One cannot think of Crystal Motor Speedway without the image of a red No.776 coming to mind. For decades the Zeigler family name has been synonymous with the 3/8-mile dirt track in Crystal, Michigan.
A regular front-runner in the IMCA division; Rusty Zeigler can’t imagine a Saturday night away from the rumble of race engines. His passion was inherited from his father Neil Zeigler whose no.776 4-Cylinder is still making laps. Neil was an old-school racer who put Rusty in his first Street Stock at the age of 15. Rusty was instantly hooked and in the years since tried his hand at Late Model racing before becoming one of the IMCA Modified pioneers nearly 20-years-ago.
Although in recent years most Michigan dirt tracks have traded in the IMCA sanction for UMP, leaving Crystal and now Tri-City Speedway as the lone IMCA tracks; there is something about the sanctioning body that has kept Zeigler in place, “I just have fun in the Modifieds. In my opinion running UMP isn’t much different than running a Late Model so I wish there were more IMCA sanctioned tracks in the state. With IMCA we are able to keep costs down, we all have comparable cars and therefore it’s competitive which is what makes the class so fun”.
Crystal Motor Speedway has always been a family-oriented track and the Zeigler’s are a prime example of that. Not only are Neil and Rusty a Crystal Motor Speedway staple, but a third generation of Zeigler is on the track, in addition to Rusty’s son-in-law Josh Gallagher tearing up the speedway, his son Kenneth is also no stranger to the cockpit of the no.776, as Rusty said with a chuckle, “He gets to drive my back-up car whenever I am not stealing parts off of it”. Rusty’s wife of 35-years; Marcia is also in on the action, always at the track and pitching in wherever needed, despite the fact that with three of her boys out on the track Modified A-Mains are a slightly nerve wracking event. According to Rusty it only gets really interesting when he tries to educate the boys, “It’s fun having my son and son-in-law out on the track, but Marcia got a little mad at me a few weeks back for helping my son get out of my way”.
With an already prominent racing career, Rusty has made many memories behind the wheel, but each night never fails to bring another exciting memory with it, most good but some on the scary side. Four years ago Rusty had a very close call during a 4th of July Friday night race here at CMS when the front runners tangled and collected the entire A-Main field. Once the cars were cleared only three running vehicles remained, and among the battered was Rusty, “The No.615 car drove through my passenger side until the bumper stopped at my seat, and I ended up in the hospital with a broken arm and 4 broken ribs. We haven’t missed a points night here in 15-years and I wasn’t about to break tradition so the boys took the car that night, fixed it, got back at 6am in the morning. We put it all together and raced that same feature on Saturday night”. Because the wreck had taken out so many competitors the finish was postponed until the following night and Rusty ended up finishing the same race he had his worst accident in. Even though the weekend was a costly one, the Zeigler crew still managed to have fun, but Rusty said the most humorous part was the gift he received from one of his competitors, “That next night Chad Wernette and his crew (no.615) brought me over my door panel, once they extracted it from his car where it had been embedded and the whole crew had signed it…That was funny!”
Having fun and spending time with family and friends is what racing is all about for the Zeigler crew. Rusty has many wins and championships to his credit, but he is most proud of receiving Sportsman of the Year honors and the fact that after a crazy work week spent at the General Motors’ Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant he knows that weekends will be spent with his family. Josh and Kendra along with Stephanie (Age 8), Addyson (Age 2), and Briella (Age 1) are typically around as well as Kenneth, Elizabeth and their two children; Jonathon (Age 4) and Kendyll (2-Months).
Although Rusty maintains the philosophy that racing is all about the enjoyment; he is by no means laid back on the track. As a matter of fact over the years the Ovid, Michigan native has had much success in the Modified division and is currently in the hunt for the 2011 IMCA Michigan State points title. Only 35-points separate him from current points leader Josh Borton (no.111), and with plenty of season ahead; grabbing the title is a definite possibility and I look forward to seeing how the championship race plays out as the 2011 season continues.