In Search Of…The Racing Queen

A La Crosse woman is challenging the status quo on the racetrack

22-year-old Mandi Eckelberg just wrapped up her first year as a human resource representative for Riverfront in La Crosse. “I love that it’s not only working in the resources department but also get to get involved with the participants on a daily basis.”

She’s hard working, passionate, driven, all great traits for her day job – she learned from countless nights on the track. “On the weekends I like to get away and go race stock cars.”

Mandi can barely remember a time when she didn’t call the La Crosse Fairgrounds speedway her second home. “My dads been racing for 28 years now. As long as we could sit on a bleacher mom had us out here watching my dad. We were like ‘oh my gosh that’s my dad her is so cool!”

Mandi’s dad, Curt Eckelberg wanted his kids to have the same opportunity he has, “as each of the kids turned 16, I asked them if they wanted to race.”

“When my brother turned 16, he was interested and when I turned 16, I got the same offer and after I was out a few times I got hooked.”

Over the years Mandi has worked her way up on the track. Of the six classes at the speedway she is the only woman in the ‘Sportsmen’ division which is just under the top ranked ‘Late Model’ division where no women currently race. There’s no question the racetrack¬† is traditionally a playground for men. “Mandi is trying her darndest to fit in with the ‘Sportsmen’ drivers,” says Curt. “She doesn’t want to create waves but she doesn’t want to quit racing just because she’s a female.”

“It drives me. I just see myself as one of the guys out there. It doesn’t phase me. It makes me push and strive to meet my goals. I did win a heat race last year due to a technicality but it was still a win and I’m pretty proud of it.”

“When she won her first heat race I was the proudest dad out there. I had a smile on my face all night.”

But with racing, anything can happen and for the Eckelberg the worst almost did. “Back in April it was a preseason race. About three to four laps left we were coming out of turn four and myself and another car made contact and I headed into the wall.”

“It’s one of the worst angles to hit a wall at,” adds her dad.

“I closed my eyes and then opened them to a big ball of flames. And the safety crew came running at me telling me to get out there were still flames under the car. So I booked it out and headed across the track.”

Mandi walked away with minor injuries. the car wasn’t so lucky. “Was it totaled? Completely totaled. It is now in the junk yard.”

With no car and fleeting courage, Mandi admits she thought about walking away. But longtime racing friend Jerrod Loging would have none of it. “I picked up the phone immediately and called her dad and said if you need anything, cars or whatever, I’ll help you out. And it snowballed from there.”

Loging made available his old race car. It needed a little elbow grease but turns out there was no shortage of volunteers wanting to get Mandi back on the track.

A few weeks ago, on what happened to be Riverfront night at the track, co-workers, friends and of course her family gathered for the big debut. A new car and a fresh start for the girl that’s paving the way for other woman down the road.¬† “I’m just trying to make a name for myself and for the other girls. I just want to race well and hold my line.”