When the Kosiski brothers - Joe, Steve, and Ed - show up to race, promoters smile, fans cheer, and fellow drivers cringe. Promoters know the three Super Late Model dirt track drivers from Omaha, Nebraska, will fill the stands. Fellow drivers get a little uneasy when the three pull in because, simply, they're tough to beat.
Between them, the Kosiskis account for 20 major NASCAR regional, national, and touring series championships. They own numerous track championships.
"They definitely set the performance bar in the Midwest when it comes to dirt Late Model racing," says driver Kyle Berck of Marquette, Nebraska. "They have put Nebraska on the map in the racing community as result of their individual career track records."
A while back, Joe, who at 45 is the oldest brother, did some research. The 26-year veteran of dirt track duels discovered he's raced in 34 states, winning races in about 28 of them. Steve, 42, has raced at 150 tracks in 30 states in his 23 seasons of competition.
The Kosiski brothers are a "feather in any racetrack's cap," says Craig Kelley, manager of Nebraska Raceway Park, a NASCAR-sanctioned dirt oval near Omaha. Kelley grew up with the brothers. "They're clean drivers, and they've got nice equipment and nicely dressed crews. They're the people you take a prospective sponsor to meet when you take them on a pit tour."
They're also tough as nails on the speedway. Read the results from places they've raced and you'll generally find one or more of the Kosiskis listed in the Top 10.
One night last August, for example, Nebraska Raceway Park ran double features, and nearly 30 drivers competed in each race. Joe won the first one with Steve finishing third and Ed fourth. In the second race, Joe was third, Ed was fourth, and Steve seventh.
Brotherly Love?The brothers are just as competitive with each other as they are with other drivers. Joe says the reason is simple: each brother pays his bills out of what he makes from racing. And besides, adds Steve, by racing against each other, "we've made ourselves better."
Don't expect one brother to block other drivers so another brother can win a race. If he were to block, Joe says, "I'd be sitting back there thinking, 'Well, I got a $500 check here, and he got a $3,000 check. Who's the dummy here?'"
Still, each Kosiski admits it often hurts a bit to win at the expense of another brother. "In one way, it's harder to race against your brother than someone else because, when you're trying to be successful, you know that's hurting your brother," Joe says.
There have been times, for example, when one of the Kosiskis was racing for a track championship while another brother was competing in the same event for a NASCAR regional championship. "If you're leading the feature, you hate to be first and him be second when you know that maybe a feature win would help him get the regional championship," Joe says. But the bottom line, he quickly adds, is "You're there doing what you have to do. That's what you have to say to yourself."
As Ed, 37 puts it: "My brothers are my competitors. We pay our own bills. How well we do is how we pay for our racing. So we don't want to give somebody else something that we want."
Following FatherIt was, perhaps, inevitable that Joe, Steve, and Ed Kosiski strapped into stock cars instead of taking up some other leisure activity. Their father, Bob, raced on Midwest tracks from 1952 to 1979. He even competed in the 1960 Daytona 500.
Bob met his wife, Grace, at a racetrack. When Bob and Grace had a family of their own, she took their three sons and four daughters - Kathy, Sue, Mary, and Sandy - to the track to watch their dad compete whenever possible.
That was never often enough for the boys. Their dad raced three to four nights a week and, when school was in session, the kids were allowed to go to the races only on Saturday nights. "I cried when I had to stay home," Joe recalls.
"We could have stayed home with grandmas or our relatives, but racing was just part of our lives," Ed says. "You felt empty not going."
Bob Kosiski served as an inspiration to his sons. "You wanted to be as good as he was," Joe says. "You wanted to win championships because he did. When we saw him race, he won. When you're going to go racing, you're not going just to be there. You're going to win."
As the three brothers grew older, they started helping their dad with the stock car at home and in the pits. Driving a race car themselves was the next logical step.
Nowadays, Bob is the one helping his sons with their cars. And at the track, Grace cheers for all three; she doesn't play favorites. "I just hope they're all safe, and they drive a good race," she says.
Family plays a huge role in the lives of Joe, Steve, and Ed Kosiski. Joe met his wife, Mona, at the former Sunset Speedway in Omaha. She was the trophy girl, and Joe won the trophy dash. They have four children: Lisa, Bobbie Jo, Andrew, and Alexandria. Steve's wife is named Shelly, and their children are Aimee, Robby, and Brian. Ed is married to Trisha, and their children are Kortney, Michaela, Tia, and Kale.
The Kosiski brothers are partners in Kosiski Auto Parts, a salvage yard their parents started next to the family's Omaha home in 1976 and moved in 1980 to a larger location. There are now three related businesses, including Kosiski Racing Products.
Joe, as the oldest son, oversees all of the businesses, Ed handles auto sales, and Steve is in charge of rental properties, the salvage yard, and maintenance. Grace still works in the office, but Bob is retired. Well, sort of. "He's here every day," Joe says. "There's no way he'll ever stop coming in."
Surprisingly, at work there isn't that much chatter about racing, although some customers inevitably want to talk racing when they stop in.
When the brothers do talk racing, Ed stresses, "We never talk about setups or anything like that. Our setups are basically our secrets. We're three different people, and we set our cars up three different ways."
None of the three has much time for hobbies. Any free time is devoted to their families. Joe coaches basketball for his son's team.
"I try to spend some time with the kids here and there," Steve says. "I go to some Winston Cup races in the off-season. If I hit a golf course once a year, great. I may go to a lake or do some boating once or twice."
Steve also displays his car and talks with youngsters at suburban Omaha libraries, schools, and Boy Scout meetings. In his free moments, Ed builds Soapbox Derby cars that his children race. He proudly points out that daughter Kortney won the Midwest regional Soapbox Derby competition and went to Akron, Ohio, and raced for the championship in 2000.
Keeping It SimpleDon't watch for Joe, Steve, or Ed to move on to bigger racing ventures, although they've all considered it.
Joe did some ARCA racing in the late '80s and early '90s. "I really wanted to move on at that time," he says. "But not at this age. I'm kind of where I want to be now. We've got businesses back here ... and we barely get time to do the racing we'd like to do."
Steve says he had thoughts of advancing when he was 23 or 24 years old. "But time has gotten away," he says. He had no asphalt experience, he says, and would have needed to get some to advance. But that would have been difficult, he reasons, with all the dirt racing he was doing. "What are you going to give up?" he says.
The Kosiskis compete at NASCAR tracks like Nebraska Raceway Park and Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa. They also race in most Mr. Goodcents Super Series, World Dirt Racing League (WDRL) events, and some other specials. And, though fellow drivers might cringe at the added competition, the Kosiski brothers are welcomed and respected everywhere they go.
Jim Wilson, WDRL founder and director, calls the Kosiskis "good diplomats" of dirt track racing who have done a lot to improve the image of the sport. "They help other race teams whenever they need it and are always the first ones to step to the plate if they think something will help racing. They are also very good with the fans."
Steve Kosiski may not realize it, but he has always been a role model for driver Kyle Berck because of his abilities and driving style. Berck remembers some advice Steve gave him when he failed to make the "A" feature at a track by one finishing position in a qualifying race.
"He told me that, if I would have raced a little harder and driven a little different line, I could have gotten qualified," recalls Berck. "It meant a lot to me for him to take the time to come over and coach me."
Applying The Brakes
The Kosiski brothers are all contemplating their futures; they know they won't be fighting car wars forever.
Joe says he doesn't plan to race until he's 55 or 60 years old. He notes that his son Andrew will be old enough to race in a few years. "If he has the desire and will to work on a race car and wants to race, I'd just as soon help him and have fun that way."
Joe, with the help of some partners and family members, also has promoted races and may do more of that when he quits driving.
Steve says he has been thinking more about the right time to hang up his helmet. He and other family members are more spread out because of their business involvements, he says. "And it's tough on the crew, too, to get time away because they all have families and jobs."
Steve's retirement may come when Wayne Mason, his crew chief, decides to quit. "My dad drove for him, and Wayne and I have been together since basically 1981," Steve says. "He has a home in Arizona now, and he's been coming back and forth. When he decides to be done, I'm really going to stop and question and evaluate. And I foresee that very soon."
Like his brother Joe, Steve Kosiski says he won't just walk away from racing when he quits driving. "I'm a race fan, too," he says. "I go to Winston Cup races. We'll always be around it, no matter what."
He notes that his youngest son, Brian, had a question for his mother a couple weeks ago: "Who's going to make my firesuit for me?" he asked Shelly.
Even the youngest Kosiski brother, Ed, is thinking of cutting back his schedule. "But I've got a lot of things going for me right now with sponsors and good help. And I've finally got a nice place to work on the car. Until I get done riding this wave, we won't know."
When the brothers do hang it up, they'll be missed-even by the drivers they've raced against and whipped.
"Not only are they great racers, but they're all great guys," says Nebraska Raceway Park's Craig Kelley. "You really can't say enough good things about that family, from a friend's standpoint or a racetrack operator's standpoint."