Jeff Nielsen – Driver

By Chad Meyer

The Kossuth County Speedway in Algona, IA has always felt like home to the then Pocahontas, IA-based Jeff Nielsen, who will be inducted into the Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame in Algona.

“I started racing in 1991. One year prior to that, I was helping my brother-in-law, Rod McClurg, with his modified in Algona. I decided the next year to give racing a try myself,” remembers Nielsen. “Dale Heiderscheidt was fast in the Hobby Stocks, I think he was track champion that year in 1990. At the end of the year, he had his car for sale and we bought it.”

Nielsen vividly remembers his first race. “I was terrible. Very slow. It was a lot different than I expected from watching in the grandstand. The speed and g-force is so unexpected until you get out there. I was stubborn too and had lots of mechanical issues. I didn’t ask for help. Heiderscheidt’s crew guy offered advice a time or two, but I blew him off, I guess.”

He raced two years in a Hobby Stock before moving up to where he made a name for himself in IMCA Stock Cars. In time, Nielsen figured things out and earned his first career win at the Buena Vista Raceway at Alta, IA in 1994. “Once I won, I was pretty hooked. Nothing other than winning was going to acceptable,” he said.

Over time, he developed an up-front consistency that became a hallmark of his career. “I maybe didn’t win a lot of races, but consistently finishing in the top four and making the tech area meant as much as to me as getting the win.”

That consistency propelled Nielsen to 17 total wins in Algona, plus the 2003 and 2004 IMCA Stock Car point titles. He also collected the 2003 Gene Schattschneider Memorial and the 1997 Fall Special.

“I always thought the history of the ‘named’ races, memorial races were really neat. Winning the Schattschneider Memorial stands out. The higher paying races elevates a guy. I also really liked the first race of the year. You spent all winter building your car, getting ready,” said Nielsen, who won the 2003 opener and the first two races of the 2005 season in Algona.

In 2007 Nielsen made the jump to an IMCA Modified. “I felt I needed a new challenge and kind of got bored a little bit with stock cars. I raced Jeff Feaster’s mod in a mechanic’s race and decided it was for me and we bought his car when the year was done.”

“I was intrigued by the adjustability of modifieds. But if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t have [made the switch],” recalls Nielsen. “I didn’t feel that they fit me. I am a conservative person, in control. A mod is so radical. I loved the speed, but you have to be on the edge, always pushing it harder and that frustrated me a little.”

“We won four times at Algona with the mod, so we had some success,” said Nielsen, who also qualified for the Harris Clash at Knoxville Raceway. “But I got soured on mods because you chased speed with dollar bills and that got old. And you could easily adjust yourself out of a race too.”

Nielsen retired from racing in 2012. “I knew I had to quit cold-turkey, otherwise I’d keep wanting to race. I was about 50 years old and thought it was about time to quit. I looked around and I was racing against teenagers. It was taking a lot of time and money and it was just time,” he said.

Nielsen remembers race nights in Algona fondly. “Its where I started and where I got the bug to race. Even though I raced other places, I felt like Algona was my home track. Developed friendships with people and it felt like home.”

He said that Algona Raceway, as it was then known, had a culture you didn’t always find somewhere else. “We raced several other places but didn’t feel that attachment. So many of the same fans came out of the grandstands over the 22 years we raced to see us. The track workers and sponsors were so dedicated and took ownership.”

When asked what he is most proud of during his career, he notes that it goes back to race a Stock Car. “Being consistently up front and being a clean driver. And all the friendships. So many weddings, funerals, and graduations we attended were from friendships developed at the track.”

Today, Nielsen and his wife Denise are retired and live in Ankeny, IA. They will soon be relocating back to Northwest Iowa, in Okoboji.