SL’s Poel a rising star in dirt-track racing

It only seemed natural for Spring Lake's Jacob Poel that auto racing would be a prominent fixture in his life. His father, Steve Poel, raced in various forms for more than 25 years, a craft that he picked up from his father, Jacob's grandfather, Ron Poel. Now the youngest driver in the family, the 2005 Spring Lake graduate is immersed in the sport, and has made a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with in the state of Michigan and throughout the Midwest in modified, dirt-track racing.
Nate Thompson
Oct 8, 2011

 

A six-year veteran in the United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) modified series, Poel turned in a remarkably successful season, helping him claim the 1-96 Speedway UMP Modifieds Series championship at the Lake Odessa track; the state points title in the UMP DIRTCar Modifieds series; is ranked ninth nationally out of more than 1,200 registered modified drivers; and has totaled 21 feature wins at Michigan tracks at I-96, Hartford, Cherry, Winston, Mt. Pleasant and Thunderbird.

Poel’s biggest boost to his racing resume to date may have occurred last weekend, when he claimed the $5,000 grand prize for winning the inaugural Michigan Dirt Cup All-Star Performance Modified Tour Championship at Hartford Speedway. The payout was the largest in Michigan modified history and has brought Poel full circle since his go-cart racing days as a child. 

“There were 66 of the best modified drivers there from throughout the Midwest,” the 24-year-old Poel said. “One of them was Kenny Schrader, the NASCAR driver, who drives modifieds in his spare time. He placed second to me.”

Poel said he averaged 21 1/2 second laps during the 30-lap race and beat out Schrader to the finish line comfortably. Poel confidently marveled that he bested a driver who’s been competing on dirt longer than he’s been alive.

“He came up to me afterward and said ‘Everyone was telling me I had a fast car, but it wasn’t as fast as that (Poel’s) 82 car,” Poel recalled. “That was pretty cool to hear something like that from him.”

Poel’s success on the track is a tribute to the hard work he puts into the sport, which often requires 40-80 hours in maintenance per week on his car — an open-wheeled, front-end Chevy V-8.

“For the first time in eight years (this summer), I was unemployed,” he said. “Even in high school I always had a part-time job and raced. But now, I’ve been able to dedicate more time to my race program.   

“My dad raced for 25 years and that helped me get a foot in the door,” he added. “I’ve raced for nine years and I’ve also worked in the field. I’ve built race cars at Port City Racing in Muskegon and privately built race cars on my own.”

Poel’s private work at his shop, PRO-ACT Welding and Fabrication, helps fund his racing program, which he admits is pricey, considering the cost of travel and constant repairs. On race day, his pit crew has a family feel. His father drives the truck, hauling Poel’s car from track to track. His cousin helps with tires, one of his best friends is a master at shocks and struts, and a couple other close family friends assist with maintenance. Their work is all voluntary, because aside from the nice bonus in Hartford, the big pay days are minimal.

“I’m not doing this (right now) for the money,” Poel admitted. “I’m using this as a way to get recognition, get my name out and maybe down the line, some corporate sponsorship.

“(Advancing in this sport) is all about how much and who you know,” he added. “You have to be really smart and a little lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”

Poel plans on competing in the UMP Modifieds Series for a seventh season next year, but would like to compete in more maximum-car count races, which could boost his point totals in national rankings. He’d also like to test his skill in more AMA Modifieds Series races in Indiana, where drivers can pocket first-place winnings of more than $3,000 a race.

“My goal next year is to hit more bigger races and just get my name out there,” Poel said.

Before that, Poel will compete today at the UMP National Dirt-Track race at the Eldora (Ohio) Speedway — one of the premier dirt tracks in the country. At time trials Friday, Poel turned in a 16.939-second second lap on the half-mile track, setting a new track record.

Poel said he doesn’t know where the sport will lead him and has honestly never thought about competing in NASCAR, although for a small-town kid, it would be an amazing accomplishment.

To him, the excitement of dirt track racing is what he cherishes — for now.

“It’s more down to Earth at those tracks,” he said. “It’s just kick the hammer down, throw up some dirt and have a good time.”

 

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