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16-year-old Legends race car driver shares what it's like behind the wheel

Gus Jensen doesn't let anything stop him from ripping up the track, not even a breath-taking accident.

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Best friends Preston Martin, left, and Gus Jensen both compete in the INEX Legends race class.
Amber I. Neate / The Dickinson Press
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DICKINSON — Racing is in Gus Jensen’s blood. He was born for speed. The 16-year-old Flasher, North Dakota, dare devil began racing when he was just 13. Despite a few jaw-dropping collisions and a roll-over accident on the track, this kid isn’t afraid of anything.

Jensen was racing before most kids even get their license. He is a driver in the INEX Legends class and started out in the Young Lions division for youth ages 12 to 14. Now, he races at the semi-pro level.

Jensen’s father was a competitive racer in the 80s and 90s and introduced him to the sport.

“He helps me a lot with squaring up the rear end, doing the shocks and working on the motor,” Jensen said. “He does a lot to help me. He has taught me everything about the car so that when he quits racing, he can be safe to know that I can fix the car by myself.”

According to Jensen, driving a Legend is much different than driving a normal car because it doesn’t have power steering, so the vehicle doesn’t turn as well, especially when it’s stopped. It also has a motorcycle engine, so it doesn’t have the same amount of power or torque to the wheels as a regular street vehicle.

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Gus Jensen is shown racing at the Roughrider Days Special on Saturday, July 2, 2022, at Southwest Speedway.
Amber I. Neate / The Dickinson Press

On most race nights Jensen averages about 65 to 70 mph on the Southwest Speedway’s tight turns. But at bigger tracks like the ones in Jamestown and Fargo, he can push the car to about 80 mph.

Jensen said the INEX in INEX Legends stands for inexpensive, and that’s why he chose the class. It costs less to own a Legend compared to a Modified or Stock Car. Jensen’s blue #87 was $14,000, but that’s a fraction of the cost of a Modified. A Modified sheet metal body alone costs about that much.

“Our cars (Legends) are less susceptible to being broken and having high damage costs,” Jensen said. "In these cars, a lot of things are made out of aluminum so it’s inexpensive to make and also buy, so those parts will bend and break before the steel frame.”

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With the help of his father, Gus Jensen does all of the work and maintenance on his race car.
Amber I. Neate / The Dickinson Press

Legends are required to have one of three different motor types: the Yamaha 1250, the Yamaha 1200 or the newest motor, the FC09, which has a three-cylinder engine. Drivers are also required to wear helmets and a Head and Neck Support, also called a HANS device.

In Jensen’s first two years of racing, he placed third and fourth in national points. Over the course of his three-year racing career, he has competed in more than 100 events. His first race car was a bright orange, machine that had been in the family for a while. The car was nick-named “Sherbert” because of its flashy pastel color.

Last year, Jensen experienced the thrill of his life during the second race of the season in Mandan at Dakotah Speedway. He was running the high side of the track in his Sherbert speedster when the car in front of him spun out.

“I tried to stop, but I wheel hopped him, which is very easy to do in these cars, and rolled over three times,” Jensen said. “The first thought in my head right before the roll was, 'It’s okay, I can miss him, I can miss him.' … But when he moved up, I thought, 'Oh no, this isn’t going to be good.'”

Jensen was forced to react in a matter of split seconds. He thought he was just going to t-bone the other car, which would have wrecked his own vehicle, but he didn’t want to roll.

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“My front left wheel hit his front right wheel and it sent me up and over the top of the track and down to the side of corner one and two,” Jensen said. “I wasn’t injured except for a bruise or two, but I felt winded afterward. I also felt like I was buzzing from the adrenaline and the shock of hitting the ground so hard.”

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Gus Jensen experienced his first major triple roll-over accident in 2021 at Dakotah Speedway.
Contributed / McKayla Swallow Photography

The Legendary Sherbert machine was retired after the triple-roll tumble which crushed the roll cadge inward about 4 inches.

Jensen’s current blue race car doesn’t have a nick-name yet.

“Sometimes it gets a couple nasty words yelled at it,” Jensen said. “It depends on how it’s acting. Racing has taught me to be modest and try to keep my temper. Sometimes things happen on the track that you don’t like, and you can’t do anything about it.”

Jensen’s biggest racing accomplishment was getting third place in the Legends Feature
at the Mid-season Richard Jordan Memorial race on June 25 at Southwest Speedway. His next goal is to take first place in a Feature.

The INEX Legends racing community is a huge part of Jensen’s life. It has introduced him to drivers young and old who have the same passion as he does. Racing even led him to his best friend in the world, Preston Martin, who competes in the same class in a # 77 yellow and purple car that has Minion characters all over it.

“Most of us are a tight knit group, so we will help each other out with setting up our cars or fixing them to get them ready for a race,” Jensen said. “We are basically a big family.”

READ MORE BY AMBER I. NEATE
With four starters and five seniors graduated last season, the Trinity Titans boys basketball team will be left with one returning starter, All-Region selection Jake Shobe. They will be rebuilding chemistry and strength this year to plug those gaps with an inside presence to compliment him.

Amber Neate grew up in rural Skull Valley, Arizona. Her passion of covering sports of all types, including personal favorites wrestling, hockey, rodeo and football, began at an early age.

She obtained her Associate of Arts Degree from Yavapai Community College before attending Northern Arizona University for a three-year journalism program. While at NAU, Neate worked as an Assistant Sports Editor for the Lumberjack Newspaper as well as a hockey commentator for KJACK Radio.

Gaining her experience working for a small community paper, The Wickenburg Sun, as a general news and features reporter, her love for sports and a small-town community brings her to Dickinson to cover southwest North Dakota sports.

LANGUAGES: English
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