Ozarks Life: Chasing a dream while holding on to a memory

The Osceola dirt track driver is using the B-Mod his cousin raced last year.
Published: Jul. 29, 2022 at 6:27 AM CDT
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WHEATLAND, Mo. (KY3) - Hardly a weekend goes by in Wheatland where hometown heroes don’t trade paint on the dirt.

“It’s a huge adrenaline rush,” Osceola racer Christopher Watts said. “There’s nothing like it.”

Watts is in his first year of racing. Making a bunch of left turns just feels right for the 24-year-old.

“You get a lot of help from a lot of veteran racers around here,” Watts said, “which makes it a lot easier on first-timers that come out like me.”

Watt’s original plan was to have his cousin be an on-the-track rival and an off-the-track mentor. But life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

“(Watts) and James Gates were real good friends,” longtime Lucas Oil Speedway flag man Mike Striegel said.

Watts is now chasing a dream while holding on to a memory.

“He was a really well-known kid for around here,” Watts said, “and he was a really good guy.”

On December 11, Gates died in a car accident near Hermitage. News of the 23-year-old Wheatland man’s death shook the tight-knit community whose heartbeat rumbles at its Lucas Oil Speedway.

“He loved this just as much as I did if not more,” Watts said. “He was (doing this) all of the time his kids; loved it. He had them come and help him in the pits and stuff like that. That’s another reason why I wanted to keep it alive; not just for me but for his family.”

Despite saving up and buying a car of his own, Watts now wanted his cousin, James’ car. That was the plan all along, to race with Gates this year.

“So I told myself I said if (his car) comes up for sale,” Watts said, “I will try to buy it.”

“That was (Gates’) first race car he’d ever raced,” Striegel said, “and then Watts got it and it’s his first race car. So it is pretty special on a deal like that.”

Striegel has seen a lot over the years from his perch. But he admits, nothing quite like seeing that number-98 B-Mod tearing up the track again.

“It just gives me chills to still see that racecar and it’s pretty special,” Stiegel said. “And I think it’s special for all the fans for him to keep the numbers the same.”

“(Gates’) wife Claire,” Watts said, “I gotta thank her a bunch. If it weren’t for her I really wouldn’t be doing this. I’d be doing it in the car I probably had but this is a whole lot cooler... and not just for me but for everybody that knew James here.”

Watts is also paying tribute to Gates with a large decal on the roof of their B-Mod.

“What better of a person to take over it,” Stiegel said.

“He was just a really, really awesome person,” Watts said. “If you never get the chance to meet him, it was your loss. It’s been an awesome opportunity and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Watt’s rookie season has been a success with him spending time in the top ten of the B-Mod standings. Saturday night is fan appreciation night at Lucas Oil Speedway.

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