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Geoff Ensign wheelstands at Petaluma Speedway. - DEVIN MAYO PHOTO

Geoff and Shayna Ensign are a married couple both working to live out their racing dreams

The 2017 campaign was particularly memorable. Focusing on winged 360 racing, he claimed the Petaluma Speedway championship driving for Ivan Worden, and also took the title at Ocean Speedway in his own car. Continuing to show his versatility, in 2018 he became the first California driver to win the long-standing Jim Albert Memorial Gold Cup at Castrol Raceway in Edmonton, Alberta, and traveled south to Arizona to take Bob Ream Jr.’s ride to an ASCS win at Casa Grande Speedway.
In 2019 Ensign devoted much of this time to the tough King of the West series and he didn’t disappoint. He finished in the fifth position in final points, was named Rookie of the Year, and had the distinction of passing the most cars in competition over the course of the year by a wide margin over Bud Kaeding.

For the record, over this same timeframe, Geoff’s wife was building her own resume as well. In July, 2015 Shayna notched her first sprint car win at Petaluma, becoming the first woman to win in a non-winged car. Three years later she went one better and won the non-winged spec sprint car title at the track. Needless to say, she broke another barrier with that accomplishment.

Last season the racing world was dramatically hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, and, arguably, California most of all. By mid-summer there were some chances to go racing, however many nights were contested in front of an empty grandstand. It was a tough situation for everyone. For Shayna there was a bright moment at the end of May when she scored a win at Antioch and, while this brought a little joy, like everyone she was hopeful that this long nightmare was coming to an end.

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Geoff Ensign at a Sprint Car Challenge Tour event at Petaluma Speedway. – DEVIN MAYO PHOTO

While the country slowly but surely began to open back up, as it turned out the couple was soon facing a personal challenge head on.

Right at one week after Shayna had been in victory lane, the couple hopped on a motorcycle and was headed to The Barlow, a popular and expansive outdoor marketplace in Sebastopol. They were travelling down a simple side street at about 30 to 35 miles per hour when a motorist, who never saw them, turned right into their path. Shayna escaped serious injury because, in her words, she “had a personal airbag. His name is Geoff.”

Her husband was not as fortunate. The impact knocked him out, and from that alone what happened still remains a bit of a blur. One thing was for certain, he had significant injuries to surmount. The main damage was to his hip, and the surgery that followed involved plates and screws. If he was ever to race again, he was going to have to take physical therapy very seriously. Even when he was on the mend, flexibility was an issue, and he was forced to spend a significant amount of time on crutches. There was nothing more he could do but work the process…and hope.

On September 19, 2020 Geoff and Shayna signed in at Petaluma to compete in the non-winged 360 class. There were doubts. Geoff still walked with a limp, and because he was unsure about his ability to perform, he decided it was best to jump into the family car. He qualified second, and at this point his confidence soared. Ironically, on this night one of his main adversaries would be his wife.

What veteran California racing fans already knew was that these two never cut each other any slack. Underscoring this point, Shayna admits, “I don’t race anyone as hard as him.” For his part, Geoff recalls a specific night at Petaluma that demonstrated to everyone just how competitive they were. “A couple of years ago in spec sprints she was leading,” he says with a laugh, “and I chased her down and got her in lapped traffic. She got hung up a bit and I got by her. Then she came back with a full head of steam and tried to do a slide job on me and we banged wheels, both went up in the air, landed and kept going. The crowd was on their feet. It was cool.”

On Geoff’s return to the cockpit, Shayna got out to an early lead and was holding on for all she was worth. It was a futile effort, and she watched her husband sail to the front on the ninth lap. Once Geoff got to the point, he only had to withstand a charge by D.J. Johnson, but in the end no one was going to stop him. While it is a shame that the stands were not full, many were able to watch this drama unfold on a live stream. As a savvy veteran announcer, Ron Lingron let the moment breathe because the story was there for all to see. When Shayna and Geoff embraced in victory lane it was truly one of the top moments of the year, and in the aftermath emotions were understandably raw. Appropriately enough, Ensign was quick to recognize his physical therapist.

It would have been easy to assume that Shayna had simply let her guard down on this night, but she quickly dismisses this notion. “I was not going to win,” she said. “My car was very snug. It’s funny, we raced with USAC a couple of weeks later and I didn’t have a great night. He was up front and I was so focused on watching him race that I was not focusing on what I was doing. I was missing my marks because I was so nervous and I didn’t want anyone to race him too hard because I didn’t want to have to go down and have a conversation with someone.”

There is nothing quite like a crisis to help one evaluate where they are in life and to pique the desire to take a leap of faith and pursue a long-held dream. Geoff Ensign’s dream was to move to Indiana and really try to make it in racing. He’d recently watched Jake and Jessica Swanson make the move, and felt the time was right. Sebastopol was growing, the traffic was getting worse, and the racing scene was struggling. The reports of the demise of Petaluma Speedway seemed to increase with every year. California is also expensive.

To begin the process, it was going to be important to save money, and to do so the pair actually lived in a fifth-wheel trailer on property owned by Geoff’s family. “It was nice,” Shayna says. “It was everything we needed. But I was ready to leave. So, we saved money to buy a house.”

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