If anything, you have to give the guy credit for his passion and guts. 

And his perseverance.

The passion part involves Colfax native and Bloomington resident Michael Rigsby's hardcore love and commitment to dirt late model racing.

The guts part came in throwing caution to the wind and believing that he could steer that passion toward making a living in an endeavor that basically has little more than a niche following.

"It's really a niche within a niche," said Rigsby, further breaking down the appeal of dirt late model racing in the overall sports landscape.

Evidence of his stubborn perseverance is the fact Rigsby's "Dirt on Dirt," a website devoted solely to dirt late model racing, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this summer.

Rigsby, a graduate of Ridgeview High School (2000) and Illinois State University (2004), says reaching the 10-year milestone has left him in a reflective mode.

"I look back and if I had to talk to my (then) 25-year-old self, I'd say 'you're insane,'" said Rigsby, recalling the decision that he and his wife, Amber, made to leave their jobs and start the website.

While growing up in Colfax, Rigsby spent every Friday night of the summer with his family at Farmer City Raceway and every Saturday night at Fairbury. It instilled in him a love for dirt late model racing that never waned, even after he left home and set out on his own.

After earning a journalism degree from ISU, he landed a job as a television sports reporter in Rhinelander, Wis., and later moved to a weekend sports anchor desk at a station in Madison, Wis.

While primarily covering high school and University of Wisconsin sports, Rigsby was far removed from dirt late model racing, but still maintained an unquenchable thirst for the sport and a desire to be involved in some capacity.

"I was thinking, I don't really love my broadcasting job and if I could find a way to make a living in dirt late model racing, let's do it," he said.

Rigsby's practical side told him that full-time paid positions in grassroots dirt track racing are incredibly rare, if not virtually nonexistent. 

His entrepreneurial side led him to create a spot for himself.

"I would go to dirt late model races like the World 100, the sport's biggest event, and there would be no media outlet there covering it," he said. "I always thought this is really cool. Someone should cover this."

The advent of the internet gave him a relatively inexpensive platform to launch a media enterprise.

It still wasn't an easy decision, however, with him giving up his television job and his wife simultaneously giving up her position at a Madison radio station to join him in the effort.

"We pushed all of our chips into the center of the table," Rigsby said. "She left her job, I left my job, we took out a $50,000 business loan (to purchase cameras and equipment) and it was sink or swim.

"We launched in September 2007 and moved into Amber's parents' house to save money," Rigsby said. "I remember writing out a list of everyone I thought would subscribe, like ‘I know my dad will subscribe’ and so forth."

The couple slogged their way through the initial stages.

"You're not making any money, you're working 17 hours a day and you're grinding for everything you've got," Rigsby said.

Dirt on Dirt turned a corner when it began providing nightly post-race coverage of UMP Summer Nationals events in 2008. It's first pay-per-view webcast came in 2010 with additional events added in increments through the years.

Today, Rigsby has a band of employees providing coverage of dirt late model racing's larger events across the country. Reports are generally on the site within two hours of an event's conclusion.

While relatively small in number on a national scale, dirt late model fans are incredibly loyal to the sport and the hardcore diehards have provided Rigsby with a solid subscriber base. The site is helpful to the sport in that it keeps these fans engaged.

It's also a popular website among the competitors.

"So many of the drivers have told us they'll race to their computer that night or the next morning to watch their own highlights," Rigsby said. "It's something they've never had before.

"I'd be lying if I told you that didn't make us feel good, that we've really affected this little niche industry."

It's also allowed him to make a living doing what he enjoys, even though it can, at times, be hard.

"We live like gypsies," he said. "We drive around the country, rent hotel rooms. But all of us love it and have this intense passion for (dirt late model racing)."

"The idea was never 'we're going to make a bunch of money' and we're far from wealthy," Rigsby continued. "Are we doing well? Yes, and I don't shy away from that. I embrace the fact that through guts and sheer relentlessness we have made this work."

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Bruce Yentes covers motor sports for The Pantagraph and can be reached at byentes@pantagraph.com. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_yentes


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