Age not slowing Craig driver
The only trophy that John Jepkema has won at Hayden Speedway sits by itself on his mantle at home.
With a life full of adventures, the 77-year-old isn’t too worried about his only, lonely trophy.
“If I feel I have to win something, I’ll get back in training for pistol and win something,” he said. “I have a competitive nature when I race, but it’s not all about the finish.”
Jepkema has raced cars on and off since he was a teenager in Michigan. His family has a racing heritage that includes his uncle attempting to qualify a car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Back when there were dirt tracks in Craig and Steamboat Springs, Jepkema raced his 1955 and 1956 Chevys. That was shortly after he and his wife moved to Craig in 1963. He stopped racing in 1971. Four years ago, he decided to take up racing again.
“I wanted something else to do,” he said. “I sold my Ultralight and got into racing.”
The retired teacher has almost always had a hobby. Other than flying an Ultralight and racing cars, he was a successful pistol shooter.
“I was a state and regional champion in shooting,” he said. “I also coached a national-champion shooting team.”
He shot competitively from 1955 to 1968 and from 1988 to 1999.
His return to racing was spurred by his ability to find a car. He found a 1974 Fiat Sport Coupe to race. He owns another Fiat, which he drives across town in the summer.
“I belong to a Fiat club in Denver,” he said. “They’re a lot of fun to drive, and they don’t take a lot of work to produce adequate power.”
Jepkema competes in the Mini Stock division at Hayden. He said he mostly enjoys his time in the pits with fellow drivers.
“One of the main reasons I race is the social aspect,” he said. “I’m not one to go and watch all of the other races. I’ll watch a friend race, but I like being in the pits more.”
He combines his interest of shooting and racing by putting the No. 45 on all his racecars.
“I always shot a .45 better,” he said.
His racing philosophy is simple.
“I have confidence in my car’s ability” he said. “But I try to stay our of trouble.”
Before Jepkema taught math, he was a truck mechanic. He uses those skills to keep his car tuned.
As for being the oldest driver at the racetrack, “It’s no secret I’m 77, but I don’t know about it being an honor,” he said. “It’s just a fact.”
Racing today is much safer than when he started, Jepkema said.
“I was probably fortunate that in my first race car I blew the engine before I had a chance to wreck,” he said. “There were a lot of serious injuries then. When I was driving in Craig, I was the only driver to wear a fire suit. Cars are much safer for us now.”
Fire suits are now mandatory at Hayden.
Jepkema is unsure when this period of racing will end. A lot of it depends on his car and its engine. He has another car lined up if the current one fails, but financially he’s not sure whether it’s feasible to replace the engine, if it’s needed.
“If the engine blows, I’ll have to think twice, but I have another Fiat,” he said.
One thing is for certain — when his racing career ends, Jepkema will find another adventure.
“I’ve always found something to do,” he said.
Jepkema will race today at Hayden Speedway.
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