PEORIA — Mike Chasteen Sr. crossed his final finish line as the Peoria car racing community lost one of its icons.
Chasteen died on May 1 from a heart attack, at age 63, while on vacation in Nashville.
The racing community will gather on Friday with the family for a celebration of Chasteen's life at the Itoo Banquet Hall, (4909 W. Farmington Road, Peoria), from 5-10 p.m., with a time of reflection at 6 p.m.
He went on to win more than 200 races in his career and was inducted into the Peoria Oldtimer's Racing Club Hall of Fame in 2002.
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His father, Everett "Buzz" Chasteen, was inducted as a team owner in 1997, and his son, Mike Chasteen Jr., was inducted in 2019.
Chasteen Jr. honored his father the best way possible — returning to Peoria Speedway on May 14 to win the Late Model feature race, then embracing his wife in an emotional finish-line moment with his family around him.
"My dad was a helluva guy, and this win was for him," Chasteen Jr. said. "Hopefully he had a front-row seat. It's been the toughest two weeks of our lives. My dad was my hero, and hopefully we did him proud."
He also posted on social media: "It was an emotional win. Tough night being back at Peoria Speedway for the first night since we lost dad. We miss him dearly ... I want to thank everyone for the messages, the texts, the calls and everyone's support. It's helped us a lot through this tough time. There's not a moment that goes by that I don't think about him.
"Hopefully ... he keeps riding with me."
There is a Youtube video made by Chasteen Jr. as he prepared for that May 14 race day, with pre-race clips, footage of the race from inside the car, and his reflections afterward.
Bad to the Bone
Mike Chasteen Sr. had a "Bad to the Bone" theme he made up on T-shirts back in the 1990s. His son chose that theme as a throwback for the 2022 racing season, and ordered T-shirts for the race team's online apparel store as a surprise for his father.
Chasteen Sr. died before he could see them, but the shirts are in hand and serve now as a memorial to his legacy. The family has them available online.
"Everyone looks at him differently," Chasteen Jr. said. "I always just looked at him as dad. It took four years until I got my first win. It was tough, and all I wanted to do was make dad proud.
"I know how many people respected him and I feel like I have an obligation to keep his legacy alive."
Chasteen Sr. competed in a Speedway era against greats like Ray Gus Jr., Ray Gus Sr., Rob Bauman Sr., Gary Webb, Todd Bennett and other Hall of Fame drivers. Chasteen was the Peoria Speedway track champion in 1982, winning the 100-lap Illinois State Championship race.
"I've had the honor to race against Mike many years," Bauman Sr. said. "And Mike Jr., too. Hands down, both of them showed me who was much better.
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"Back in those days, if you needed something, ever had a question, we'd go to Mike Chasteen Sr. He never led us astray. He was a hard-charger as a driver. But he respected anyone on the track with him. He was a clean racer, and very talented.
"He was a champion, and he conducted himself that way."
Growing up Chasteen
Mike Chasteen Jr. grew up in the family race team. His father was in a different stage of his career back then, running national races.
"In the late 90s or early 2000s racing was his income, we went over all over the midwest, and Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Minnesota, Wisconsin," Mike Chasteen Jr. said. "As a kid, I'd get out of school for two weeks every year to go with my dad to the Daytona 500, where they held a dirt-track version of the big race in Florida. They'd give me two weeks of homework to take with me.
"We'd go to Universal Studios and all that stuff. They let my dad park his race car right on the beach, and he'd leave it there while we played in the ocean.
"It was racing, but it was family."
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Chasteen Jr is 29 now and works in the powder-coating division of East Peoria business J-Tec Industries. He and his wife, Leigha, have a 3-year-old son, Rhett.
"I was around racing from the day I was born," Chasteen said. "Racing was something I wanted to do as I got older, I started helping keep the car clean and checking tire pressures."
Mike Chasteen Sr. rebuilt a B-Modified car — one he'd raced himself — and gave it to his son when he was 15.
"He had to drive me to the track, though, because I didn't have a driver's license yet," Chasteen Jr. said, laughing. "We raced against each other in the Modified class."
In May of 2012, Chasteen Jr. was a high school student and he and his buddies built their own car. And they faced Chasteen Sr. on the track.
"It was at Spoon River Speedway," Chasteen said. "We were kids, trash-talking him in good spirits. He kicked my ass by half a track.
"After that, we never trash-talked him again."
A legacy passed down
Mike Chasteen Sr. left a big impression on his fellow drivers. And a lasting one on his son, who now carries the family's racing torch.
The family's traditional car No. 40 is on the track and on the car's rear is a decal honoring Chasteen Sr., that reads: "40Forever."
After he retired from racing in 2013, Chasteen Sr. turned his attention to helping his son, working on the car, supporting the race team, and dispatching advice.
"The biggest thing, the first and most important thing he ever told me was 'Be smooth and look ahead,' " Chasteen Jr. said.
It was meant to be advice for the track, but really, it's sage stuff off the track, as well.
"He said you can't win a race if you don't finish the race, that you have 4 seconds to avoid a collision ahead of you that might take you out," Chasteen Jr., said. "I don't know how many races I've won because of that advice. Those words will stick with me the rest of my life.
"He taught me something every day."
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.
This article originally appeared on Journal Star: Racing: Peoria mourns death of Hall of Fame driver Mike Chasteen Sr.