Full throttle for former Iowa wrestler Ironside

Former Hawkeye NCAA champion racing most of season at Hawkeye Downs

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March 28, 2014 | 3:00 pm

CEDAR RAPIDS - Mark Ironside owns a reputation of having an unrelenting motor.

The continuous attack and motion he displayed on a wrestling mat resulted in success, including two state titles at Cedar Rapids Jefferson and two NCAA titles with four All-American finishes for the University of Iowa.

Ironside will get the chance to show off a different motor in another form of competition this summer. After racing a very limited schedule in the legend car class last summer, Ironside will compete as a regular for the 2013 weekly points series at Hawkeye Downs Speedway. The season is scheduled to start Friday, May 10 after the original opener was postponed due to weather.

Camps, clinics and vacation will conflict with some dates, but Ironside plans to race most of them in his black-and-gold tribute to Hawkeye Wrestling.

"I'm looking forward to run a full schedule," Ironside said. "It's going to be a lot of fun to be able to go out and hopefully progress as the year goes on."

Ironside is a novice in auto racing, but he can transfer his personal athletic experiences to his new endeavor. He said his approach to the track resembles what he had on the mat. Ironside said he feels the same nervousness before a feature that he had going into a match. Once competition begins, the outside factors fade away.

"It's just like a wrestling match in the fact that one that green flag drops or that whistle blows all that is gone," Ironside said. "I don't feel any nervousness or anxiety then. That's where my natural instinct and competitiveness consumes me and takes over. It's all business. It's intense."

Progress started last summer when Ironside bought a legends car, following a celebrity fundraiser race. He competed in just four races, learning to handle the asphalt oval and its traffic. The biggest lesson, he said, was finding the right grooves on the track, hitting his check points to run his best times, and doing it consistently each lap.

"The most important part about last year was just getting a little track time," said Ironside, who had never driven a race car before last summer. "I got the experience and feel of the track, being in a crowd and in a group of drivers. That was really beneficial."

He has had to modify his attitude a bit. Ironside was known for his tenacity as a wrestler, running at full throttle against opponents. On a short track, you can't have the accelerator pressed to the floor. Technique and strategy are important, especially with the short wheel base of the legends cars on a quarter-mile track.

"I also learned smooth is fast," Ironside said. "It's easy to go out there, especially with my nature to want to go 100 miles an hour and go as hard as you can. Sometimes taking it easy and being smooth is the best way."

Ironside became more hands on right before his final race of the 2012 season. He wasn't settling for finishing behind more experienced drivers. Many legends veterans, like season points champion Kevin Korsmo, brothers Al and Dennis Diercks, and Warren Ropp, help tutor new drivers, but he received a boost when he started working on his own set-up for the last contest. He placed sixth in the feature.

"I ran a few races, basically like taking the car right out of the box and running it," Ironside said. "It wasn't set up and designed to run with those guys on the track on a competitive basis.

"The car was like night and day. I was able to go out and not just have a fast car, but be able to have a car that handled on the corners and turns and be able to race against people. That was probably my highlight."

Racing isn't just a meaningless hobby for Ironside. He has invested too much of his time and resources into  it. He juggles his duties as a apparel business owner, located in SW Cedar Rapids and close enough to hear the cars run, and a radio/television broadcaster for wrestling with racing. He plans to continue racing for the near future, but he'll be looking for wins this season.

"Mentally, I can be more competitive than anybody, because that's just my nature," Ironside said. "In reality, as far as the car goes, experience in knowing the handling and how to drive it, I think I can be somewhat competitive out there. It's probably not going to be a situation where I'll be winning on a regular basis but I just want to compete and run towards the front, and get a win by the end of the season." 

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