By Bert Lehman
After a subpar season in 2014 in which he didn’t win a feature, Kimberly’s Jeff Van Oudenhoven knew changes needed to be made for the 2015 season.
“We completely rebuilt the whole car, put all new running gear on it,” Van Oudenhoven said. “We started off really rough at the TUNDRA race opener in Kaukauna and it just kind of opened our eyes that we really needed to do something different.”
It was a solid plan, as Van Oudenhoven won the feature at Wisconsin International Raceway (WIR) opening night of the 2015 season.
“We came out the first night and we were just unstoppable,” Van Oudenhoven said. “… We were looking like we were going to be the car to beat in 2015.”
The following week, Van Oudenhoven’s season came to sudden stop, after he was involved in a nasty wreck at WIR. He broke his foot in the wreck.
“Being the winner from the week before I had to start in the 14th position,” Van Oudenhoven said. “We started working our way up and we ended up getting collected by another car. It was down the front straightaway. I just got clipped in the right rear and it just shot the car up to the right. I don’t think I had a chance to pull my foot back and we ended up hitting the wall head-on because of the dogleg.
The remains of Jeff Van Oudenhoven’s race car after his May 28, 2015 wreck. He broke his ankle in the wreck and was forced to miss the rest of the season. (Dan Lewis Photography photo)
“I didn’t think it was going to be as big of a hit as it was and it just shook me in the seat and I flew to the left and hit my head on the seat. The car kind of flew up in the air. I remember it flying up in the air and I came back across the track. I saw all these other cars coming and I thought I was going to get hit.
“I came to a rest and all of a sudden there were people at my window. I woke up and I couldn’t breath. I had the wind knocked out of me. I just kind of sat there. I didn’t even realize that my foot was busted up as bad as it was.
“I remember looking around inside the car and the interior was just demolished. I could see the air cleaner was way up. I knew the car was destroyed. Sitting there thinking about it, I knew my foot was broke.”
An ambulance ride to the hospital confirmed Van Oudenhoven’s fear that his foot was broken.
Van Oudenhoven was also correct about the car being destroyed.
“When they took the motor out, they had to use a crow bar to get the crank out of the motor,” he said. “Just everything in the car was buckled up. The rear end moved forward about five inches. The motor was probably [pushed] back about eight inches.”
Throughout his career, Van Oudenhoven has had occasional thoughts about hanging up the helmet. He admitted that the thought did cross his mind after the accident.
“I have two little girls, and you have to change your priorities,” he said. “It’s not all about racing anymore.”
His oldest daughter, who is 13 years old, was at the races that night. Van Oudenhoven said he is glad his sister was with his daughter.
“I did talk to her that night so everything was good,” He said.
Even though the thought of walking away entered his mind, the thought didn’t last long, as Van Oudenhoven said he thought he could still win races.
Before the end of the season, Van Oudenhoven did make a few laps at WIR in the RaceTech Race Cars house car.
“I made about five laps and I was ready,” Van Oudenhoven said. “That was probably the biggest convincer that I needed to get back into it.”
He said taking those laps wasn’t meant to impress anyone, rather to prove to himself he could get back in a race car.
“It felt like I wasn’t even off in the summer,” he said.
The fact that he was making a comeback from an injury didn’t cause Van Oudenhoven to change the goal he has when a new race season starts.
“Our goal is always to win a track championship and as many races as we can,” he said.
Following the accident, Van Oudenhoven’s car owners, Scott Vandenheuvel and Terry Korth, had RaceTech Race Cars building a brand new Super Late Model chassis for Van Oudenhoven to drive in 2016.
Jeff Van Oudenhoven in action earlier this season. (Dan Lewis Photography photo)
“We didn’t know how this car was going to react to change or how fast it was going to be,” Van Oudenhoven said.
It didn’t take long for the team to find out the car was fast. He won the Super Late Model feature at WIR opening night of the 2016 season. He followed that up by winning the Red Race of the prestigious Red, White and Blue Series held each year at WIR.
“It was definitely rewarding,” he said. “It was in pretty dominate fashion the way we did it that night.”
Jeff Van Oudenhoven was all smiles after after winning the Red Race at Wisconsin International Raceway June 9.(Dan Lewis Photography photo)
He said he was also appreciative of the support from the fans.
“The crowd was quite loud. I was quite impressed,” he said.
Van Oudenhoven said the accident may have caused him to change his driving style a little bit, and how he approaches different competitors. He admitted that in the past he has been known as a driver who doesn’t take anything on the track and isn’t afraid to use his bumper.
“I’ve been trying to change that way,” he said. “I try to be a little more patient.”
Through the middle of July Van Oudenhoven had three feature wins at WIR and was leading the Fox River Racing Club Super Late Model point standings.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to be competitive,” Van Oudenhoven said. “I look at our race team as a lot of people who have a lot of money invested in it. A lot of people work hard. It’s always just the thrill of winning.”
He added, “If we could win it (track championship), it would be a reward winning Cinderella story for our entire team.”
(This article appeared in the August 2016 issue of Full Throttle magazine.)