Kay Gueningsman drives her modified truck Earthshaker 2 during the 2010 Enderle Pulloff. In 2013, Gueningsman plans to continue her family's pulling legacy.
This post was shared by Miles Krieger, author of the Miles Beyond 300 blog, as part of his weekly feature titled "Full Pull Motorsports- Women on Wednesday." Click here to read extensive pulling coverage and view photos on the Miles Beyond 300 blog. You can also follow Miles on Twitter @milesbeyond300 or on Facebook at facebook.com/MilesBeyond300.
In times of personal tragedy and loss, one’s character will be revealed for all to see. In the wake of her loss, this week’s Full Pull Motorsports- Women on Wednesday selection has found strength in keeping the hope of her husband alive by focusing on what they did together; pulling. Today, we highlight Kay Gueningsman, a lady whose character has far exceeded the measure of a man or woman in a time of tragedy, as she has faced the challenge and in her grief found solace in a community and environment that allows her to keep their dreams alive.
In high school Kay met her future husband and found they shared a common interest in a love of cars and trucks. At the time their passion wasn’t a pulling machine, but a 1970 Chevelle SS that Jeff spent a lot of his time working on. Eventually the Gueningsmans found their way to a pull with a GMC Mud Truck that Jeff entered in a local competition. What they found that night was that mud tires were not the ideal option for success on the pulling track, but even more what they left the pull with was a desire to learn and grow in the sport. Over the course of the next twenty four years, Kay and Jeff spent a large portion of their lives embedded in the sport of truck and tractor pulling.
In 1990, shortly after they became husband and wife, the Gueningsman’s debuted their first pulling- specific truck, a SSFWD that was campaigned throughout the state of Minnesota. Four years later, with the help of another pulling couple from Minnesota, Kay and Jeff helped to bring the SSFWD class to the NTPA Circuit with events in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Along with the challenge of trying to compete on a full pulling circuit, the Gueningsmans took a big step when they both quit their jobs to start an automotive business together. The success of the business allowed them to hire three other mechanics in addition to Jeff who mainly focused on performance and transmission building.
A few years later with the ball successfully rolling in pulling and at their business, a new truck was built for Jeff to campaign which gave Kay a chance to not only drive but compete against her husband. The husband and wife duo quickly became the talk of the circuit as they were known as the ones to beat within their class.
As the years came and went, the family suffered a tremendous loss and tragedy when a fire destroyed most of their shop. On that fateful day in May of 2001, the Gueningsmans lost the Chevelle they had in high school, their two pulling machines (Tremors and Earthshaker), all of their spare parts, most of the building and the primary portion of the last decade of their lives. In that moment, Kay witnessed the character she had fallen in love with in Jeff, as he wiped away his tears and cultivated a plan to move forward. The very next weekend, with the help of their pulling friends, Jeff pulled his Afterschock truck and began the process of building Kay another truck from the ground up. In just 3 short weeks, Jeff built the new Earthshaker2 which Kay piloted to two event wins in it’s maiden voyage.
In the fall of 2004, Kay and Jeff Gueningsman embarked on a new adventure when Jeff secured the purchase of a three engine modified. The adventure of the modified wasn’t the only life changing ride that they found themselves on that fall, as they also found out they were to be parents. In the summer of 2005 they welcomed their new crew chief Annie, an instant pulling girl who went to her first Enderle Pulloff at a mere two months of age. The addition of Annie changed the duties and responsibilities of Kay a little bit at a pull as she now found herself packing the hauler with all the necessities of their sweet baby girl. With the help of their pulling family, the Gueningsmans each continued to pull with Annie stationed on the sidelines with a competitor’s family while her parents hooked to the sled.
Kay and Jeff believed they may have reached the pinnacle of their pulling careers in 2010 when Kay captured the prestigious Enderle Pulloff win and an NTPA Region3 title FWD class win. A few weeks after the Enderle win, Jeff received a letter to inform him he had been selected to compete at the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky. It was shortly after that Louisville trip that Jeff began to feel poorly and thus they scheduled a doctor’s visit.
The words Kay Gueningsman heard that day are like nothing she had ever heard, when the doctor told them that Jeff had Stage 4 Lung Cancer. Jeff put up a valiant fight saddling up in the Modified in June at an event in Hutchinson, Minnesota, as well as insisting that Kay continue to run her truck since he felt that she simply could not miss the points events. From the passenger seat of the hauler where he often sat, Jeff would critique and absorb everything he could from the evening’s events, but simply didn’t have the strength to be out in the thick of the action.
In late July, 2011, Kay and Annie lost Jeff as he succumbed to cancer with his two special ladies by his side. The outpouring of love and support that Annie and Kay received from the pulling community was an amazing tribute and testament to a life that was taken way too early. In his honor, pulling teams from around the region flocked to the funeral adorned in their crew shirts to pay their respects and later that evening they all went to a pull to compete at an event that Kay and Jeff had promoted many years prior. Seeing familiar and friendly faces, like the Skelton’s who had traveled all the way from Illinois, gave Kay a sense of calm on what had been such a difficult day.
Believing that the chapter of her life in the sport of pulling was over, Kay was reflective on all of the amazing things they had been able to achieve. Kay didn’t know that Jeff had been preparing his friends to convince his bride to continue pulling, so with some convincing from those friends and her biggest fan Annie, the Earthshaker 2 was out for the 2012 season. On an occasional basis, the Modified was run in the summer with a friend behind the wheel and just once Kay bent the throttle over to catch a taste of the power. To say she loved it would be a significant understatement, as the power was a thrill ride like no other she had experienced.
After finding the courage to face a difficult 2012, Kay was excited to get things prepared for the 2013 season but damage sustained to the modified throughout the season left her hopes for the season dashed. Thoughts raced through Kay’s head to call it a career in pulling and focus on something else with Annie, however just as it was in 2011, Annie and the support system convinced Kay that she could do whatever she put her mind to. The sense of courage Kay witnessed in her husband when their shop had burned was what she felt rallying her to go on. but this new chapter was going to be different as there was a big piece of her puzzle missing.
In the fall of 2012, Kay the single mother and widow put a plan in place to rebuild Gueningsman Pulling and embark on a journey with Annie. Having been in the secretarial role for the business over the last twenty four years, Kay knew who to call to have them do the work that Jeff used to do in their shop. The plan was being executed as five motors were pulled from the modified and shipped to be repaired, the hauler was sold and a new one for Kay to learn to drive was ordered. As problems arose, Kay relied on her network of pulling friends to help her solve the issue and effectively get it fixed. The final step was to assemble a team that would be able to help with the maintenance of the motors and putting the entire tractor back together. At this point her truck is ready to roll into the new trailer and they are working hard to get the tractor ready to compete. In mid-June at the Hutchinson event that witnessed Jeff taking his last ride, Kay hopes to pay honor to her late husband and those who have stood by her by powering down the track strapped into the Aftermath machine.
In just two short years, Kay has learned so many lessons in life that have brought her to the inspired and motivated place she is today. Having taken for granted all of the meticulous detail her husband put into getting everything ready to pull, from the fabricating, engine building, to construction and driving of the hauler, Kay now carries an even higher respect for the demand of the role.
Additionally Kay has accepted that the tractor and truck are now hers and if they are going to be running it will be with her hard work and effort. She understands that the learning curve is high but she carries the fire to study how to maintain and compete with both machines. It’s a steady road to follow but Kay is certain she has someone watching down on her every move as she aspires to engage the mechanical side of her brain.
As she goes to bed at night, Kay finds herself asking a barrage of questions from: "Can I do this on my own? Can I drive a hauler? Can I drive and maintain the four engine modified on the Grand National Level?" As she processes the answers to the variety of questions it all comes back to one simple answer and that is with her daughter, friends, Jeff’s spirit and God by her side she is going to give it everything she has. As she faces her fears in the sport, Kay processes the hope that she may inspire someone else to carry on and dare to do something they’ve never done before.
When facing a hard day, Kay relies on one of a few mantras that she has adopted through this process and with each one she can encourage herself to dig down a little deeper to find the strength to go outside of her comfort zone. Whether she recites: "Do what you love, Love what you do, or " Life is Short, Play Hard", Kay Gueningsman has found the formula to rise from the ashes as her late husband did.
Regardless of her achievements on the track in the coming months, Kay Gueningsman will have succeeded when she rolls into the venue. She will have learned to drive the hauler, prepare the vehicles and manage the day to day operations of a Grand National Pulling Team. However, it is my opinion that in the face of tragedy the courage this special lady has shown has all but prepared her to be beyond successful as she calls upon one of the motors she has invested her heart, sweat, and tears into. And watching from high above it all with a big smile on his face will be her high school sweetheart, husband, partner, and co-parent, Jeff! To do something inspiring it often takes twenty seconds of courage. Kay should be well beyond the 300 foot mark by then!