Growing up in Kalispell, Alex Lessor spent many of his summer nights at the track. Dad was racing, Mom was in the pit and Alex was in the stands.
By 9, the young boy was a familiar face and knew all the drivers by name and number. Before one of the big summer races, a standout driver named Dave McManus promised to give Alex the trophy if he emerged victorious.
“Dave won the race and I took Alex down to the track afterward,” his mother, Marilyn Vickhammer, recalled recently. “He still has that trophy.”
All grown up, Alex is now earning his own hardware.
The 33-year-old Kalispell driver has developed into one of the best behind the wheel in Montana. Over the span of his 15-year racing career, Lessor has risen in the ranks among a crop of talented local riders, driving Hobby Stocks, Legends and now Late Models, the highest class of local stock car racing vehicles.
Lessor is once again near the top of the leaderboard in the points standings at Montana Raceway Park this summer, having won the past two main events at the track north of town, and is once again a top contender at this weekend’s Montana 200.
The Montana 200, in its 24th year, is the state’s premier motorsports race, with $15,000 awarded to first place and over $50,000 in the total purse. The top 24 drivers are guaranteed at least $1,000 apiece, which is why this weekend’s race will attract many of the best from around the Pacific Northwest.
“It just seems like it’s more and more competitive every year,” Lessor said.
Lessor is registered in the Montana 200’s lineup alongside several other skilled drivers, including Bodie Morton, Agni Howell, Trevor Emond, Gary Lewis and Giles Thornton.
Lessor narrowly missed out on winning the main event last year, finishing runner-up behind Jonathon Gomez of Twin Falls, Idaho.
“That was a really good race for me,” Lessor said. “One of the best races I’ve had.”
His mother describes it differently.
“It was nerve-wracking. I don’t think anyone was breathing the last 20 laps,” said Vickhammer, who attends all of her son’s races. “We were all holding our breaths. He had everyone in the stands on their feet.”
Lessor finished just shy of victory lane and almost ended a 10-year drought for Montana drivers at the pre-eminent event. A Treasure State driver has not won the Montana 200 since Ken Kaltschmidt of Marion won in 2003.
Lessor has renewed motivation entering this weekend, along with a few other local drivers who have come close to winning the biggest race of the year. Morton was fifth last year and Emond was sixth. Howell was 10th.
“It’d be cool to bring it home to Montana, whether it’s Bodie or a few other local guys who are good, like Trevor Emond,” Lessor said. “It’d be cool to see it come home, but I’d definitely like to be the guy to bring it home.”
Lessor has placed in the top 10 four times at the Montana 200: seventh, ninth, third and second last year.
He grew up at the racetrack, watching his parents and other drivers maneuver the exciting sport.
“Hanging out watching my dad race all my childhood made me want to be like him,” Lessor said. “I started pitting for him and he’d take me to races with him. I got hooked and then he started letting me drive a little.”
His dad, Larry, gave his son his Hobby Stock car when Alex was 18. The young driver began racing competitively on a regular basis and learned the intricacies of a high-power vehicle.
“It took some time. It was a rocky start. But I had a lot of good people around me teaching me,” Lessor said.
He was named rookie of the year his first season racing in the Hobby Stock division and finished third in the points standings. In 2006, after testing out other car divisions, he moved to Super Later Models, and that summer he won another rookie of the year honor for that division. He also claimed the points championship.
“He does his homework with every car he’s owned. He calls people and gets tips. He’s just very educated,” his mother said.
He’s also developed a reputation for being a clean driver, meaning he won’t bump another car out of his way, risking safety for glory.
“He just tries to do it the right way,” Vickhammer said.
In late June, Lessor picked up his first victory of the season, winning the Canadian American Shootout main event. Two weeks later, he won the Late Model 125, leading wire to wire.
The hard work and long hours during winter preparing for summer are paying off.
“Our car has been really, really good. I’m pretty excited about that part. But you just never know with this race. It’s just hit or miss,” Lessor said.
Either way, when the track lights up and the stands fill with fans, including family and friends, Lessor will be right where he wants to be, doing what he loves.
“That’s the way I spend my summers,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”
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