Jim Schmidt makes smooth transition from snowmobiles to cars
By Bert Lehman
Around 10 years ago Jim Schmidt of Cleveland, Wisconsin knew he had to make a change if he wanted to continue racing.
At the time, Schmidt was a successful snowmobile racer on oval tracks following the USSA Series. He raced snowmobiles for 20 years, traveling to races across the northern part of the United States, and into Canada.
“We did really well,” she says. “I got several titles at Eagle River but never the actual World Championship. I qualified for it five times but never won it.”
Despite the success, Schmidt walked away from snowmobile racing to embark on a new racing career — one that involved four wheels and being strapped into a car. Schmidt says the decision to retire from snowmobile racing was due to the physical toll that type of racing had on his body.
“I thought I could sit in a car and drive around,” he says.
One of Schmidt’s friends offered to sell him a Limited Late Model for $1,500.
“He came over and he wanted to explain to me what it really cost and after I looked at what that cost compared to snowmobile racing there was no comparison,” Schmidt says. “Snowmobile racing was a lot more expensive.”
Schmidt bought the Limited Late Model and embarked on a new racing adventure.
Even though the car was old, Schmidt made a smooth transition to racing cars.
“My Limited Late Model was 21 years old and when I bought it from the guy he said, ‘If you’re lucky you can maybe get a 10th in points.’ I think four years later we won the points championship with it,” Schmidt says.
That championship took place at Plymouth Dirt Track in 2003.
Schmidt enjoyed racing a Limited Late Model but it was his dream race a full-blown Late Model.
“I always wanted to run Late Models but there were never any races around here for them,” Schmidt says. “They were always in Milwaukee at Hales Corners or Shawano, and with farming and milking cows, there was no way to make it to those tracks.”
That changed when Plymouth Dirt Track dropped the Limited Late Model division and replaced it will the WDLMA Late Model division. This allowed Schmidt to fulfill his dream.
“I fell right into it,” he says. “We were more than willing to go to that.”
There was one negative with this switch, though. Remember when Schmidt stated it was cheaper to race a Limited Late Model than to race snowmobiles? Schmidt says with a laugh that wasn’t the case with the full-blown Late Model.
“Late Models are more expensive,” he says.
The cars may have change, but Schmidt says he was racing against the same drivers the year of the switch.
“Then after that Hales Corners closed down and they (Hales Corners drivers) came up here. Then the [competition] definitely stepped up,” Schmidt says.
Another change took place in 2009 when Schmidt bought a Wild chassis from Wild Inc.
“I went to them and said, ‘I’ll buy a car from you if you guys help us.’ They said they would help us and since that time we’ve stepped up the pace a lot,” Schmidt says.
With that chassis, Schmidt mopped up the competition at a season-ending Late Model special at 141 Speedway, and backed it up with a win the following spring at a Late Model special at Seymour Speedway.
“That was a good car,” he recalls.
Schmidt’s son, Justin, now races that car, and Schmidt races another car he purchased from Wild Inc.
Racing against his son is something Schmidt enjoys.
“He’ll be a real good driver someday,” Schmidt says of his son. “He just needs a little experience. It’s really cool racing with him.”
When asked if he treats his son differently on the track, without hesitation Schmidt said, “No. He’s just another driver and hopefully he treats me the same. When we’re out there, we’re out there to race. There’s no cutting each other slack.”
As cool as it was and still is to race against his son, Schmidt says the 2012 season was one to forget.
“We wrecked two driveshafts, broke an axle and we blew a few motors,” Schmidt says.
The only consolation for Schmidt was he says the car was fast when it was on the track.
The results haven’t shown it through May so far this season, but Schmidt says the season hasn’t been “too bad.”
“We’re fast enough to win. We just have to be in the right spot,” he says. “If you don’t start in the front, the guys in the front, they’re all fast, anybody can win.”
Winning a few features is on Schmidt’s list of goals for this season, as well as no DNFs. He says he’ll stick with racing Late Models as long as Late Models are around.
He also now realizes that racing a car isn’t necessarily easier than racing a snowmobile.
“It’s really a challenge,” he says, “and it’s a lot of fun driving them because they rip.”
(This article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of Full Throttle)