Racing in the Van Wormer family started with son Jeep racing motocross.
"My dad thought that I might kill myself doing it and in retrospect it was probably a good thing that he stopped me from doing it," says Jeep Van Wormer, who gave up motocross to become an outstanding Dirt Late Model driver.
Even though he did step down from the dirt pounding two-wheelers, he was still very good, with a number of wins coming in his five-year career, which began at age 16. It all started when his parents bought him a bike and he raced against the neighborhood kids in the backyard.
But after giving up motocross, racing was still in his blood, and while attending Central Michigan University he got interested in racing stock cars on dirt. Made sense since that was the only racing surface he knew.
"My folks figured that 'there he goes again,' but they figured these cars would be a lot safer with the good protection they provided," says Van Wormer.
Jeep is actually a nickname his dad gave him. He's been called Jeep so long thatit's become his accepted name
Modifieds came first in his foray into race vehicles with four wheels. He raced those for a couple of years and had approximately 20 wins. Then he moved to a full-bodied Street Stock and quickly garnered a pair of track championships. It was at that time that he graduated from college with a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and Business Administration. His education provided knowledge and experience that would play heavily in his future racing career. He's not only a talented driver, but also a smart guy with the books
Then, in 2000, Van Wormer made a big transition into the powerful Dirt Late Models.
"It was a big step up. So much more horsepower, bigger tires, and so much more speed to get used to," he says. "But I had one huge advantage at the time as I was driving a used car that Scott Bloomquist had driven. He also helped me out a lot and it really paid dividends."
Bloomquist recalls Van Wormer's early career.
"Jeep started out driving my cars and he caught on real quick on to how to drive them," says Bloomquist. "I think over the years he has really improved and for the fans he's certainly exciting to watch. I think that Jeep has really matured a lot and can't get anything but better in the years to come."
In 2001, Van Wormer enjoyed some success and decided to begin traveling. Consider, though, that this increased activity took place during his college days.
"It made it a pretty tough deal trying to race, keep up with the cars, attend class, and get homework done all at the same time," he recalls.
It was a fortunate situation that his professors worked with him when he had to miss class to race.
"They thought it was pretty cool that I was running a complete race team, doing everything myself," he says, "including the truck driving, car preparation, actual racing, and keeping up with all the paperwork.
"I want to make it clear that the family was still financing everything at the time so I watched the funds very carefully. When I had a wreck on the track, I was immediately calculating in my mind how much it was going to cost to fix it. Those factors probably kept my driving style a little more on the conservative side, but there are times you have to be aggressive."
In 2002, he competed in the full-month UMP Summer Nationals event and proved that he was a coming star. He also competed in the top-gun Extreme Series and finished 12th in points.
Through the years, there have been a number of stellar performances in the big races. For example, the Pinconning, Michigan, driver won a $10,000-to-win Summer Nationals race in 2002, the 2003 Fall Nationals at Eldora for the same money, and claimed an impressive Third place at the World 100 in 2006.
Things continued at a high-and-successful pace during the 2007 season. Through mid-October, he had nine wins, 20 Top 5s, and 30 Top 10s. There was another very close finish at the World 100, with a finish of Fifth.
One of his most impressive wins came at East Moline, Illinois, when he took the $12,000-to-win Fall Harvest Shootout against a star-studded field. "To get a win against the caliber of guys that were there is really a big deal for me," Van Wormer says
The caliber of the competition, in fact, is the one thing that stands out in the sport, he adds.
"Heck, in the big races, there are really 50 drivers capable of winning. You really have to have things together to win those races. I don't know immediately if the car is right. Things are changing all the time and you have to try to stay up with them. I try to go forward at the end of the race. One thing that you don't have any control over is when the tires seal over. When that happens, you are through."
Jeep Van Wormer's Keys to SuccessDriving For the young guy who has goals to drive a Dirt Late Model in the future, my recommendation would be for him to begin in an inexpensive Super Stock car. With that car, you could learn how to handle the car, drive in a pack, and how to win. It also helps you prevent making mistakes on the track
I wouldn't recommend using an open wheel Modified which is more costly and has a higher tire bill.
If your budget allows, the use of a crate Late Model would also be a good learning tool. The advantage is that you are driving a Dirt Late Model chassis, but with a less powerful engine. And with less horsepower, you have a car that handles somewhat different than a real Dirt Late Model
Technology I think that you have a huge advantage if you have an understanding of, and a capability to work on, your own racecar. If you look around, there is a good percentage of the drivers that cannot set up their cars. But rest assured, all the top-gun drivers do their own car setup
As told to Bill Holder