided to sell the team, that’s when Kevin and I said this is a really neat opportunity to come in and buy it and help these kids and we figured if we did it right and were smart about it, we could make it work. And so, seven years later, here we are.”
Win-Tron Racing (Win, coming from CyWINski’s name and Tron, from Nate’s nickname, NaTRON) became a Minnesota based team with its shop and headquarters located in Lakeville. The team became what is known as a driver development team, taking young drivers such as James Buescher, Blake Bjorklund, Justin Marks, Matt Merrell and Mason Mingus and giving them the professional opportunities to compete in the ARCA Racing Series. That was at least until 2014, when the team hired 10-time ARCA Racing Series Champion Frank Kimmel to drive for them. With a seasoned veteran behind the wheel, the team’s goals changed a bit, but not the focus. “So its 180-degrees opposite of what we had been doing, but it’s not any different than what you do on a day-to-day basis”, said Thiesse. “You are still taking the driver’s feedback, making the car better, doing the adjustments and just finding that speed.” Kimmel has served as a resource for many of the drivers in the series as it is very common to have them come to him for information. Cywinski’s driver development role as changed a bit, but not a lot. “Kevin works with the drivers and it’s not uncommon for him to tell Frank to be easy on the restarts and not to spin the tires.”
A little over a year ago, the Win-Tron team moved from Minnesota to North Carolina mostly because of the available resources needed to be successful. “From a cost standpoint, you almost had to do it for logistics”, remarked Thiesse. “With Diesel costs up, it’s expensive to keep running cars to North Carolina to get the chassis repaired and get the bodies put on, nobody around here does that.” Along with the move, the number of cars in the team’s inventory has greatly increased to as many as 22 ARCA cars in various stages of construction or repair, not to mention some NASCAR K & N Series cars and seven NASCAR Camping World Trucks.
The trucks have been something Win-Tron has been gradually getting into. “The last few years we’ve ran the truck races at the end of the year”, pointed out Thiesse. “This year it’s a full-time effort with Mason Mingus who finished second to Kimmel last year in ARCA points.” Going up against well established truck teams is no easy task, but the Win-Tron team was somewhat prepared for the challenge. “We knew the first third of the season we were going to take some bumps and bruises as he (Mingus) is still learning and we’re learning what he needs in the truck which is way different than the ARCA cars.” To help with the development of the truck team, they have hired a few people with truck experience to help with the learning curve.
With an ARCA team and now a Truck team, you may wonder what’s next? Well, expanding to yet another series isn’t totally out of the question sometime in future, but it isn’t a priority for the team. “Stick with what you are good at”, added Thiesse. “We know where we fit in the racing world. The ARCA Series is awesome to run in, the Truck Series is a great stepping stone for kids coming through our ARCA program to go to. We are slow to build and very conservative and want to make sure we are doing Quality instead of Quantity.”
Even though the shop has moved out of state, Thiesse still has his roots firmly planted in the Brainerd area where he and his family reside. “For me it’s keeping close to family and having that support system is the key”, said Thiesse. “Kevin keeps everything together at the shop. I handle more of the business side of it. So, together it’s a good working relationship. There are a few things that I can do that I don’t have to be there and we see everybody often. There are only three days a week that I don’t see everybody and then we are back at the race track, so it works out.”
When the ARCA Racing Series came recently to Elko Speedway, just miles from the team’s former shop, it became more of a homecoming besides just being a race. “It’s fun to see everybody”, beamed Thiesse. “After the race, when everyone comes down (to the pit area), you’ll see people that you haven’t seen for years that you used to see at the race track, whether that’s Sauk Centre or somebody that you used to know back in the ASA days, they’ll find their way down here.” So that Minnesota foundation remains there for Nate Thiesse and Win-Tron Racing which still can be considered a Minnesota based team.