Tag Archives: racing

In the Crease, Covered in Grease

October 18, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In 2007, during a race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, Brian Haaland stood up after drilling multiple lug nuts into one of the right tires on Jeff Green’s race car. As Green pulled away and Haaland came to his feet in the middle of a hectic pit row, he quickly glimpsed the hood of Kasey Kahne’s stock car just before it plowed right through him. 

Haaland would surprisingly (and luckily) walk away from the incident almost completely unscathed. But the mishap drove home advice he got from his coaches a few years earlier: Despite what he may think about the straightforward nature of hitting lug nuts into a race car, it would take him at least three years to see everything he might possibly experience as a pit crew member in the wild world of racing. 

Eleven years later, it is now Haaland’s job to impart such wisdom as a pit crew coach for Team Penske. His journey toward becoming one of the best coaches in NASCAR began long before he met the front end of Kasey Kahne’s car, though. It took root during his time playing goalie for the University of Nebraska-Omaha hockey team in the early 2000s. Around that time, his burgeoning interest in racing—and a fortuitous relationship with the Mavericks’ team psychologist—would eventually lead him to trade his professional goalie ambitions for a full-time job changing tires.

Haaland grew up playing hockey in Minot, North Dakota. After progressing through the youth ranks and graduating high school, Haaland played for multiple teams in the United States Hockey League, the country’s premier junior hockey league. 

UNO would eventually ask him to join their squad beginning with the 1999 season. Haaland redshirted his freshman year and played behind eventual NHL star Dan Ellis for much of his career with the Mavericks. “My claim to fame in my college hockey career was that on a few occasions coach thought we had a better chance of winning with me in the net, instead of Dan,” Haaland says. 

Despite the sparse playing time, one of the most consequential relationships in Haaland’s life developed while at UNO. Jack Stark—a longtime performance psychologist for many Nebraska-area teams, including the Nebraska football program and Creighton basketball—served in a similar capacity for the Mavericks at the time. Stark immediately noticed something special in Haaland. 

“I was impressed with how hard he worked and his ability to control his emotions while playing the mentally exhausting goalie position,” Stark says. “I also always thought he was just the nicest kid.”  

Other than Haaland’s good nature, the pair also bonded over Stark’s new project—serving as a psychologist for NASCAR drivers and the pit crew teams at Hendrick Motorsports. 

Haaland saw his first NASCAR race while visiting his older brother Blair in California during the summer of 2001. “I thought this is loud, and it was actually kind of boring just watching the cars go round and round,” says the former Maverick goalie. “But I saw the cars go down pit road, the athletes jump over the wall and change the tires so quickly, and I thought that part was awesome.” 

Stark would make sure that Haaland got to see just how awesome being a pit crew member could be. Shortly after Haaland’s graduation, Stark—thinking the flexibility and mental toughness that made Haaland a good goalie would translate to changing tires—helped get him get a tryout with the Hendrick Motorsports team. Haaland would make the team as a tire changer in 2004, but he worked mostly in a backup role for the racing behemoth’s most notable cars. 

He did, however, come to see that there are few more intense settings in sports than pit road at a NASCAR race. Amidst roaring engines and zooming cars, a missed lug nut or a slow fueling job could cost a car 10 to 20 spots as pit crews battle to beat other teams by just hundredths of a second. 

Out of a desire to perfect the razor-thin margin associated with pit stops and to hopefully have a long career in the sport, Haaland eventually accepted the job as a pit crew coach for Team Penske.  

“He’s become one of the best coaches in the sport,” Stark says. “He could go to any team he wants. Penske is lucky to have him.”

Hockey is still a part of Haaland’s life as well. For the past 10 years, he has been a goalie coach in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. He sees 30 to 35 goalies a week and some of them come from as far as Augusta, Georgia.  

But whether he is mentoring former Division I athletes trying to make NASCAR pit crews or young goalies, he constantly draws on advice from the litany of incredible coaches he learned from during his time in Omaha—including Stark, who remains one his closest confidants. 


Haaland owns and operates Old School Goal School, a goalie camp in Charlotte, North Carolina. Visit oldschoolgoalschool.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Sam Mangiameli

October 4, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Most college guys have a nickname. Some are even fit for print in a family publication. Sam Mangiameli, a University of Nebraska-Omaha junior, has two distinct but interrelated identities.

Many on campus know him simply as Ricky Bobby, a nod to Will Ferrel’s goofy character in Talladega Nights. But on the track, the 22-year-old motorsports enthusiast who is studying business management with an emphasis on entrepreneurship has a more ominous moniker—The Iceman. 

Marked by a fixed, cold glare, Mangiameli’s game face led other drivers to size him up as a serious, don’t-mess-with-me competitor. The Iceman.

“The funny thing about it,” Mangiameli says with a chuckle, “is that the nickname is pretty much on target. I don’t mind the Ricky Bobby thing, but it’s the other nick-name that I like.” 

Mangiameli has had a need for speed for as long as he can remember. 

“Some of my earliest memories are of me as a little kid playing with my Hot Wheels cars when my dad [Creative Hair Design owner John Mangiameli] and I watched the Indy 500, Formula 1, and other races on TV,” he says. “I’d play with my cars imagining that it was me up there on the screen. That’s where it all began. The roar of the engines. The sights and sounds of the track. I knew right then what I wanted to do.”

His Hot Wheels collection gave way to karting at age 6, and Mangiameli was soon trading paint on tracks far and wide. “Now that I was actually behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle,” he continues, “I was totally hooked. Finished in fourth place in my very first event.” 

A mere 10 years later Mangiameli took the checkered flag at the Grand Nationals of the International Karting Federation. 

The young man who aspires to the grandest of motorsports stages—the grueling Rolex 24 at Daytona—now competes on the National Auto Sport Association circuit in the high-powered Super Touring 1 class. Mangiameli’s Diasio D962R mirrors the motif of his racing garb, where man and machine merge to become a sleek, midnight blue assemblage of catch-me- if-you-can bravado. 

The family established Creative Hair Design Motorsports last year as a means of surrounding this one-man team with the infrastructure and support required for one who aims to rise through the national ranks on courses from coast to coast. 

In the meantime, Mangiameli yearns to be on the track. Donning his helmet is an act of transformative regeneration. Just like in a superhero changeling sequence, one persona melts away as another creeps in to possess its host. The sharp click of a safety harness completes the metamorphosis. The amiable, book-toting Ricky Bobby is no more. The Iceman cometh.


Sam Mangiameli is continuing to advance his racing career four years after the publication of this article. In September 2018, he raced against professional drivers on the national stage in the National Auto Sport Association Championships, where he earned second place in the NASA Prototype division. 


This article was printed in the March/April 2014 edition of Omaha Magazine, and digitally updated in October 2018. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Do You Remember?

December 30, 2015 by
Photography by Contributed by Douglas County Historical Society

It’s hard to believe the Ak-Sar-Ben Race Track and Coliseum has been closed for 20 years (the coliseum closed later, in 2002), as it was long one of Omaha’s iconic locations. Here is a brief look back on its long history.

The track was built in 1919 to underwrite the various activities of Omaha’s famous Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben, a civic and philanthropic group dating back to 1895 inspired by the various “krewes” of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parades. Initially created to provide an alternative to the rougher entertainment then popular at the state fair held in Omaha, the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben quickly expanded to supporting civic improvement projects, funding local charities, and overseeing various social events.
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The first race at the Ak-Sar-Ben track was an informal harness race on July 6, 1919. The track itself was not officially dedicated for nearly another year. That ceremony was held on September 14, 1920, with Nebraska governor Samuel Roy McKelvie officiating. At that time, admission cost 85 cents, and the track featured four harness and two running races every day.

In 1921, the racetrack expanded, adding a new grandstand at the cost of $400,000; that same year Nebraska created a racing commission and made pari-mutuel betting legal—the style of gambling favored by horse races, in which odds are not fixed until the pool is closed, allowing for a great variety of bets. You can bet that a horse will win, place, or show, or place even more complex bets, such as sweep six, in which the bettor must correctly pick the winner of six races. The more challenging the bet, the more the bettor stands to win.

The track built an adjoining coliseum in 1929, which quickly became Omaha’s premiere events center, serving as both an ice rink and a concert stage. Over its long life, the coliseum hosted many of the country’s most popular musical acts, acting as virtually a who’s who of changing tastes in music: The venue offered performances by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Nirvana.

The track shut down from 1943 to 1945 during World War II. When the track opened again, on May 13, 1945, a crowd of 6,500 attended.

When a tornado struck Omaha in 1975, the race track was so close to its path that the twister was visible to people attending the races. The tornado carved a 10-mile path, killing three people, injuring 133, and scattering the debris of destroyed homes and businesses for miles. The total damage from the tornado, adjusted for inflation, was $1.1 billion, but the race track was mostly spared significant damage.

The track is often associated with a horse named Omaha, who won the Triple Crown in 1935. The horse had no relationship with Ak-Sar-Ben until retiring to Nebraska City, when he was sometimes paraded around the track. When he died in 1959, Omaha was buried at Ak-Sar-Ben, but in the intervening years, the exact site of the grave was lost to time and remains a mystery to this day.

Visit douglascohistory.org to learn more.

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