Racing for owner Bill Rhine in a car known as the Batmobile, Gene Gennetten earned back-to-back titles at Olympic in 1967 and ’68. He was champion again in 1970. Moving into sprint cars, Gennetten established a pattern that marked his career for decades to come by competing in a car of his own design and construction.
The results kept coming and he remained the king of Olympic by claiming top honors again in 1971 and ’72. Before anyone could label him as just a hometown hero, he began straying farther and farther from home. For example, in 1972 he added to his Olympic laurels by winning the track title at Iowa’s 34 Raceway. He also scored his first IMCA sprint car win in the Hawkeye State at Spencer Speedway. The following season he continued to shine with IMCA and finished second to Thad Dosher in the final standings.
In many ways Gennetten had a complete second act when he focused more attention to midget racing. Once again, the titles followed. He twice landed atop Mitch Miller’s competitive and entertaining Southwest Independent Midget Series and racing against some of the toughest teams in the heartland, Gennetten was the Midwest Auto Racing Association champion three times in the early 1980s. He tacked on a crown with the St. Louis Auto Racing Association as well.
Gennetten scored his first USAC victory at Liberty, Ind., in 1981, and was particularly active with the club in 1983 and ’84. One report proclaimed that he walked away from the USAC trail while leading the points because he thought the participants never found time to have fun.
One thing remained the same, no matter where he went, he remained capable of winning. The elder Gennetten also holds one record that can never be taken away. In 1987, he was among a group of drivers who decided to take a break from the long winter by racing indoors in Tulsa, Okla.
On Jan. 10, 1987, he held off Johnny Parsons to become the first preliminary night winner in a new event called the Chili Bowl. The next day he finished one spot behind Rich Vogler in the 40-lap feature.
Gennetten stuck with it for a few more seasons, but as his son, Steve, began racing and his new business in the Lake of the Ozarks region of Central Missouri, known as Ozark Barge and Dock Service took off, the time had come to hang up the helmet.
When he was a young man, Steve Gennetten’s grandmother tagged him with the nickname “Beaver.” To say it stuck is a vast understatement. In fact, when he was a child the family had his ears checked because he refused to answer to Steve. Beaver loved racing and at one point his father recognized he was nearly indispensable help.
“From the time I was 14 to around 18, dad would give me 10 percent of what he made on the race car, which was pretty decent money,” Steve Gennetten recalled.
Beaver realized his father was amazingly talented in a number of ways. During the 1983 season, Gene Gennetten scored a USAC victory at New York’s Albany-Saratoga Speedway. While there, he made a deal to sell his car and was forced to scramble. What transpired causes Beaver to shake his head to this day.
“We got back to Kansas City and he started building the car with straight tubing,” Steve Gennetten remembered. “It was crazy. You know how it was in those days. On the way home we must have stopped at 30 phone booths so he could make calls to have people send him stuff. So like on the next Friday night we went to East Moline, Ill., and he started there and won three straight nights. It was a bad-ass experience.”
Beaver’s urge to race was fueled when his father let him hot lap his midget.
Gene was still trying to race and there was little time to spare. Aside from piddling around in a kart, Beaver had never raced anything of any consequence. Then one night he strapped into a midget for keeps. Just starting your career in that fashion was daunting enough but of all places, his first ride came on the high plains of Kansas at the ultrafast Belleville High Banks.
He shrugs off any suggestion this was noteworthy by reporting that his car was the slowest in the field and the danger was minimized.
Steve Gennetten had seen plenty by this time and had a great tutor in his father. He picked up the sport quickly. In 1989, he scored a USAC win at Moberly, Mo., and showed enough promise to gain the attention of Rusty and Keith Kunz. He recalled that this association ended during the Pepsi Nationals at Wisconsin’s Angell Park Speedway.
“I had torn up three race cars horrendously,” he explained, “and blew up a motor. So, they moved on and that was good for me because I got to work with my dad.”
The same agile mind that built top-flight midgets from straight tubing was applied when designing custom boat docks. Gene Gennetten fashioned a shop in the basement of a grocery store near the small town of Gravois Mills, Mo., and the quality of his products spread by word of mouth.
With more work than he could handle, he called Beaver, who was still in Kansas City, and asked if he could lend a hand for a few weeks. Thirty-four years later, he is still at it. He still yearned to race, but the business was growing and when it came to racing it was time to be pragmatic.