Driver

Veteran road racer Jeroen Bleekemolen watches the action on the South Boston Speedway oval while awaiting the start of Saturday night’s 100-lap NASCAR Whelen All American Series Late Model Stock Car Division race.

Jeroen Bleekemolen is one of the world’s more accomplished racers. He has won the 24 Hours of LeMans, twice won the Twelve Hours of Sebring and is one of the top stars in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series.

Saturday night at South Boston Speedway he did something he has never done in racing – climb behind the wheel of a stock car and race in a NASCAR race on an oval track.

Bleekemolen qualified 10th fastest and started sixth in the 100-lap NASCAR Whelen All American Series Late Model Stock Car race, but had to settle for a 15th-place finish after brushing the wall and having to park the car after 22 laps as a part on the car’s suspension broke.

While the native of The Netherlands had only a brief stint in his first career oval track stock car race, the experience gave him a new-found appreciation for drivers that compete and excel in oval track racing.

After having co-driven the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 car with Ben Keating to the GT Daytona class win in Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International at Alton, Bleekemolen said he was tired and sore from Saturday night’s race at South Boston Speedway.

“I think I was too far away from the steering wheel, because my muscles are sore,” Bleekemolen said.

“We had a rain delay, so we started late. Today, I was pretty tired.”

Bleekemolen said the overall experience of competing at South Boston Speedway was fun, but it took a little while to get acclimated to the car and the track.

“The first couple laps, to be honest, were not so much fun,” he admitted.

“I thought it was so difficult. I had to kind of relax and get and back in the car. From the second run onward, I really had fun and started to push the car harder and harder and got confident.

“Slowly, I got better and better,” Bleekemolen added.

“I have a lot of respect for people doing this. I had it already, now, even more.”

The veteran road racer said he feels it would be easier to get acclimated to racing on an oval track on a bigger oval.

“On a short oval, your body has to get used to the G-forces going one way,” he pointed out.

“You don’t really get a break here. “I got used to that, but, still, it’s hard to know how to be fast. “When we stop driving and came into pit lane (in the IMSA races) we look at data and see what we’re doing wrong.

“Here, you’ve got to feel it yourself,” Bleekemolen added.

“People can tell you from outside you’ve got to do this or that, but it’s hard to know exactly how you get these last one, two or three tenths of a second out of the car.”

Bleekemolen said oval track racing is a completely different world from road racing.

“You cannot compare it,” Bleekemolen remarked.

“I already had a lot of respect for this type of racing, but I have way more now. Now I realize more how hard these guys work behind the wheel and what it takes to be fast.”

Bleekemolen said he and his team had talked about coming to watch a race at South Boston Speedway, while they were spending the weekend at VIR competing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series. This year, the opportunity presented itself.

“We’ve been racing at VIR for the past six years together,” he explained.

“Each year we’ve been like ‘we’ve got to go (to South Boston Speedway) and check it out and see one of the races.’ Four years ago, we were like ‘well, maybe we should not just see it, but go out there and drive.’ This year it happened. I was here to enjoy it.”

Bleekemolen says while he enjoyed the experience of his first oval track race with some of his fellow IMSA competitors including veteran road racer Nick Tandy and others from the IMSA world watching along with the good crowd of South Boston Speedway fans, he does not see himself doing much oval track racing.

“At the moment, I’m busy with my normal endurance racing,” Bleekemolen said.

“It will be hard to find the time. I don’t expect me doing a lot of this, but, if I have time, why not. You never know how things go. I ended up here driving without having a career in it.”

Joe Chandler is the sports editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at jchandler@gazettevirginian.com.

Joe Chandler is the sports editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at jchandler@gazettevirginian.com