116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cousins are often the first friends people make outside of their immediate family.
While Jason Sherman is 14 years older than his cousin Matt Petrzelka, their bond is bound to tighten even stronger this summer at Hawkeye Downs Speedway.
That's because Sherman, a Hobby Stock driver for the past 10 years, broke his leg and tore some ligaments on March 26 in a freak accident while fixing his truck on the side of the road. He was heading back from Dirt Nationals in Bristol, Tenn.
First and foremost, Sherman's concern has been returning to work at General Mills in Cedar Rapids so he can support his family.
After those details were worked out and surgery was scheduled for June 20, Sherman called his brother Shane and sister Keela to ask if they'd like to drive his car for the season.
"They both have things going on in their lives where they didn't want to commit to it," Sherman said.
The next call was the easiest decision to make.
"Matt is a former track champion," Sherman said. "When I started racing he was already winning, so I have nothing but respect for him."
Although Petrzelka is the younger cousin, having just turned 29 earlier this month, he got his start by going to Jason's family's house to work on demo cars with his father and uncles.
After graduating from Benton Community High School in 2009, Petrzelka switched from demo derbys to weekly racing at Hawkeye Downs. He claimed three track championships in the Hobby Stock division before buying a Sport Mod and switching to dirt.
Eventually Petrzelka wanted to focus on his growing family and a house-flipping project with his mother, Virginia, and decided to slow down his racing.
In March of 2019, a week after Petrzelka and his girlfriend, Kaitlyn Burns, welcomed their daughter 2 1/2 months premature, Petrzelka's mother and father, Bruce, were killed in a motorcycle accident in Florida.
With all of that chaos in his life, Petrzelka needed to extend his break from racing and focus on family.
Now family is the one calling and asking for help racing. Petrzelka gladly said yes.
"I was really excited and knew I couldn't turn it down," Petrzelka said. "We went out and practiced and It felt fast."
So fast in fact, with basically the same setup as Sherman used a year ago, Petrzelka parked it in Victory Lane on opening night.
"I was in the stands Friday," Sherman said. "It was fun to be able to relax and watch the races and enjoy them for what they are. It is, however, a little more nerve-wracking when you're watching your car on the track and you're not in it."
Sherman and Petrzelka felt good about the first run and are planning on spending the summer working together toward a track title.
Now that some of the chaos of 2019 has faded and his 3-year-old daughter, Willow, is healthy, Petrzelka has found himself feeling at home again at the track.
"It felt like I was still missing it," Petrzelka said. "I feel less pressure and more relaxed now just racing at Hawkeye Downs."
With at least six months of recovery still ahead of Sherman, Petrzelka knows what he can do to help his cousin feel at ease during his lost season of racing.
"I just want to do my best and pick up some wins and trophies for him," Petrzelka said. "Put a smile on his face."