In the midst of the cornfields and cityscapes of the Des Moines metropolitan area lies a community with a heart that beats strong for a love of racing.
Three tracks within 45 minutes of downtown Des Moines define the area: Knoxville Speedway, Iowa Speedway, and Iowa State Fair Speedway (ISFS), a half-mile track that saw legends such as Bobby Allison, Mario Andretti, and David Pearson race there.
Although racing was discontinued at ISFS in 2016, a creation of ISFS promoter Tony Moro’s still lived on.
Years before, Moro opened the Victory Lane Motorsports Café, the only racing-themed cafe in Des Moines. Moro owned the cafe until 2011, when he sold the café to current owner Mona Fickes, a decades-long racing fan herself.
Fickes worked as a computer programmer in Wells Fargo’s home mortgage department but had been looking to purchase a business like the cafe with little success until one day.
“Out of the blue, one of my brokers called me and said they had exactly what I had been looking for,” Fickes recalled. “I didn’t even know that this business was there, so I went to go look at it and fell in love with it right when I saw it.
“There was not one inch of the walls covered and you couldn’t see any of the tiles on the ceiling for how much memorabilia there was. He had a go-kart attached to the ceiling that his son had raced. There was so much memorabilia that it was like a racing museum in there.”
When Fickes bought the Victory Lane Motorsports Café, the name stayed the same but Fickes made some minor changes, such as adding a pool table and incorporating more homemade food.
In June, the café was on Gray Gaulding’s car for the Iowa Xfinity Series race. Gaulding also made an appearance at the café the night before the race.
Some of Moro’s memorabilia has stayed the same while Fickes has started to add more of her own memorabilia and build up a collection for the café.
A part of that collection is a Jeff Gordon piece, which is set to come to the café soon.
Fickes became a fan of Gordon after the death of Davey Allison, another favorite of hers.
“It was just tragic when he [Davey Allison] passed because he could’ve ended up like Dale Earnhardt. It’s just so sad because he was such an awesome driver.
“So when I had to pick a new driver, I picked Jeff Gordon when he was coming on the scene. Back then, he drove a lot like Davey Allison and that was why I picked him as my driver.”
During Gordon’s final season in 2015, Fickes bought hot passes for both Kansas races. On the day of the October race, Fickes ran into a lady who had pieces of skirting from a car and would point her to the Gordon piece.
“For some reason I said, ‘Where did you get it?’ She said it was from Jeff Gordon’s car, and that it was in the trash and she asked the guys about it, and they said she could have some.
“She then said, ‘There’s still some there if you want it and you could get it.’”
Fickes was able to get a piece of Gordon’s car, but the piece wasn’t complete until a year later.
“When I did the meet and greet the next year, I took that piece of skirting and he autographed that for me.
“I got a piece of his car and I got his autograph on it. It just doesn’t get any better than that, really.”
For the future, Fickes looking to add more memorabilia like the Gordon piece. Now that Fickes is retired from Wells Fargo, she’s also looking to have the cafe expand upon being involved in the racing community.
Overall, Fickes has hopes to maintain what the café has going for it now.
“I’m perfectly happy with the small, nice, happy neighbor environment, so my goal is to keep it the way it is. I have a lot of customers that return all the time and my goal is to make sure that things stay as good as they have for the last 7-8 years.”