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Zabel brothers continue family racing tradition

The Zabel family of Selby continues to have an impact on racing at the Brown County Speedway. Duane Zabel, center, still helps his sons Dylan, left and Dawson, right, with their cars at the track. Photo by John Davis taken 6/30/2023

SELBY – Dylan and Dawson Zabel definitely know their way around a racetrack.

The Selby brothers grew up at Brown County Speedway in Aberdeen watching their father Duane compete in the sport of auto racing and now are regular competitors at the local oval. Dylan competes in the Modified division while Dawson is a Midwest Modified driver.

“I grew up at the racetrack all the time. Basically, every Friday night was in Aberdeen. It’s pretty much where I grew up in the summers,” Dawson said. “I’ve always just had an interest in it I guess.”

Both say they enjoy being alongside each other in their racing journeys, although there have been bumps in the road.

“It got pretty tense when we were racing in the same class when (Dawson) was a rookie. Just being brothers and being close in age, we both wanted to beat each other, but I think we kept it pretty civil for what it could’ve been,” Dylan said. “Right now, it’s a blast having (Dawson) racing the B mods and I’m in the A mod class. It’s a lot of fun to be able to do it with your brother.”

The pair is only two years apart in age, with Dylan being the older brother. While they are similar in age, they now race in different classes. Their racecars have similarities and differences as well.

“We both have the same chassis builder. When they’re bare frame, they’re exactly the same car,” Dylan said. “In A mod, the rear end suspension is different. There are some components in the front end (that) are different. I can run aftermarket (parts); he still has to be on stock (parts).”

The cars have similar, but different, motors as well. Dawson’s car puts out around 200 horsepower, while Dylan says his is around the 600-horsepower range.

For the Zabels, the sport of racing has always been a family affair. Dylan and Dawson’s parents have been supportive of their sons’ efforts and accomplishments through the years.

“Crazy supportive,” Dawson said. “It’s a family thing and weekends we’re always together, weeknights it’s always me, my brother, and my dad in the shop. It’s awesome. We get to spend a bunch of time together. We all have a really good bond, and that’s part of the reason why we do.”

Dawson Zabel, of Selby (1Z) leads Taylor Schmidt, of Bath (15) through turn four in the second heat of Midwest Modified action Friday night at Brown County Speedway. Photo by John Davis taken 6/16/2023

Both say they are appreciative of all that their parents do for them before, during, and after the races.

“(Our father) is still into it. He retired from racing in 2017 and he’s still out in the shop every night with us, working on cars, thrashing away,” Dylan said. “He’s always told us he has so much more fun just being able to help us and watch us than what he used to do back when he used to race. He’s a major help.”

Dylan said that their mother, Rose Ann, is also a big help when it comes to the family racing affairs.

“She helps with helmets and stuff. She just does a lot of little, small things that people don’t think (about),” Dylan said. “Also, it’s nice when we can have a nice home-cooked meal. She’s always got food ready for us after the races.”

The Zabels make their home near Selby and the brothers say they are proud to represent the town on the racetrack. They are also thankful for the way the community follows their racing exploits.

“It’s just more of a support thing,” Dawson said. “Their comments on social media are just always positive.”

That support includes several sponsorships that help to provide funding for racing.

“Most of our sponsors are pretty local too, in Selby,” Dylan said. “We’ve got six or seven or more that are just our local agricultural sponsors that are in town. It’s so cool to see how much they support us and it’s another true blessing.”

Dylan Zabel, of Selby, (11Z) moves down the back straight away in the second heat of Modified action Friday night at Brown County Speedway. Photo by John Davis taken 6/30/2023

While winning is the best part about racing for Dylan and Dawson, there is also another aspect that they both enjoy.

“Honestly, it’s the people and the friendships that I’ve made through the years of doing it,” Dawson said. “You meet a lot of great people. Like (recently) we were in Montevideo, Minnesota, so you meet new people there and we all have similar interests, obviously, so it’s really easy to get along with everybody.”

This season has been filled with up and down for both drivers. Dylan said he has done well, while Dawson has had his struggles, but ended up winning the Midwest Modified feature this past Friday night.

“If I were to explain it, I’m not even on the struggle bus, I own the struggle bus company right now,” Dawson joked. “It seems like a lot of wrecked stuff, just misfortune there, and then even just self-inflicted errors on our part as well. It just seems like we really haven’t been able to catch a break so far this year. You have to take the lows with the highs and it all evens out.”

The brothers each have goals they hope to achieve by the end of the season.

“I’d like to try and get some wins. First let’s start with getting one because that’s a realistic goal,” Dylan said. “Then once I get one then I wanna get three, and three to five-ish would be really cool, but right now I’m gonna be really content with getting one. Another goal (would be to) not roll the car again.”

Dawson has a different approach to his goals.

“My goals every year actually are pretty simple. I always just say if my maintenance program is the best it can be and we’re having fun, then all the other small things like wins and good finishes will come,” Dawson said.

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