Since the age of six, when Bryan Hellevang’s much older brother Chuck (then 19) first took him up to Westwood racetrack to watch the races, Bryan has loved everything to do with cars and racing.
Now, at age 50, the Yennadon resident is a professional mechanic and still hanging out at the racetracks.
In fact, he is racing his own car in this weekend’s Canadian Association Car Club event at the Mission Raceway on Sept. 14 and 15.
Growing up in Coquitlam, Bryan said even after his brother stopped making regular visits to Westwood, he couldn't give it up.
"That's where I got the bug," he recounted. "Whenever there was a race… well, I don't think I missed a race at Westwood from eight years old on."
It got to a point where his father would drop him off at the gate Saturday morning, and the family wouldn't expect to see him again – except maybe to sleep – until racing ended late Sunday afternoon.
In his early 20s, after finally having raised enough money working as a mechanic, Bryan bought his own go-cart. He stepped out of the stands – swapping out the spectator seats for a seat behind the steering wheel of a go-cart.
He rose to glory in only a few years, winning the spring-cart championship at Westwood in 1986.
But admittedly, Bryan said, being a professional race car driver was not in his cards. Not only was it too expensive, but he claims he was never that good to go all the way.
Still passionate about racing, however, he couldn't and wouldn't let go.
He just found a new way to be a part of the action.
Always a bit of a grease monkey, he used his experience under the hood to keep him embroiled in racing - eventually being called on to work during the week as a mechanic and eventually shop foreman for Coquitlam Chrysler – a position he still holds 35 years later - then working weekends as a mechanic for drivers in the professional racing series.
He travelled the country for the next few years, often flying out Wednesday nights to whatever city was hosting that weekend's race. He'd prep the cars on Thursday, then be part of the action from the pit Friday through Sunday – at which time he'd repack his suitcase and fly home again.
With a new wife and a baby on the way, however, Bryan eventually backed away from the professional circuit, as well. But again, he couldn't pull away from racing completely.
Through the subsequent years, he was involved in organizing and working the pits at the Molson Indy races in Vancouver, and helped transition racing from Westwood when it closed in 1991 to the Mission racetrack that started up a few years later, by taking an active role as part of the Sports Car Club of B.C.
One of the race car drivers that Bryan worked with through the years was Rick Moore, formerly owner of Maple Ridge Chrysler and father of the late race car driver Greg Moore.
But when Moore sold his 1989 Camaro to Terry Ward, Bryan had no idea that move would open a whole new world of racing for him.
Ward wanted to start racing himself, and needed help setting up the car. He was given Bryan's name, the two met, and they've been best friends ever since.
Bryan set up and maintained the car for Ward, but it wasn't long before Ward approached him about actually racing that car once in a while on the amateur road racing circuit.
The duo shared the car for several seasons, until Ward decided to upgrade – so to speak. Ward bought a new stock car three years ago, and gifted the old Camaro to Bryan.
"It started out as a 1989 Chevy Camaro, and it's evolved from there," Bryan said, noting it's been heavily modified through all its years of racing.
"It's a pretty quick car now," he added. "It's substantially faster than when Rick had it back in the day."
That's the same car, #63, that Bryan will be racing this weekend at the Mission Raceway (www.missionraceway.com), the second to last race of the year.
Cars in seven different racing groups hit the track at 9 a.m. on Saturday for practice runs, followed by qualifier sessions, then lunch, and an afternoon of racing from 1 to about 5 p.m.
Bryan said there are more than 100 entries for this weekend's race, promising an action-packed event. He's personally going up against 30 in his classification.
"It's promises to be a good, wheel-to-wheel competition," said Bryan, who hasn't been racing enough this year to be a big contender this season. This weekend, he's in it more for the fun, not the points.
"But there's going to be some championship challenges going on," he said, encouraging spectators to check out the action.
• It's all about competition, driving, adrenaline, and family
It's not a cheap sport, and while Bryan has never rose to the professional level in racing, he has been able to finance his involvement in the sport thanks to his mechanical abilities.
He explained that at the amateur level he doesn't get complete sponsorship, but gets in-kind sponsors such as Kirmac that painted his car, Lordco that helps with parts, and Castrol that provides the oil and lubricants.
"I've been fortunate to be able to do it over the years," Bryan said of racing.
"But, this is strictly amateur. At the end of the weekend, I might get a $5 trophy… and an adrenaline rush," Bryan said.
"It's all about the competition and driving the car… when you're out there, taking a car to the limit, you're really living life. It's a huge sensory thing. It's not about watching life pass you by, it's about living life, and out there, you're really living."
While Bryan said he races strictly for sport – okay, and that jolt of adrenaline – he said the main reason he's stayed involved all these years has been the camaraderie on and off the track.
It's the social aspects – not only for the racers but their entire family, that make the sport so appealing to him. For instance, Bryan won't be the only member of his family at the track this weekend. His wife Deborah and daughter will be in the stands cheering him on, while his son will be in the pit helping him push #63 to its max.
@ Copyright 2013