Derek and Deneen LeTurgez set to face off in Lightning Sprint race in Olathe
Derek LeTurgez discovered a talent to race cars, but he never imagined he’d win a national race.
The Grand Junction 22-year-old did, not once, but twice last year, in the Lightning Sprint Open Wheel Nationals event at Thunder Mountain Speedway, near Olathe.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” LeTurgez said earlier this week.
He will try to win the event again this weekend. Races begin at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Sport Modified, dwarf, modified and go-kart classes will race as well.
“The numbers aren’t near what we’d like to see for this race, but the economy has hurt us,” track safety official and father Dewey LeTurgez said. “It’s a fact. Hopefully people understand that.”
There are at least a dozen lightning sprint drivers registered as of early this week, with more expected. Qualifying races for the lightning sprints take place Saturday with heat races and finals Sunday.
Lightning sprint cars have narrow bodies with wings and sideboards on the top of the car. The wings and sideboards make the car easier to control and helps the car turn on corners.
Derek, a 2007 Central High graduate, is a four-year lightning sprint car veteran and was the track sports stock champion in 2007 and was the track’s sport stock rookie of the year in 2006.
He will face competition from across the state, Utah and possibly elsewhere, but his toughest competition may be his sister, Deneen.
“We’re just going to have fun,” Derek said. “If not, you shouldn’t even be there.”
The 16-year-old started racing at age 9 in go-karts at the Speedway. She moved up to the lightning sprint cars this year.
“It’s awesome so far,” Deneen said. “I can go a lot faster.”
She had her first top-five finish two weekends ago.
“It’s a lot of fun for me,” said Deneen of racing her older brother. “I learned how to race from him. I watched him, caught on to it and started racing like him. I would race the go-karts like a lightning sprint.”
It was inevitable Deneen would end up racing a sprint car.
“It’s fun to see her push herself each week,” Derek said. “She gets better every time she’s on the track.”
For Dewey, watching his two children race is a joy.
“I can’t describe what a thrill it’s been to watch these kids,” Dewey LeTurgez said. “To work together with Derek building his first car ... and see him move into the lightning class. I’m Dad and I’m prejudiced, but I think he’s an extremely talented and gifted driver.”
Derek and Deneen don’t just race either. Derek works as an EMT and Deneen works in the concession stand when they’re not racing.
Even Debbie, their mother, is involved. She manages the concession stand.
It’s a miracle Deneen can drive a car, much less race after a bad skiing accident eight years ago. The accident was so bad, there was concern about brain damage, not to mention if she’d be able to drive a car one day.
“With Deneen and her head injury history, it’s great to see her get out there and do what she does,” Dewey said. “Dad has a tendency to get pretty emotional with his kids racing. I’ll shed tears sometimes, I’m so happy and excited for them and it doesn’t matter how they do.
“I always try to tell my kids we are truly blessed to be able to do what we do. We try to live that way.”