Gary Klawitter has always had a love affair with speed. The mode of transportation doesn’t matter.
A sign posted on the refrigerator of his Valley home says it all. “Work sucks. I’m goin’ racin’.”
He’s raced automobiles, motorcycles and dune buggies. He’s done bicycle motocross, mountain biked and driven four wheelers. The only thing he hasn’t raced are go-karts.
Competition has come in such diverse arenas as parking lots and lakes frozen 14 inches thick.
Klawitter, 55, has the scars from assorted broken bones and cuts to show for this passion. He says a helmet has twice saved his life, once when he crashed a motorcycle, another time when he dumped a four-wheeler and the vehicle landed on him after an 18-foot fall.
But nothing has cooled his ardor.
“The day I stop playing is the day they can start digging a hole for me,” Klawitter said. “I’ll race anything, even a plane if I could afford it. It’s something I’ll always enjoy.”
Klawitter’s latest endeavor is autocross, a race against the clock on a pylon-marked road race-style course.
“It’s a less expensive form of racing,” said Klawitter, who has driven a 1992 Nissan Sentra SER on the Autosports Northwest circuit for four years. “It is extremely rare to bash a fender or wreck an engine in what we do.”
Cars will attain speeds up to 70 mph while negotiating the pylons over courses set up in parking lots of retail stores or colleges.
The Nissan is not only his race car, but his everyday vehicle as well.
“It’s my driver,” said Klawitter. “Then I put my race tires on and go racing with it and just have a blast.”
Klawitter has loved automobiles all his life. His stepfather in Auburn owned a stock car and had hot rods. That got him started.
After graduation from high school in 1958 he moved to Alaska, where he first became involved in autocross with the Alaska Sports Car Club.
From 1964 to 1969, he ice-raced on Alaska lakes, plowing a mile-long road course and equipping cars with recapped tires that had 1,000 European stainless steel studs. Klawitter called the competition “barely controlled mayhem.”
“During the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous we would hold a 3-day event,” said Klawitter, “and invite celebrity racers.”
His favorite was Dick Smothers of Smothers Brothers fame.
After moving to the Valley, Klawitter ran Riverside BMX near Spokane Community College for two years and competed at times. His son, Jay, and daughter, Arika, also raced.
“Arika raced until she won a trophy bigger than herself,” said Klawitter. “Then she lost interest.”
In 1986 the family’s life took a downward turn when his wife of nearly 20 years, Terri, died of cancer at Christmas.
It was during his mourning period that Klawitter took up mountain biking and riding four-wheelers.
Klawitter remarried four years ago. That was about the same time that Mark Jaremko invited him to an autocross race. The Jaremko family, owners of Jaremko Nissan in the Valley, are avid supporters of the sport.
Klawitter competed and was hooked. He won his class season points championship in 1993 and just missed last year.
“I try to be smooth in my driving style,” he said. “But I like speed enough to get into trouble occasionally.”
So far this season he’s participated in 10 competitions, just last weekend spending four days in Helena.
He’s scheduled to be in the Tri-Cities this weekend and on July 30 Autosports Northwest will host the fourth of seven monthly races in the Woodward Stadium parking lot at Eastern Washington University.
Klawitter said the upwards of 60 participants are everyday guys from doctors and lawyers to mechanics.
If he won the lottery and had enough money, Klawitter would enter what he calls “real, fender-to-fender, racing.” Were he younger he’d try the Trans American Circuit.
Right now, autocross in his Nissan will do.
“It’s the best $15,000 I ever spent,” Klawitter said. “There’s a lotta therapy in that car.”
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