‘Dirt is for racing’

NB native Jason VandeKamp making his mark on regional racing circuit—

When Jason VandeKamp was a young child, his big goal during the summers was to take a nap when he went to visit his grandparents at their North Branch home.

That nap meant something; it meant he was allowed to accompany his grandparents to the races.

VandeKamp celebrates after garnering a first-place finish at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis. Photos supplied

VandeKamp celebrates after garnering a first-place finish at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis. Photos supplied

Nearly every Friday and Saturday when the weather was right to race, VandeKamp said he, his grandparents and often some of his cousins would go to dirt racetracks in Princeton, New Richmond, Wis., and other regional locales.

“It was my grandparents who got me interested in racing,” said VandeKamp, a 1996 North Branch Area High School graduate.

Bob Nelson, VandeKamp’s grandfather, said his grandson — who first started coming with him and his wife, Merodie, to the races when he was about 5 years old — would tell him, “Someday I’m going to have one of those cars,” when VandeKamp was watching the vehicles tear around the track until after midnight on those weekend outings.

VandeKamp bought his first racing car, a Ford Montego, around 1997 and did about half a season of dirt track racing, but the results were less than stellar.

“We didn’t do very well at all,” he said. “We didn’t know anything. We were just out there.”

After that attempt at racing, it was off to college for VandeKamp, and he didn’t give the sport another try until 2002, when he bought a Monte Carlo Street Stock.

At first, victories came slow, but VandeKamp began tallying a few higher finishes on the Wissota Auto Racing circuit, even a couple of first-place victories.

From 2005 on, the victories began to pile up, and last year was VandeKamp’s most successful season.

He raced 13 times at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis. — a NASCAR-sanctioned track — and he took first place 11 times and second twice.

Overall, he raced 48 times and took first in 24 of those outings.

“That’s probably something I’ll never do again,” VandeKamp said of his victory total, noting that a driver winning 50 percent of his races in a season is pretty much “unheard of.”

VandeKamp receives his award at the Whelen All-American Series national banquet in Charlotte, N.C., Dec. 13, 2013.

VandeKamp receives his award at the Whelen All-American Series national banquet in Charlotte, N.C., Dec. 13, 2013.

NASCAR banquet

As the track champion at Cedar Lake Speedway, VandeKamp was invited to be honored at the Whelen All-American Series awards banquet Dec. 13, 2013, at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.

A tuxedo, fit to VandeKamp’s measurements, was waiting for him when he got there, and he got to go up on stage and receive an award in front of the crowd, which included other dirt track drivers and people with ties to NASCAR.

He noted announcers who call NASCAR races announced at the event.

VandeKamp said he enjoyed the banquet, but his favorite part of the trip was when he got to meet NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick.

“Kevin Harvick is Jason’s favorite driver,” Nelson said.

VandeKamp said he got his picture taken with Harvick, and they talked about some dirt racing Harvick has done in Minnesota.

VandeKamp said he hasn’t really considered switching from dirt to asphalt.

“Grandpa always said dirt is for racing and asphalt is for getting there,” he said.

Away from the track

When VandeKamp isn’t racing, he works as a probation officer in Isanti County, and he likes to spend time with his family, which includes his wife, Katie, and his children, 14-year-old Carter and 2-year-old twins, Parker and Gavin.

VandeKamp and his wife actually met through racing.

“She works for one of my sponsors,” he said, adding that she letters his race cars. “We got to know each other that way; that’s kind of how we met.”

VandeKamp in his No. 16 car on a local track. His wife, Katie, letters his race cars.

VandeKamp in his No. 16 car on a local track. His wife, Katie, letters his race cars.

Gearing up for another season

Depending on the weather, regional dirt track racing in the upper Midwest should start in about another month, and VandeKamp said he’s excited for the season to start, even though he’s uncertain if he could replicate or improve upon his success from last season.

He’s still passionate about the sport that drew his eye at the young age of 5, and he has a myriad of fond memories surrounding racing.

“As a little kid, I would go over to my grandparents’ almost every Sunday, and we’d sit in the living room and watch NASCAR,” he said. “Those are a lot of my memories.”

His grandpa still comes to some of his races, but his grandma passed away about a year ago.

“He’d always give me and my wife credit (for getting him into racing),” Nelson said. “Now he says, ‘She rides with me in the car.’”

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