WORTHINGTON -- If Jaeden Strandberg sounds like an experienced race car driver despite his 16 years of life, it might be because he’s learned a great deal in barely more than a year in the sportsman’s class.
“It’s a lot of patience. If you don’t have patience, it’s not going to work. You can’t win on the first lap. Some guys think you can,” Jaeden said this week.
In his first race last year at the Nobles County Speedway, young Jaeden was lapped. In his first race this season, he finished in first place. He’s learned a lot in a hurry.
No doubt it helps that his father, Dan Strandberg, is in his corner. In 2011, Dan became the first driver outside of Iowa to become the United States Racing Association (USRA) hobby stock national champion. Dan, a Worthington native, still races, but he’s downgraded his own track plans in order to help guide his only son in the sport he loves.
Jaeden, said Dan, knew from the get-go that winning races wasn’t going to be easy. So he made him work on his dad’s car for a year before he was let out on the track. Though that first race was nothing more than another lesson, Jaeden finished the year having won four of his 14 starts.
“It was a really good experience,” he says now.
“He went from bad to really good at the end of the year,” said Dan.
“I got the hang of it halfway through the year. Then it was really fun,” said Jaeden.
The apple never falls far from the tree, people say. That seems true in Dan and Jaeden’s case. Throughout his racing career, Dan has never been able to eat on race day. He says he gets sick to his stomach every time he gets in the car.
Jaeden is the same way.
But then the race begins.
“The nerves go away when the green flag drops for me. Then you’re just more worried about the cars,” he said.
Jaeden was 13 years old when he said he wanted to race.
“And I said not until 18. And I lost,” said his mother, Kristin.
She has seen it all. She saw her husband catch on fire, ride a wall and smash into a wall. But she knows that sportsman’s class cars are built safe. Armed with that confidence, she said Jaeden could graduate to hobby stock this year if his grades were good enough. They were, and now Jaeden plans to run in the IMCA Super Nationals this summer in Boone, Iowa.
Today, Jaeden -- who maintains a busy schedule with racing, summer basketball, and helping his dad on the farm -- says he continues to learn new racing maneuvers from watching other people compete. He learns what others do to pass. He studies races on YouTube and on television, and from attending events as a spectator. He meditates on the driving styles of other people who are successful.
And, of course, he knew right away it would be a good idea to listen to his dad.
“Jaeden is a lot like me,” Dan interjects. “My mom and my dad thought I would quit after a few races, because I wasn’t the type to stick with things I’m not good at.”
But racing wasn’t short-lived for Dan, who turned it into a way of life. It’s fair to assume Jaeden will have staying-power, as well. Both he and his father were winners in their sixth attempts on a track.
Just how long Dan plans to continue racing is uncertain.
Before he can answer the question, Jaeden interjects.
“He’s staying in it until I can whip his butt,” he said.