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McGovern will drive laps at Huset's to mark 89th birthday

George McGovern, 89, will squeeze into this sprint car Sunday after taking a lesson from car owner Lane Brenden, left, a 22-year-old Mitchell resident. (Tom Lawrence/Republic)

George McGovern admits he's running out of things to do to celebrate his birthday.

Last year, the former South Dakota senator parachuted out of an airplane to mark his 88th birthday. On Sunday, he will drive a race car at Huset's Speedway in Hartford, four days after he turned 89.

"I'm not going to take any chances," McGovern said with a smile Friday. "I don't want to set any records and I don't want to damage a valuable car.

"And I may be an old duffer, but I still want to live," he said. "I've just always been inter-ested in this."

McGovern will drive a lap or two at Huset's in a Wing 360 sprint car owned by Lane Brenden, of Mitchell.

Brenden, 22, offered to let the veteran politician and fledgling race car driver pilot his vehicle when he was asked last month.

He's been driving competitively half his life, starting in g-karts when he was 11. Brenden has raced regionally but now runs primarily at local tracks.

A Mitchell native, he said he knew who McGovern is and was aware of his storied politi-cal career. Brenden said he is a Democrat but doesn't follow politics that closely.

McGovern, a Democrat who served two terms in the House, three in the Senate and ran for president three times, said while baseball remains his favorite sport, he has always admired race car drivers and kept an eye on the sport.

He used to attend races at the State Fair in Huron and asked Brenden if the track is still there.

"I've always been impressed by the bravery and skill of race car drivers," McGovern said. "It takes bravery and skill and judgment."

Some may question his judgment for squeezing into the small race car, but McGovern said he's aware of the risks.

He and Brenden will meet Sunday afternoon for a lesson before McGovern takes to the track Sunday evening between races at Huset's.

McGovern will don a fireproof suit as well as a helmet, gloves and specially designed shoes before he takes to the track, which is three-eighths of a mile in circumference.

McGovern said he's not afraid of what he's doing and talked about an incident a few years ago when he blacked out at the wheel of his car and ended up in a pasture.

He was found to have a heart condition after the accident and still maintains a busy schedule, writing books, making public appearances and doing work for a Washington, D.C. law firm.

"I wouldn't be doing this if I still had little kids," McGovern said. "But Eleanor (his wife) is gone, one of my daughters is gone and my other children are grown.

"I don't have those burdens anymore, so I can do these things," he said.

"Anytime you go out on I-90, there's some risk. A wheel could come off, a drunk driver could hit you," McGovern said. "Life is full of risks."