Van Dam Racing kicks off 2011 in Victory Lane

After nearly eight years of racing and an accident that nearly ended his career five years ago, Henry Van Dam is antsy to get back behind the wheel of the 33v.

The Enumclaw 360 sprint car driver, who has had his share of up-and-down seasons, is hoping to capitalize on the momentum his Van Dam Racing team had going into the final series of last season.

“I can’t wait,” said Van Dam, crossing his fingers weather wouldn’t rain out the season opener. “We’ve been working on the car and now it’s time to find out if we’re prepared.”

The weather was great and so was the racing. Van Dam opened the season with a win at Grays Harbor Raceway in Elma.

“It felt like we passed our test on being prepared for the season,” said team member Travis Van Dam. “We did what we had to do to get the job done.”

“Nights like Saturday make us proud of everything we have put into the race car,” said crew member Brock Akers.

Van Dam’s April 23 win game hot on the heels of the team’s first American Sprint Car Series (ASCS) Northwest Region victory last season. The team finished third with 2,072 points behind Jason Solwold, who had two wins and 2,211 points, Roger Crockett and his six wins and 2,200 points. Van Dam was fourth in 2009 and eighth in 2008.

Racing for the No. 3 spot was a huge accomplishment.

Leading in the 2010 season opener, Van Dam wrecked the team’s primary car, which forced them to start the season deep in the points race – 28th.

“That was tough from the financial side and the confidence side,” Van Dam said. “You have to pick yourself up. It definitely tests your will.”

Through hard work and determination, the team rallied and found itself racing for third in the season finale.

“It was definitely a step in the right direction,” Van Dam said.

This year the team is starting the season with two full cars, a new frame manufacturer and a take no prisoners attitude.

“We’d like to run good for everyone involved,” Van Dam said, noting the team, its sponsors, family, friends and fans. “We want to be competitive in all the races this year. When we leave the race track we know we gave it our best effort, that’s something we take a lot of pride in.”

A championship will take consistency.

And that’s the goal for 2011 – a few more wins, a top two points finish and a championship at Grays Harbor Raceway.

“I’d be disappointed if we don’t get that,” Van Dam said of the track’s top honor. Despite the rough start in 2010, Van Dam Racing was just shy of that spot. “We were second in points at Elma and felt we should have won it.”

Teammates Travis Van Dam, Luke Huizenga and Akers said the team is prepared on multiple levels and ready to attack on all levels.

“Any one person can do any one job,” Van Dam said of his team. “Everyone can work on the tires. Everyone can work on the motor. Everyone can scrape dirt.”

“Everyone has a leadership mentality,” Akers said.

And since they all have day jobs, to spend nearly every weekend from now through November on the road, it has to be fun.

“We love the sport,” Van Dam said. “There’s no pay, we do this to have fun, but obviously we have a lot of goals too.”

The series’ big season opener is a double-header, Friday in Elma and Saturday at Skagit Speedway near Burlington.