Gallatin Speedway


Belgrade, Montana

Charlie Hirst had hardly driven his 1998 Toyota Celica before he lined up at the Gallatin Speedway for the first time in early June. He had bought the car for $500, installed a roll cage and painted the number 411 on it. Before he knew it he was careening around the quarter-mile dirt track, gas pedal slammed to the floor, with no idea what was going to happen. 

“It was terrifying,” said Hirst. “When I got in the car I thought I was gonna throw up.” He placed third out of three drivers in the sport compact class that day, yet left the speedway empowered and inspired.

The track at Gallatin Speedway is filled weekly in the summer by big, loud machines whose sole purpose is to go really, really fast. There are generally a handful of different classes of cars competing on any one night, and most of these cars have little in common with the standard passenger vehicle, save the four wheels and a driver’s seat. The sport compact class was introduced this year to make track racing more accessible. Rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars to buy a specialized racing machine, Hirst was limited by rule to spend less than $1,500 on his.

Still, starting a racing career from scratch isn’t easy. “In your head, you might think you’re a good driver,” said Hirst, “but you get humbled. And you go back next week, and you go a little faster.”

Hirst found the seasoned drivers in the bigger classes to be supportive, yet his biggest challenge was having enough competition. Because the sport compact class is so new, people just didn’t have time to put a car together this year.

In the last race of the season, Hirst placed second out of two drivers. Despite the loss, he returned home to Ennis motivated to come back next year, and go a little faster.

LINK: Photo Essay: A little faster