3-Time ARCA RE/MAX Series Champion Tim Steele Retires
by ARCA RE/MAX Series
COOPERSVILLE MI (6-27-07) – If there was ever a natural born race driver, it may be said that Tim Steele fitted into that category like a glove.
But for the three-time ARCA RE/MAX Series national driving champion, it just didn’t feel natural anymore.
“It took me nine and a half years to get there,” said Steele. “But the last time I was in a car, it just didn’t feel natural anymore. It seems like I’ve struggled with this decision forever; but I always told myself that if I ever got scared it was time to get out; or that if I ever felt like I had lost my God-given ability, it was time to get out.”
For Steele, 39, that time has come. The Coopersville, Michigan driver has officially announced his retirement from driving.
After a very successful career in the ARCA RE/MAX Series that produced championships in ’93, ’96 and ’97, and more superspeedway victories than any other driver in series history, Steele was on the verge of signing a contract to race fulltime in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. Then a crash at Atlanta Motor Speedway on November 5th, 1997 left him with a closed head injury and changed his world forever.
“I was 10 days away from signing a Winston Cup contract when I crashed; and we were going to run for the 1998 Cup Rookie of the Year. My dad and (Green Bay Packers quarterback) Brett Favre were purchasing the team from Bud Moore, and we had Nike and Sony lined up as sponsors.
“Looking back in ’98 when I was at the Mayo Clinic, I now know the doctors were right when they told me I should probably find a different career.
“I just wasn’t willing to accept that; it was like admitting defeat. Racing was my life; it’s how I earned my living, and the only job I ever had since I was 20. I didn’t know anything else, so it was so hard to walk away from my life. I had worked so hard to get where I had gotten. I just couldn’t give up on it now.”
Unfortunately, there would be ongoing, residual physical and personal issues that would plague Steele during his comeback phase of his career. Regardless, it’s worth noting that despite the ongoing struggles, Steele still managed 11 more ARCA RE/MAX Series victories after the accident.
From 1993 through 2006, Steele, driving his father Harold Steele’s HS Die entries, won 41 ARCA RE/MAX Series races in 146 attempts, which equates to victories in 28% of all the races he entered. Steele is still the all-time superspeedway winner with 24 victories, including nine at Pocono Raceway, which still tops the charts. Through it all, he earned 86 top-five finishes, 101 top-10s and led 5,423 laps in 93 races. That means that Steele led laps in 64% of every race he entered, a feat unmatched yet today. He also won 31 career pole awards.
ARCA President Ron Drager was witness to Steele’s ascension through the ARCA ranks from start to finish.
“Tim Steele, at his best, was as good a driver as there ever has been in the ARCA RE/MAX Series,” said Drager. “His statistics place him at or near the top of nearly every category in the 55-year history of our series, especially in superspeedway competition. While he has had to forgo what was at one time an exceptionally promising driving career, it's great to see that he can continue to participate in the sport, and you can bet he'll prove to be just as competitive as ever in his new role.”
His new role requires the transition from driver to owner.
“I’ve tried different things with my Dad, out at his ranch in South Dakota and with all the things he’s got going on while still racing my late model. But doing other work outside of racing didn’t always feel right either. I just didn’t live for it like I did racing.
“The day we crashed at Toledo testing our late model earlier this year, I was driving my bike home after the wreck and I came to the decision it was time to get out, and that was that. Johnny VanDoorn, a 19-year-old local driver from Coopersville, had just won at Berlin, so I put him in my late model. We went to Dixie and just cleaned up. He had three-quarters lap on the field when the final caution came out. I mean, they were racing like crazy for second, but not for the win. It reminded me of some of my days in ARCA.
“Anyway, that win really lit my fire again. I hadn’t felt that kind of desire since before the wreck in ’97. So now I’m back at it working on racecars 12, 14, 16 hours a day, and I’m loving every minute of it.
“Now I can take the energy I used to spend driving and begin developing the skills necessary to build relationships with sponsors. I can orchestrate from the owner’s seat rather than from the driver’s seat, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
VanDoorn is equally excited about the opportunity.
“Teaming up with Tim Steele and HS Motorsports will help out my career, no question about that,” VanDoorn said. “We’ve been at the top of the speed charts ever since we started working out of Tim’s shop and we are looking forward to more of that in the future. HS Motorsports has a long history of running up front and contending for wins and championships, which is what we plan on doing. With the experience Tim and his crew chief Chip Caputo provide, that will only speed up my learning curve.”
Steele added, “Having Johnny in our car will be fun to watch. When I decided to stop driving, I thought I’d miss it. But working with Johnny has been awesome. And seeing him run a car that looks like mine will be great. Hopefully, all the fans that I had along the way will remember that car and follow Johnny, ‘cause he has a bright future.”
The familiar red #16 will carry long time Steele sponsors: HS Die, Visi Cad/Cam, Tooling Software Technologies and Hometown Sunoco of Cutlerville Michigan. Also on board will be Magic Transportation who has backed VanDoorn since 2003.
Despite Steele’s newest opportunity in the late model world, his desire to return to ARCA RE/MAX Series competition is still at the forefront of his thoughts.
“I’ve got the name I have because of ARCA,” added Steele. “ARCA’s been very good to me over the years, and I’ve earned a damn-good living doing it, and I’ll do anything I can to support it. If you’re going to bad mouth the series, better not to do it around me. ARCA gave me the chance to get to the big time, but I got hurt. It just wasn’t meant to be as a driver, but maybe as an owner. I just really feel like I can go someplace with my decision I’ve made, and I’m looking forward to it.
“My dad always said, ‘you create your own luck; the harder you work, the luckier you get.’ Now I finally understand it’s true. And I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.”
Next stop for Steele and his newest protégé VanDoorn will be the CRA Super Series late model race at Angola Motor Speedway Saturday, June 30th.