For 2 area racers, the Hall of Fame is the final finish line
WORTHINGTON -- One day being inducted into the hall of fame is the dream of most every athlete around the world. This last week, that dream has come true for Bill Smith and Gordy Vogelaar, two area racecar drivers.
"I was completely stunned when the committee called," Vogelaar, 53, said. "Usually you have to wait a few years before you are inducted, so I was surprised. There are a lot of great racers who are in the hall already. This is a special thing."
Vogelaar will be inducted into the Jackson Speedway Hall of Fame for Sprint Car Racing today at 2:30 p.m., while Smith, 70, of Rushmore, was inducted into the Huset's Speedway Hall of Fame last weekend in Brandon, S.D.
"Getting named to the hall of fame was the highlight of my career," Smith said. "Not many people get that honor.
"I had friends and family, as well as all my kids and grandkids," Smith said. "It was a big deal for me, there were a lot of people there I knew from all my years of racing."
Both men got their start in racing at a very young age, with Smith starting in 1962 and Vogelaar starting 20 years later in 1982. Smith actually built his first car at the age of 12.
"As a kid, my parents were racing fans, so I was always interested in it," Vogelaar said. "But what really tripped my trigger was when me and my future wife went to the Clay County Fair and saw the sprint car racing there. That winter I bought my first car."
The car Vogelaar bought, which he owned with his wife Brenda, was a Modified Sprint Car. Vogelaar admits that, although it wasn't much of a car, it was still a car which was enough for him to get his racing career started.
Smith's journey to the raceway is not much different from Vogelaar's, except that Smith got his start fixing and building cars.
"I fixed cars for a living when I was a kid," Smith said. "I was always interested in in cars and I worked on them on my own. I went to watch racing all the time and that is when I decided I wanted to make one."
With the world being as small as it is, it isn't too surprising to find out that Vogelaar not only knew Smith back when he got started, but that Smith helped him out along the way. Vogelaar also drove for Smith in 2009.
"Bill [Smith] helped me get started when I bought my first car," Vogelaar said. "He helped me a lot with the cars and the mechanical side of things."
Both racers had long careers on the track with Smith winning 19 times at the Masters Classic in Knoxville, Iowa, and Vogelaar wining six Jackson Speedway titles in three different cars, while winning 77 features.
"In racing, you just have to take the bull by the horns and prove you can win," Vogelaar said. "Racing is not easy, by no means."
Back in Smith's day, cars were made not bought and that was part of the job that Smith enjoyed the most along with the competitive nature of racing.
"I loved the competition," Smith said. "You always used to make your own stuff. I've been all over for racing. I just love the challenge."
For 13 seasons, Vogelaar drove the No. 75 car for the Summer Racing Group of Jackson where he had immense success and countless good memories.
"There were a lot of good and memorable races," Vogelaar said. "Any time you win it is memorable. What I love about racing is when you give 110 percent you still feel good no matter if you win or not. I just always liked getting in the cars and driving them at 100, 110 percent."
Sadly, sports careers can not last forever, something both Smith and Vogelaar know well.
"This will be my last year in racing," Smith said. "My grandson is racing in the 305 in Jackson, so I am going to go and follow him.
"There are a lot of people to thank, because there were a lot of people who helped me along the way. We were not a high-dollar outfit. People gave us tires and advice."
Vogelaar competed in his last race in 2010 and retired last year.
"It just got to a point that I knew it was time for me to stop," Vogelaar said. "There was nothing more for me to improve at. There is no doubt I miss it, but I made it out in one piece."
For both men, making it into the hall of fame was not a solo effort. Smith and Vogelaar had crews behind them and family members there to support them throughout their careers, which is one thing they feel led to their success on the track.
"I didn't get into the hall all by myself," Vogelaar siad. "I have to thank everybody who helped me along the way; the crew, the owners, the longtime sponsors, even the fans who came to watch. I have to thank my wife Brenda too. In all my 28 years of racing, we never got in a fight over going to the races. Racing was very good for my family."
Even though Smith and Vogelaar are putting their racing careers behind them, neither will forget the feeling of getting behind the wheel of a racecar and taking off down the speedway.
Daily Globe Reporter Jordan Willi
may be reached at 376-7335.