A family that plays together stays together. The Mitchell family of Fernie is no exception.
Rick and Jeri Mitchell are the driving force behind Red Rabbit Racing, which races as part of the International Motor Contest Association. Rick started racing in 1980 in a Pontiac he dubbed the Little Red Rabbit and the name has been with him ever since.
Rick and Jeri’s son Cliff also races for the team. In addition, Granddaughter Haylie Kons-Mitchell, 13, took part in her first ever race last weekend in Kalispell, Montana. Haylie was the only girl to take part in the bando race.
When asked if Jeri ever races, Rick let out a big groan.
“Don’t ask her that,” said Rick.
“I still have the biggest trophy in the house,” said Jeri. “I raced in Cranbrook for two years and won the Powder Puff race.”
However, Jeri does not race anymore after watching Cliff wreck while racing in Calgary several years ago.
“He hit the wall going about 100 miles per hour backwards after blowing his engine,” said Jeri. “They had the ambulance out there and had everything all cordoned off so nobody could see. All you can do is stand at the end of the pits and cry.”
Meanwhile Rick had driven past the wreck three times and saw that Cliff’s window was still up.
“That is the sign you are ok, when you put your window down,” said Rick.
When responders told Cliff they were going to have to cut his roof off, he sprung into action and finally got out of his car. When Jeri was finally allowed near the wreck, she and the responders convinced Cliff to get into the ambulance and head to the hospital.
According to Jeri, Cliff then jumped out of the ambulance and began walking around and waving to the crowd, which went wild.
“Then he could go to the hospital,” said Jeri.
As a mother, you don’t get over something like that, it is always there, said Jeri.
The next time Cliff raced he said he was nervous, but got over it quickly.
“Your nerves are pretty shot in a race car anyway. But it still goes through my head.”
Several years earlier another racer had crash and died in the exact spot where Cliff wrecked, said Jeri.
Cliff started racing in Cranbrook, on pavement, for a year and a half before heading to Alberta and trying out the dirt track.
“I got hooked on the dirt,” said Cliff. “I have a lot more fun on dirt than on pavement.”
Rick is quick to point out that Cliff hated the dirt at first.
“By the time he was done, there wasn’t a body panel left on the car,” said Rick.
Cliff was just as quick in defending his driving.
“It wasn’t so bad. Half the body was still on and then the tow-truck came and hooked up and he ripped the other half of the body off,” said Cliff. “I swore I would never go back to dirt after that.”
Jeri then asked Cliff what he now thinks pavement is for.
“To get to the dirt track,” said Cliff.
Despite the risks involved, Jeri is adamant that racing is a great education for children.
“They teach them driving skills, sportsmanship and respect,” said Jeri.
Even though a healthy sense of competition exists, a deeper sense of community prevails at the races.
“We usually help out as good or better than any team out there. We’ve been known to help out competition back on the track to beat us,” said Rick.
A new generation of riders might not have the same opportunity the Mitchell had to race. Once vibrant tracks in Calgary and Cranbrook have been closed and torn down.
The Mitchell’s home track is now located in Kalispell, Montana.
According to Rick, it’s the money that drives him to race year after year.
“I like to spend money,” said Rick. “A guy once told me that if you want to make a million dollars racing, start with three million.”
Without the sponsors, the fans and the crews, there would be no racing, said Rick.
“Without the fans, we don’t race. There is no reason to race if there is nobody out there. Without the sponsors it is pretty well impossible and the crew is just indispensable,” said Rick, adding, “And there is no crew that is as good as our crew.”