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Their ritual is something like this: They leave their job a couple hours early on a Friday afternoon, pack their race car, parts and tools into a trailer, load up with brats, ground chuck, charcoal, maybe a tent and definitely a map and hit the road for somewhere in the Midwest.

Their payday is something like this: Maybe, MAYBE, a decent earnings check for competing in a Sports Car Club of America race will allow them to meet expenses, but that's only if they're a proven veteran and have built ample sponsorship.

Their payoff is most assuredly like this: There's nothing like it in the world to them.

For local racers Harry Manning, Danny Montee and Nick Esayian, just running the idea of going faster through their minds and seeing it come to fruition at full throttle on a race track is what it's all about.

The tents, cheap hotels, economy menus and marathon road trips are a way of life for them roughly every other week from April until October, but just ask them if they'd give up that lifestyle.

"I usually lose money," said the 27-year-old Esayian, a 1985 graduate of Racine Lutheran High School who now lives in Milwaukee. "But there's the camaraderie with other drivers, the challenge to push yourself and I want to look back and say I really wanted to do this and I mustered the courage to do it."

Added Manning, "Financially, it's about a break-even thing. The best you can do is break even, but it's given me the satisfaction of doing something well and doing something I enjoy doing."

For Montee and especially Manning, that big step came much later in life.

Manning saw his two children through college then decided to pursue the sport in 1992 - at the age of 51. A late calling? Sure. But this native of Decorah, Iowa could never forget the freedom of growing up on a farm and just

taking off on a gravel road with his car.

"I'd have to admit I'm one of the oldest of the showroom stock drivers," Manning said.

It all came to him quickly. Competing in the Showroom Stock "B" division, Manning placed third of 33 drivers in the 1993 national runoffs tournament and fourth of 35 last year.

In Manning's division, minimum modifications are allowed on his car. So how has he excelled so much first in a Nissan Sentra and now in a Mazda Miata R?

The answer is that there's always been an athletic side of him just waiting for an outlet to be expressed.

"I think it's the thinking and reasoning part of it - anticipating things," Manning said. "There's basically two aspects - there's driving fast and then traffic management. It's anticipating where the holes are going to be."

For Montee, who competes in the "F" Production division, which is for vintage cars, his calling came at age 38 in 1983. A Burlington resident who is a manager at S.C. Johnson Wax, Montee has an M.G. Midget built sometime between 1969 and '74 - he can't tell you when - that he has used to win national championships in 1988 and '93.

Montee's division allows greater freedom with modifications and he has taken advantage of that to such an extent that, "my Midget doesn't look like a Midget anymore."

In fact, the driving aspect of his career is secondary to the thrill of running aerodynamics concepts through his computer at home and seeing his ideas result in a few more miles per hour on race day.

"I've made some modifications on the car and learned there was a significant amount of horsepower to be gained through slight modifications to the body," Montee said. "The driving to me is the demonstration of all the work you've done before that."

Esayian, who competes in the Showroom Stock "C" division, which is a little slower division than that of Manning's, is just now making a name with his Dodge Neon ACR. Competing last year in Elkhart Lake's June Sprints, one of the showcase events of the SCCA racing series, Esayian placed fourth of 21 drivers.

He went on to compete in the national runoffs, but failed to place after the timing belt broke in his car.

Sticking with racing has sometimes taken discipline. As Esayian says, "I've got all kinds of horror stories about bugs and leaking ceilings. I surely don't stay in the finest accomodations."

But there's been a payoff beyond the thrill of competing. Esayian has this precious goal of becoming a professional driver one day and he hopes that will be realized through touring car racing, a popular event is Europe that may come to the United States in the next few years.

"My true shot at becoming a professional racer is there," he said.

The immediate goal for Esayian, Manning and Montee, along with Racine's Tom Christ who competes in the Formula Ford division, is competing in the 40th annual June Sprints Friday through Sunday at Elkhart Lake's Road America.

Considered by some as the nation's most famous amateur sports car racing weekend, the event is a favorite of Manning, Montee and Esayian.

"It's got a lot of history," said Montee, who won the June Sprints in 1990 and '93. "This is the 40th anniversery and it's one of the oldest amateur road racing events in the world."

Added Manning, "The June Sprints is the highlight of the year other than the national runoffs. It was a race I was at when I was just dreaming about getting into racing."

The four-mile road course midway between Milwaukee and Green Bay and just north of Elkhart Lake is located at N7390 Highway 67. Further information is available by calling 892-4576 or (800) 365-RACE.

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