AUTO RACING: Winnipeg’s Amber Balcaen switches from dirt racing to pavement

Friday's races at River Cities Speedway were canceled Thursday, due to cold temperatures forecast for Friday. Regardless, Mike Balcaen, who won last week's late model feature, wasn't going to race in Grand Forks Friday. He'll be preparing to watc...

Amber Balcaen checks out some sprint car action prior to heading back to her car, strap on the helmet and crawl behind the wheel. Darren Gibbins special to the Herald

Friday’s races at River Cities Speedway were canceled Thursday, due to cold temperatures forecast for Friday.

Regardless, Mike Balcaen, who won last week’s late model feature, wasn’t going to race in Grand Forks Friday.

He’ll be preparing to watch his daughter, Amber, chase her NASCAR dreams on a track in Virginia this weekend.

Amber is competing this season on the NASCAR Whelen All-America Series.

She’s raced twice this season, finishing third and fifth. She is fourth in series points in her division and will compete Saturday in another Whelen All-America Series race at the Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va.


“She’s doing really good,” said Mike after winning last week’s late model feature at RCS. “That’s a different level; a different league. It’s very corporate. It’s a different way of doing things and she understands that.

“She’s working hard to do it. It’s a tough, tough gig.”

Amber made the switch to asphalt racing last season after growing up on dirt tracks in the area.

She raced a sprint car for a couple of seasons, placing eighth in RCS points for sprints in 2014.

After participating in a NASCAR-sponsored combine last summer, she signed to drive for Lee Pulliam Performance. Essentially, she rents the car and funds other expenses, all the while looking for sponsorship.

In a recent Winnipeg Sun article, Amber said, “I had no idea it was going to be this hard. I knew it was going to be hard but I just kind of figured, ‘Oh, I’ll get sponsorship and I’ll race and everything will be fine. No problem.

“I spend 99 percent of my time trying to find sponsorship so I can race, and I spend about 1 percent of the time actually racing. It’s such a business oriented sport. It’s really more of a business than it is a sport and I’ve kind of had to learn it all on my own because I’ve been the only one in my family to branch out of dirt track racing to pavement. It’s been a lot of researching and networking and building new relationships and just kind of trial and error.”

Mike, though, likely will be back racing next week at RCS. He recently had his 50th birthday and doesn’t intend to slow down, saying, “I feel like I’m getting older but when I get my helmet on …”


Last week, he won the 210th feature of his late model career.

“It’s a bunch of hard work to get here,” he said. “We want to do this when it’s fun and try and enjoy ourselves.”

Wayne Nelson is the sports editor at the Herald.

He has been with the Grand Forks Herald since 1995, serving as the UND football and basketball beat writer as well as serving as the sports editor.

He is a UND graduate and has been writing sports since the late 1970s.

Follow him on Twitter @waynenelsongf. You can reach him at (701) 780-1268 or
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