Gold Star Amusements brings back old favorites with a new addition

Goldstar Amusements is celebrating their 25th anniversary at the Clay County Fair, September 9-17, with an addition of a new ride.

The new ride, the 2Xtreme, will propel riders into the sky while spinning them around 360 degrees.

“We are fortunate to work with one of the best carnivals in the United States,” said CCF Manager Jeremy Parsons.  “The new ride will be just one more attraction to make our Centennial Celebration even more spectacular.”

The 2Xtreme will join more than 30 other rides, including Pharaoh’s Fury, the Zipper, and Power Surge.  For younger fairgoers, Kiddieland (which is smoke-free) will feature rides like the Safari Train and the Helicopters.

Advance carnival wristbands for the Gold Star Amusements Midway are available online, at the Events Center Box Office, or at various Godfather’s Pizza locations in Iowa and Minnesota. All-Day wristbands are valid for unlimited rides all day on Saturdays or Sundays for $22 in advance and $25 during the Fair. VIP wristbands are valid for unlimited rides all nine days of the Fair. The wristbands are $49 in advance and $55 during the Fair. To purchase those wristbands (or see the list of locations where you can buy in person), please visit

2017 Clay County Fair Queen Search Begins

Applications now being accepted for 2017 Clay County Fair Queen Contest

Spencer, Iowa – The search is underway for candidates to compete for the title of 2017 Clay County Fair Queen. The winner, to be crowned Sunday, April 2, will reign over this year’s Clay County Fair and will also compete for the State Fair Queen title.

Females between the ages of 16 and 21 by August 10, the first day of the 2017 Iowa State Fair, may apply. Candidates must never been married, cannot be a professional model, cannot represent any other organization, and must reside in Clay County or an adjoining county if the majority of her activities are in Clay County. Applicants must be a member of at least one service organization such as 4-H, Girl Scouts or a church group. (Eligibility is not limited to 4-H or FFA membership.)

The Clay County Fair Queen will represent the Clay County Fair at the Flagfest Parade in June, the Iowa State Fair during the queen contest, selected celebrations during the summer, and the Clay County Fair in September. The Fair will be flexible with appearance dates if the queen has educational conflicts during her reign.

Contestants may pick up an application from their school counselor or online at The application must be submitted to the Clay County Fair Queen Contest, PO Box 527, Spencer, Iowa 51301 or emailed to on or before March 13. A committee will then select the finalists who will compete for the title on Sunday, April 2 at the Spencer Community Theatre.

Finalists will be notified by March 20 and will receive more information regarding the next phase of the competition. Candidates will be judged on personality, attitude, awareness, leadership and citizenship, contribution to the community, overall appearance, charm poise and her three-minute or less self-expression portion. All judges’ decisions will be final.

Please call the Clay County Fair (712-580-3000) or email with any questions.

Nick Birchard

Racing is in the genes for the Birchard family. Red and his sons, Nick and Josh, have been around area racing for a long time.

The Birchard family has been involved racing Enduros or stock cars or helping on sprint cars or modifieds. In 2010, as Nick Birchard watched the World of Outlaws race during the Clay County Fair, the Miniakota Micro raced as the support class. He mentioned to his dad that they looked fun to race. When the Birchards found an inexpensive car, they bought it and started racing in 2012. Nick has since raced all over Iowa, southwest Minnesota, as well as different tracks in South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

His brother, Josh, was a major player into getting a micro track built at the Clay County Fair Speedway.

“As we continued to race long distances from home, the Clay County Speedway was having weekly racing. We got a game plan together to see if we could make it work,” said Josh. “We’ve been having fun ever since.”

Nick quickly gives his family credit for their work, singing the praises of Josh and Red, who both work on the car as much as possible. Nights at the shop are family times, and even Nick and Josh’s grandpa stops in to make sure the guys are doing things right. The three generations also gather as much as possible to cheer on Nick as he races.

“I always want to win; I always want to pass the guy who passed me,” Nick said. “I guess in that aspect, I always carry a chip on my shoulder. I always want to beat the guy that has more experience than me.”

Nick says that the hardest part of racing is getting the car ready, taking the time of another full-time job, so the work Josh and their dad do on the car invaluable. The Micros go much faster than most people think. With a smaller track, “the Miniakota Micros are capable of running faster lap times than a lot of the other classes,” Nick said. “The cars are fun to drive and put on a fun show, especially when we race without the wings.

“Mentally, you have to have a short memory whether you win or lose. If you get your butt whooped, you don’t want to remember that. You have to move on and get better. And when you win, you have little time to celebrate because you have to get back working on the care because there is always someone out there working harder and putting in the hours to beat you.”

All in all, the times with the crew are memories that will stick with the Birchards throughout their time racing, memories that will last the family a lifetime.

Jay and Kaytee DeVries

Jay DeVries always looks for his wife as he races around the track, usually so she won’t pass him or he won’t hit her car.

Jay has been racing since 2006, and four years into racing, he convinced his wife to hop in his brother’s car. From then on, Kaytee DeVries was hooked. She started racing regularly as soon as they got her a car in a few short weeks.

Since then, she’s raced against her husband every time they can be on the track together. This year they have been regular drivers at many tracks in Iowa and southwest Minnesota, racing every night except Sundays and Mondays. They prefer to race against each other. “We have fun racing against each other,” Kaytee said. “But if we get in the same wreck or if he hits me on the track, it makes for a long ride home.”

This year, the couple has raced 26 times already, working their way to beat last year’s 74 races. The DeVries team rarely race one car, but the person with more points will race if too many cars have been badly damaged.

Jay’s interest in racing started as a boy when he would join his dad Kelly at the racetrack, where he would race Enduro cars in Spencer and the surrounding area. Later, Jay would pick up a passion for Sport Compacts from his mom’s husband, Chad. Jay would join Chad at the track, helping friends with their Sport Compact car. Not too long after, the crew had a car ready for Jay and he was racing too.

Racing together has made the couple better drivers, and Jay currently leads Sport Compacts racing at the Clay County Fair Speedway with Kaytee only behind her first-place husband by two points, as of July 5. They are both competitive people, and she places better than him several times, he said. “Sports Compacts might be a beginner class, but there is so much competition and that’s what I like the most about it,” Kaytee said.

The couple works on their cars together as much as they can. They both like to watch each other succeed and have a chance to race together often. As much as they love being on the track together, it has its difficulties.

“She doesn’t like it when I bump her or push her on the track. She’ll get upset if I do that,” he said.

The Clay County Fair Speedway is Jay’s favorite track to race, as it was one of the earlier tracks to have Sports Compact racing. His favorite parts of racing include the adrenaline rush and the fans that come with the fun event, particularly the family and friends that can watch the DeVries racing team at the CCF Speedway.

“Overall, I’m just really happy to be on the track. I like that I can get my sponsors out there because they really help out a lot,” Jay said.

Matt Morrow

Husband and wife team Matt and Sara Morrow can both be found at the Clay County Fair Speedway on Friday nights. However, you’ll never see Sara sitting in the stands or standing in the pits for very long. Instead, she is often in the middle of the track taking picture of all drivers throughout the night, including the family’s 9M car.

“It gives her something to do with her nervous energy, and it’s nice to have your own personal photographer follow you around,” Morrow said. She started taking pictures as the pair watched his brother race and took it up a notch when Morrow started driving his own car.

He started going to races with his dad as a young kid for a few years until his dad died in 1990, when Morrow was 9 years old. He kept going to races with his brother every so often 7 until his oldest brother, Mike, started racing his own car. Then he would go watch him as often as possible.

Morrow has raced all over western Iowa, southwest Minnesota, and southeast South Dakota since he started in 2013. Mike bought a new car and left his old car sitting in his brother’s shop. This inspired Morrow to buy a race suit and helmet and take a spin on the track. After he lost his first race, he was captivated by winning. “I really like going fast and doing things you’re not supposed to do,” he laughed. While he has driven a few different car classes for hot laps, Morrow races exclusively Sports Mods.

Part of the reason Morrow does not race more than three times a week is the amount of time he spends on his car. “Just to race one night a week, you’ll spend between six to eight hours a week preparing your car for the different tracks,” he said. In addition to the time, cost and his job also factors into the limitations.

A regular driver at the Clay County Fair Speedway, Morrow likes the clay track. “Everybody is fast on a heavy, hammer-down track, but it makes you think if the track is dry slick.” His favorite feeling is when he can throw the car into the corner and slide through the turns. Even though he thought racing would be a lot of “go fast, turn left”, Morrow discovered that he wishes he spent more time paying attention in geometry class.

Sam and Sonny Van Lenning

Raised in racing, the Van Lenning brothers began attending races with their dad at a young age. Their dad always had the dream to race, and their mom did powderpuff racing in the Hobby Stock class. Sonny and Sam also wanted to race, though it was a dream for a long time. Sam started racing Cruisers in 2000 with a friend. His dad was always there making sure the drivers were ready.

After their dad died from a brain tumor in 2001, the brothers turned a dream into reality. The two first got involved in racing themselves by driving push trucks at different tracks in the area. Sam was the first push truck driver for the Clay County Fair Speedway. After buying a car last year, Sonny also began his racing career at CCF Speedway. A short time after hearing how much Sam wanted to drive, Sonny convinced his older brother to drive his car one night. From there, Sam was hooked; he bought a car and started racing as well.

Racing offers the Van Lenning families the opportunity to get together often. While the risks of the brothers racing always concern their families, they do enjoy supporting Sonny’s and Sam’s dreams on the racetrack. Anywhere the brothers race, friends and family gathers in support; they encourage the brothers’ dreams throughout northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota. This year, the Van Lennings have a calendar to coordinate the racing schedule.

The Van Lenning team has added ribbons for cancer awareness as well as a sticker for Team Tegan with March of Dimes. “A lady who works at our bank knew we raced and asked if we would put that sticker on our car for her daughter,” Sonny said. “We didn’t have to question it; of course we would.” The ribbons, gray and purple, bring awareness to different diseases, as well as the Van Lenning Racing Team’s t-shirts, that have Race for a Cure printed on them.

The track conditions at the Clay County Fair Speedway make it Sam’s favorite. Sonny likes the CCF Speedway’s short straight-aways, which help him to get a leg up on the competition. “Sonny doesn’t like it when I pass him,” Sam said.

Even though winning is a perk, Sonny also appreciates the great people at the track. “You never know how many people you can meet until you start racing,” he said.

Racing does come with its challenges. Sonny says the hardest part about racing is “getting the set-up on the car just right every time.” A lot goes into preparing a car before a race, especially if a driver wrecked the week before. Not only is a wreck costly on parts, it can take a toll on the driver. Making the time to work on cars can be the hardest thing for Sam. “We change our gears a lot for the different tracks, and it’s not easy like an A-mod.”

Overall, the brothers love racing alongside each other. Sam races his brother harder than everyone else, he said. The brotherly competition spurs the two to be faster. Both agree, “The adrenaline rush of getting in the car and getting in the car is your own little world is awesome. It’s also cool knowing we are continuing a family tradition together.”

Clayton Christensen

Clayton Christensen’s competitive spirit and a family bond started him racing – two things that are sure to keep him racing for a long time.

Christensen grew up going to races with his dad. He was also an athlete, competing in both football and baseball. After an injury sidelined him and eventually forced him to transfer schools, he had to stop competing with a ball in his hand. Christensen still needed to fill his drive for competition. His dad Ron thought of one thing they had done for a long time and could continue to do together: racing.

Sport Mod racing was a relatively new class in 2001, making it a good place for a new team to start. Christensen raced Sport Mods for two years and then moved to the Modified class because he wanted to compete at the highest level.

The 1cc team races a couple times each week, as long as work and family are taken care of. “They always come first,” Christensen said. Family often joins the team at the track, especially since Ron is the co-owner. Christensen’s mom and his two kids join him as often as they can.

Christensen has raced throughout the region in Iowa, southern Nebraska, southeastern South Dakota and southwest Minnesota, but he really likes that the Clay County Fair Speedway is so close to home. His favorite part of racing is “the competitiveness.”

“The thought processes, and thinking about new ways to go faster is one of my favorite things about the sport,” says Christensen. “It’s more than just the best parts and driving a car around a track, it’s strategy too.” He adds, “Winning doesn’t hurt either!”

This year has seen some tough outcomes for Christensen racing. Before Clay County Fair Speedway’s opening night, he wrecked at Algona Speedway, but with a team of helpers and many hours of work on the car the next day, the 1cc team was able to make it to the track.

One thing Christensen learned is the hardest part about racing is the time and cost that it takes for a driver to be good and compete at a high level, as his natural competitive nature drives him.

“The sport can be very humbling at time. You never have it all figured out, you’re learning all the time. There’s something new every time I go to the race track. But it’s a blast!” Christensen said. “I had three dreams when growing up: be a farmer, a professional athlete, and a race car driver. I’ve gotten to do two of them, so that’s pretty cool.”

1cc Racing is sponsored by DeKalb, Quail Construction and Greenleaf Agronomy.

Brandon Nielsen

The Nielsen family is very involved in racing. Not only does Brandon compete against his brother, Cody, but the brothers hold the No. 1 and 2 spots in Hobby Stock points at the Clay County Fair Speedway. Their dad owns the shop where the sons work on their cars and “is pretty much the crew chief for both cars.” Mom is the videographer for each race while uncles cheer on both competitors. Brandon’s kids often go; he hopes that it’s to cheer him on, but the concession stand might win their hearts some nights.

The family often uses it as a way to get together. With much of the support system for the racing teams being family, grandparents get to see grandkids; uncles get to see nephews and nieces; and brothers spend time doing something everyone enjoys.

The brothers have raced all over the areas of northwest and central Iowa and southwest Minnesota. Nielsen says there is “still nothing cooler than winning in front of the hometown”.

Brandon started his 2016 season at the CCF Speedway with a win. His car, T8, is named after his son, who was in the stands that night watching alongside the rest of the Nielsen family. His wife, Andrea, and family cheer him on often and contribute to his favorite part about racing: the time spent with family, friends, and the competition.

Brandon recently turned 40 and started racing in the early 2000s when his brother and friends talked him into racing an Enduro car. He started racing his Hobby Stock car in 2007 with the addition of the Clay County Fair Speedway. He likes the CCF Speedway because it is a short drive, like a “box of chocolates: it can be a hammer down, horsepower track to a very slick, driver finesse track.” With the track being different every night due to weather and other factors, Nielsen says that racing is “definitely not as easy as it looks.”

Racing well forces a driver to find the right combination for his or her driving style. Hobby Stock cars are not allowed to be modified much. But, “the hardest part about racing is the time invested,” he says.

For the last few years, he has raced three times a week. Nielsen said, “It’s like a second job.” Often throughout the week, he will put his kids to bed and then work on the car before the next race.

Hobby Stock racing is “the most bang for your buck class in racing,” the brothers say. Most parts are more affordable and reliable for the cost, including the crate motor option, he says. The front tires last almost all year while the rear tires get a few races on them before they need replaced. While Hobby Stocks does not always have the highest winnings, the parts are less expensive, making it a winning combination for the Nielsen team.