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911 Sprint car a tribute to soldier killed in action
Steve Hilker, Rick Salem, Steve Schartz
By NICK SCHWIEN
Sometimes, racing is more than just turning laps on dirt ovals of northwest Kansas.
Sometimes, it's about honoring someone special, who has given others a drive to live life to the fullest.
That's what Sgt. Christopher Ryan Kruse has provided for friends and fans of the United Rebel Sprint Series, the 305 sprint car division of founder Rick Salem of Oberlin.
Kruse's story is both heartbreaking and fulfilling, all at the same time.
Now, his longtime friend Steve Hilker is honoring Kruse in one of the best ways he can -- partnering with others to provide a winged sprint car as a tribute to the sergeant.
Kruse was killed in combat Nov. 13, 2007, at age 23. He's the son of Dan Kruse and Linda (Lake) and Brant Hensley.
Kruse was only a teenager when terrorists struck in the Northeast on Sept. 11, 2001. But the attacks struck a cord with Kruse.
"He told his mom that when he was old enough, he was going (to serve)," Hilker said. "He told the recruiter he wanted to be out in front, that he wanted to be the tip of the spear."
Kruse, a graduate of Dodge City High School, worked his way through basic training, then was assigned to a Stryker team.
He was a leader of a Stryker team when he was killed in combat in Iraq.
Kruse was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Expert Infantryman Badge and a posthumous Purple Heart.
"It was a huge funeral, one of the most heartbreaking things I've been through," Hilker said. "People lined the streets, and there were American flags all over. My son grew up with him. His stepdad (Brant) worked for me for 15 years. It was a tough one."
Before the racing season began, Hilker began contemplating how to honor Kruse.
"I had the idea rolling around in my head for awhile," Hilker said. "I talked to Steve Schartz about it and seen if he had any interest. He said, 'You bet.' I'd had it in the back of my mind after the shock of losing Chris. He was always a guy who liked cars and kind of a gear-head."
Hilker's idea came to fruition in the form of a 305 sprint car with the No. 911 on it. There are no sponsors on the car, and it is funded by Steve, Sara and Katie Schartz of Schartz Farms in Cimarron, as well as Steve, Tracy, Alleah Hilker Heise and Adam Hilker of Hilker Trucking Inc., Cimarron. Hemel Motorsports, also of Cimarron, provides tech help, parts and advice.
"There's no sponsors on the car, just 911 is it," Hilker said. "We didn't want to put anything else but that on it. It's not just about Chris, but the thousands of kids volunteering to go. We want people to be mindful of that. We wanted to put a name to his face and let people see a picture of Chris."
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