Mashing the gas and ripping the fence at Twin City Raceway in Kenai will get the adrenaline pumping for any race car driver.
For Nikiski’s Aaron McGahan, it has also served as a useful tool for battling addiction and helping others who suffer the same plight.
McGahan is the founder of Racing for Recovery, a fledgling organization for those working through addiction.
“We use racing to help people,” McGahan said Saturday in the pit area at the three-eighths-mile dirt oval.
McGahan said the mission of Racing for Recovery is to use racing to unite people who have suffered through addiction. McGahan said he plans to purchase a piece of land near the raceway on the Kenai Spur Highway and use an existing structure as a sober living house. He hopes that those struggling with addiction will be able to stay at the location to sort out their lives.
“When they make that decision, they can come to us,” he said.
McGahan, 41, is a second-generation racer who currently pilots the No. 29 Sprint Car at Twin City Raceway. His father, Elton, drives the No. 74 Sprint machine, and on Saturday, won all three heats going away. Aaron McGahan cracked a rear end casing in the first heat of the night and was forced to retire.
Saturday saw four divisions sling dirt — the A-Stocks, Legends, Sprint Cars and a new category called Dollar Stocks, which resembles more of a group of buddies rallying a collection of junk cars in their backyard.
McGahan used the night of racing to promote RFR, and his Sprint Car displayed on one side the slogan, “Smoke Tires, Not Drugs,” and on the other, dozens of names written by those that have experienced and recovered from addiction.
McGahan explained that he struggled with alcohol abuse as a young man and it consumed his life.
“I was a fifth a day kind of guy,” McGahan explained.
On the morning of Oct. 23, 2015, McGahan said he was hit head-on by a drunk driver. McGahan himself was sober.
The accident played a key role in forcing McGahan to realize why addiction is something he had to tackle. Starting Feb. 9, 2016, McGahan became sober with the help of his girlfriend and mother, and hopped a flight to a rehab facility in Texas for several months.
“They said it usually takes people days to settle in and deal with it,” he said. “I was like, ‘No, let’s go now!’ and we got into the groups.”
When he came home to Nikiski, McGahan continued going to meetings and re-establishing friendships, and began working on his beloved 1964 MG Model B, an English roadster.
“A buddy of mine asked me one day, ‘When are you going to race for recovery?’” he recounted. “It hit home, because racing’s always been a part of my family.”
Since the creation of RFR, McGahan said he has taken every opportunity to get the word out to those that need it. He said during the annual Trunk or Treat event last Halloween in Soldotna, he set up the car to be visited by trick-or-treaters.
McGahan said he counted 456 kids that got to check out the race car and get their photo taken with it, which also gives their parents the opportunity to learn about Racing for Recovery.
The night featured a slew of gritty racing. With the recent heat wave and hazy skies from the Swan Lake fire, the dirt track required frequent dousings from the water truck, and even then, the track dried up quickly, making for a dusty evening.
In the A-Stock division, Soldotna’s Dustin Bass swept the night with two heat wins and the feature victory. In the first heat, Bass emerged the winner over Jeremy Herr in the 1/5 car, then Bass passed Nikiski’s Mady Stichal with just three laps to go in heat two for the win.
Stichal, 15, started racing last year with help from her Nikiski family, and said she is the first of her family to get into racing. Stichal drives the No. 95 machine designed to imitate the Lightning McQueen character from the Disney film “Cars,” and said she decided she wanted to be a racer as a young girl watching racing movies like “Cars,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” and the classic “Days of Thunder.”
“My family puts in the money to help my dream,” Stichal explained. “I’m trying to get into Sprint Cars, then maybe one day NASCAR.”
Stichal has picked up two victories in her time racing at Twin City, both earlier this month in a heat race and a feature.
In the Legends class, the action got fierce as Brent Romagoux topped Ty Torkelson in the first race and Bryan Barber took the second heat over Jimmie Hale.
The second heat saw David Kusmider spin twice in the No. 55, even while taking the lead between both incidents. Kusmider was simply relieved to avoid colliding with the outside metal wall, just two weeks after pounding the Turn 2 guardrail.
Kusmider said he and Romagoux, driver of the No. 6 car, clashed in a heat race two weeks ago, leading to his brutal meeting with the wall.
“(Romagoux) passed me on the outside, I went on the inside and passed him back, then he came into Turn 2 there and passed me going for the inside,” Kusmider recalled. “He hit the bumps and knocked me into the wall, and the car bounced off the wall, his car hit the back of my car and spun me like a helicopter in the air. Killed both cars.”
Kusmider said he had to replace most of the front end of the car, including part of the frame, costing him around $1,200, although he said the time spent fixing it meant more.
“It’s mostly just labor,” Kusmider said. “It probably got about 60 or 70 hours of labor. My two buddies passed me today so it didn’t go fast enough.”