Auto Racing

The Last Ride: 'The Black Hat' making this season at Quincy Raceways his swan song

Tony Dunker preps his car on Tuesday in his race shop. Dunker, the most dominant driver in the sport mod class at Quincy Raceways, will be retiring from racing to spend more time with his kids. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 14, 2017 4:45 pm Updated: Apr. 14, 2017 5:22 pm

QUINCY -- Tony Dunker still remembers the moment and how it has stuck with him all of these years.

Dunker's driving career was just getting started at Quincy Raceways when a driver he considered an idol, Sam Burgtorf, unexpectedly announced he was retiring.

Burgtorf was seemingly at the height of his own career, having collected three straight track championships from 1998 through 2000, then adding a runner-up finish in 2001. Burgtorf surprisingly said he was stepping away from the sport to devote more time to his family.

At that point in his own life, Dunker could not understand that kind of thought process.

He does now.

Dunker recently said this will be his final season as a driver. At age 44, with five track championships -- and, like Burgtorf, seemingly at the height of his career -- the man they call The Black Hat and The Villain says he now has more important things in his life. A growing family is at the top of that list.

There will be no comebacks or random appearances.

"When it's over, it's over," he said. "That will be it."

For all of the demands -- time and otherwise -- that racing extracts from its competitors and fans, there is a deep-rooted love for the adrenaline it provides and the friendships it forms.

Dunker knows it will not be easy to walk away from racing, and he has not grown weary of what is an incredibly time-consuming sport. No, not at all.

This is simply about priorities.

"My dad (Lenny Dunker) was there for hundreds of (my games) and only missed five of my races," Dunker said. "I want to be that supportive for my kids. I want to be that kind of parent."

When late September rolls around, he realizes that final ride will be emotional.

"I don't even want to think about that night yet," he said.

Until then, it will be business as usual.

Loves being the villain

Dunker always has been one of the track's most colorful characters. Displaying a temper that has sometimes matched his talent, Dunker has been involved in his fair share of skirmishes both on and off the track.

None of that sometimes-villainous image has been manufactured, Dunker insists.

"What you see is pretty much what you get," he said.

What many of the fans who have often booed Dunker fail to realize what he has done behind the scenes and away from the track to help promote the sport. In recent years, Dunker and his team have worked extensively with numerous young drivers to help sharpen their skills and understanding of the sport.

Dunker also was one of the major players in helping establish the sport mods as a dominant series at the track. Dunker and good buddy Joe Bliven, now retired and worings as the flagman at 8000 Broadway, were integral figures in bringing what was an up-and-coming class in Iowa and other northern states to Quincy in mid-2011. The once-fledgling sport mods are now the dominant weekly series at the Broadway Bullring in terms of car count, competitive balance and overall fan interest.

Dunker says an inner fire drives a racer, at least a successful one.

"Once you win one, you want to win two ... and then five," he said.

Finest season was 2012

Dunker's finest overall season likely was 2012 when raced 62 nights. An average year will see 35 to 40 nights of action.

Dunker tied for second in IMCA sport mod national points that season and won all three regional track championships -- Quincy, plus Iowa stops in Lee County and West Burlington.

Dunker grew up at the track, a nephew of former modified and late model driver Mike Karhoff, a co-owner of Quincy Raceways for the 2007 season.

"I've been around Quincy Raceways for my whole life," Dunker said. "My dad helped build the place back in (the mid-1970s)."

Lenny Dunker, plus another old friend, Brandon Brown, a former modified driver himself, have long formed the nucleus of the No. 3 car's support team. They, too, have spent countless nights working on the car. In recent years, the team also has become home to Nathan Hayes, Chad Canady and Billy Tournear.

The most gratifying part of Dunker's career came during a 2012-14 stretch when he built a streak of 35 consecutive sport mod features finishing no worse than second. During that stretch, he once won eight straight features and won six in a row on two other occasions.

Dunker always has taken pride in his consistency, and he believes that 35-feature run is the perfect punctuation for what has been a satisfying career.

"To finish first, first you have to finish," he said.

Racing to take backseat to family

Since the debut of the sport mods -- the April 9 feature was the 100th in series history -- no driver has come close to the domination shown by Dunker. He has led 446 feature laps. No other driver has led more than 180.

Dunker has a combined 60 first- and second-place finishes in sport mod main events. How dominant are his 37 feature victories? Only one other driver has won more than six.

Dunker owns sport mod track titles in 2012, 2013 and 2014, plus "B" mod track championships in 2003 and 2004. Dunker is No. 1 in The Herald-Whig's all-time mathematical ranking for each of those divisions.

Dunker's five track championships make him one of just six drivers with five or more track titles, and at some point in the not-too-distant future, he is a lock for induction into the Quincy Raceways Hall of Fame.

Soon all of those racing accomplishments will take a backseat to youth baseball games and family picnics. Dunker feels he has missed way too many of those in the past.

"I can't tell you how grateful I am to my girlfriend, Jill (Seals), who has always encouraged me to pursue racing," Dunker said.

Dunker and Jill have two young children together, Victoria Lane (yes, as in "Victory Lane") and Blaze, plus two children from previous relationships, Branden, 11, and Paige, 11.

"I want to give my kids every opportunity growing up that (my parents) have given me," Dunker said.

That might wind up being The Black Hat's ultimate checkered flag.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

Five-time Quincy Raceways track champion Tony Dunker says this season will be his last. Here are some of his career highlights:

Three sport mod championships (2014, 2013, 2012).

Two "B" modified track championships (2004, 2003).

He is one of six drivers to win five or more track titles in the 43-year history of Quincy Raceways.

No. 1 position in The Herald-Whig's all-time mathematical rankings for both the sport mods and "B" modifieds.

Ranks first in sport mod series history in total victories, feature wins and heat victories.

Only driver to win a triple crown in two different series. He won the 2004 "B" mod triple crown and the 2012 sport mod triple crown. The triple crown consists of winning both the midseason and season-ending championship races, plus the track points title.

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