Area stock car racer focuses on family, winning streak follows
Perham racer thankful for local support
PERHAM — Before Ryan Satter slides into his race car for laps of high speed fun, he spends time with a notebook. In the pages are words of advice to his future self.
“I’ve kept notes on every race and every track,” he said, adding he uses past experiences to improve the handling of the car and remind himself of mistakes that have been made.
After taking stock of past moments of regret and glory, Ryan gets into his Wissota Street Stock race car, buckles up and clears his head as the engine growls and purrs.
Wissota, which started as a Wisconsin-Minnesota racing organization, sets rules for each of its divisions — Late Models, Modifieds, Super Stocks, Street Stocks and Mod Fours.
Its membership includes about 50 race tracks in Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba. Last year, nearly 2,700 drivers were licensed for competition at member tracks.
Ryan Satter, who lives in Dent, has brought home four championship cups so far this race season (as of June 15, 2022), including a recent win at Viking Speedway in Alexandria, Minn. on Saturday, June 11. His career wins on the dirt tracks of the Midwest are nearing 100. While he enjoys taking the checkered flag, the most valuable aspect of the sport is the bond it created with his father.
The 27-year-old got into racing because of his father, Mike Satter, who was just a kid when he was fishing on a lake with his grandpa and heard the zooms, revs and metal nudging metal.
“I asked my grandpa what that was,” Mike recalled. “He told me there was a race track nearby. We started going to the track, and when I was 18 I started racing.”
When his son, Ryan, was old enough, Mike let him tag along.
“I remember going to the Viking Fall Classic (in Alexandria, Minn.) with my dad; maybe when I was 10-years-old,” Ryan said. “I spent the night in the pit area sitting on the race car trailer. It was intense and for me, that was it; I was hooked, I remember that moment.”
The 2013 Perham High School graduate soaked up all the lessons the race track teaches, whether he was in the pits or a spectator in the stands. When he turned 17, he told his father his intentions to drive.
“I was pretty excited,” Mike recalled. “We talked about it, and I told him it would take a lot of time, money and dedication if he wanted to do well. He still wanted to drive. So, that winter, we bought a car and started working on it.”
The two stripped the car down to its bare frame and built it up to the specs for the Wissota Street Stock race circuit.
“Those cars tend to be the 1980s Monte Carlo or Cutlasses with a Chevy Motor, 255, and PowerGlide Transmission,” Ryan noted. “There is a lot of geometry that goes into building a race car so they can handle the track and speeds.”
On paper, a car can be different than in practice. Ryan and his father agreed there is no replacement for experience on the track.
“The first year wasn’t good,” his dad said.
Ryan recalled his adrenaline skyrocketed before his first race, and when the green flag dropped his anxiety mixed with fear.
“Things happen so fast when you’re going 80 or 90 miles an hour and are surrounded by 20 other cars,” he said. “I wrecked myself right away. It was frustrating and disheartening, but it was good. It made me respect the equipment and car a little more.”
As his first season flipped to his second, and so on, Ryan finished more races and found himself in the victory circle more and more. Even with experience behind the wheel, wrecks and rolls are a hazard of the job.
“The first roll was a bit harder to shake than the first wreck,” he said. “I was 18 the first time I rolled, and it took a couple of days. I was sore, but it was more of a mental battle to have that trust in the car and my abilities. It took a few nights.”
When a driver is in a mental battle behind the wheel of a race car, they may have to power through six to 10 laps for shorter races or 15-40 laps for feature events.
“I like longer races because I’m good at saving my car and getting to the end of the race with my stuff a little better than the other drivers,” he said.
After the checkered flag flaps and the fanfare dies down, the Satteres roll the race car into the rig and head towards home. While cranking wrenches, they discuss the night’s strategy, fix damaged parts and tweak the race car for the next dirt track.
When thinking back to the day that he declared to his father that he wanted to race, Ryan said his dad was right about several things.
“It isn’t cheap,” he said with a laugh, noting a race may cost $6,000 after fixing the car, entrance fee, gas bills and travel costs are paid. This year alone, Ryan estimates he has spent about $20,000. “Having local sponsors makes it possible. I was surprised to get as much support as I did.”
Ryan used to chase points for the end of the year cup, but the traveling costs increased this season and his priorities shifted to simply spending time with loved ones.
“I’ve been in the top 10 in the nation the last six consecutive years, and the Minnesota champion in 2020,” he said. “When I focus on points it consumes me and takes out the fun. I get focused on finishing and worried about wrecking.”
Instead, this season is all about spending time with family and friends at the race track. So far, the new goal seems to be a great formula for winning races.