Since the age of six, when Bryan Hellevang's much older brother Chuck (then 19) first took him to Westwood racetrack in Coquitlam, Hellevang has loved everything to do with cars and racing.
Now, at 50, the Yennadon resident is a professional mechanic and still hanging out at the track.
In fact, he was racing his own car in this past weekend's Canadian Association Car Club event at the Mission Raceway. Unfortunately, overheating issues and coolant spraying up on his windshield forced him to park the car Saturday, and despite efforts to repair the problems, kept him out Sunday as well.
"The problem was too serious for me to continue," he said. "But still enjoyed being at the track with my fellow racers."
Growing up in Coquitlam, Hellevang 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 Sunday afternoon.
In his early 20s, after finally having raised enough money working as a mechanic, Hellevang 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. And he rose to glory in only a few years, winning the spring-cart championship at Westwood in 1986.
Admittedly, Hellevang 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 that he'd anticipated going 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, Hellevang eventually backed away from the professional circuit, as well. But again, he couldn't bow out of 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 that Hellevang worked with through the years was Rick Moore, former owner of Maple Ridge Chrysler and father of the late race car driver Greg Moore.
But when Moore sold his 1989 Chevy Camaro to Terry Ward, Hellevang had no idea that move would open a new world of racing for him.
Ward wanted to start racing himself, and needed help setting up the car. He was given Hellevang's name. The two met, and they've been best friends ever since.
Hellevang set up and maintained the car for Ward, but it wasn't long before Ward asked him about 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 Camaro to Hellevang.
"It started out as a 1989 Camaro, and it's evolved from there," Hellevang 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 Hellevang tried racing this weekend at the Mission Raceway. "This is strictly amateur. At the end of the weekend, I might get a $5 trophy... and an adrenalin rush," he said before the race.
"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 Hellevang said he races strictly for sport - okay, and that jolt of adrenalin - he said the main reason he's stayed involved all these years has been the camaraderie on and off the track.
@ Copyright 2013