May 23, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It is any driver’s worst nightmare, especially a race car driver. John Klabunde lost control of his sprint car in 2011 at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Nebraska. The car smashed into the barrier and then flew over the fleeing crowd.

The accident made headlines, appeared on racing forums all over the internet, and is still talked about in the local sprint car racing community today.

“Usually when stuff like that happens, it happens so fast you don’t think about it,” Klabunde, now 48, says. “It just seems like time kind of slows down.”

Klabunde was a little shaken up, but luckily, nobody was injured in this crash. Interestingly, this newsworthy event does not rank as his most memorable racing adventure.

He does have a favorite racing memory, but it does not involve him behind the wheel.

Years ago, Klabunde’s two sons, Bret and Cole, entered separate go-kart races. While Klabunde doesn’t remember every detail, he remembers the important part.

“They both won,” says Klabunde who has been racing over 35 years.

In addition to his sons, who are now 21 and 17, Klabunde and wife Shawn have a daughter, Leah, 13. His sons did not follow his footsteps into the racing world. They prefer “stick and ball sports,” Klabunde says. He attends their baseball games and other sports events.

Klabunde’s interest in racing started as a young child, because his dad enjoyed the sport. When Klabunde was age 7, his father took Klabunde to race go-karts at a track in Carter Lake. Technically kids needed to be age 16 to race go-karts, but there was a rule that he could participate as long as he was attending the event with an adult.

John Klabunde, owner of Abe's Portables

These days, Klabunde spends much of his time at his company, Abe’s Portables, which provides portable restrooms for construction sites, parties, and events. However, you can still find him at the race track on weekends during the summer. His go-to spots include McCool Junction, Nebraska; Jefferson, South Dakota; Jackson, Minnesota; and Knoxville, Iowa.

These are not the more well-known vehicles one might see in a NASCAR race. The vehicles are smaller, and the eight-cylinder engines tend to cap out at 750 horsepower. Some  sprint cars push over 800 horsepower. Their most distinctive feature is the wings, which sit over the tops of the cars and create a downward force to enable the vehicles to stay in contact with the ground.

“There’s nothing remotely resembling a street car,” Klabunde says. “Their purpose is to be a
racing machine.”

Klabunde says his current car is his eighth or ninth version. He doesn’t recall the exact number because he stopped counting. That’s because he’s always trying to improve his sprint cars. Each one can cost between $12,000 and $60,000 to build, and Klabunde says his is somewhere in the middle. The cost is somewhat offset by his sponsors—Calhoun Oil Company, where some of Klabunde’s friends work, and Abe’s Trash Service, which is owned by his family.

In total, he’s been racing sprint cars for about 15 years, he says. Before that, he worked with a small version of a sprint car that used motorcycle engines, often known as a mini sprint.

His current vehicle weights about 1,500 pounds, driver included. In NASCAR, most cars must weigh at least 3,300 pounds, depending on the race.

This means a powerful engine is packed into a lightweight vehicle, which results in extremely high speeds. Klabunde says his car can top out at 130 miles per hour.

“Some of the corners you go into are wide open,” he says. “[The speed] is probably close to 115 to 120 miles per hour.”

As for a favorite race of his own, he says he’s been racing for so long they all run together. And that is fine by him, he’s happy to be in the driver’s seat.


Visit @JohnKlabundeRacing on Facebook for more information about Klabunde’s racing adventures.

This article was printed in the June 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

sprint car at I-80 speedway