Auto Racing

Jeff Aikey teaching and still winning auto races

Veteran driver passing on lessons he learned as a young driver

Jeff Aikey of Cedar Falls drive his number 77 late model during hot laps at Independence Motor Speedway in Independence
Jeff Aikey of Cedar Falls drive his number 77 late model during hot laps at Independence Motor Speedway in Independence on Saturday. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

INDEPENDENCE — A while ago, track officials wouldn’t let 14-year-old Jeff Aikey race until he had a driver’s license. So, after two years of watching and learning, Aikey earned his slip of freedom and started asking for help.

“When I turned 16 I went and asked Fuzzy Lydell if he would help me, because he was struggling and had quit,” the now 57-year-old said. “He’s still with me today.”

The first car Aikey raced was Lydell’s 1966 Chevelle that they painted red and donned with the No. 77 before heading to Marshalltown to race the street stock class.

“I won the B-main the first night and then finished fifth in the A-main,” Aikey said. “We came back the next week and I won the A-main. I had a good teacher in Fuzzy. He knew how to set the car up and all that stuff.”

Aikey continued to race four or five nights a week at Independence, Farley, Vinton and West Union and eventually moved on to the Sportsmen class with a 1980s Camaro.

“You just go track by track and want your car not to spin,” Aikey said of adjusting the vehicle multiple times each week. “It’s all different.”

Soon Aikey moved to Late Models where he has accumulated more than 500 victories in over 40 years of racing.

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“I like Late Models,” Aikey said, “But Modifieds can be raced all over the country with the same rules. Late Models only have a few tracks around here that run them anymore.”

That’s why Aikey bought an A-Mod four seasons ago and has been traveling around with two cars since.

“Modifieds are open wheel with no fenders and a GM crate motor,” said Aikey, while “Late Models have wider tires, a fuller body and more horsepower.”

Racing two cars each week through October is enough for Aikey, although he is by no means looking to exit the sport.

“It’s a lot of fun and over the years it’s kept me out of trouble,” Aikey said. “You have to work on your car all week. I love it and I don’t know how I’ll ever quit.”

If wear and tear was starting to slow Aikey down, his recent lifestyle change has rejuvenated his health.

“I’m seven months sober, yesterday,” Aikey said on Saturday night. “I just wanted to try it and see if I could do it. I just said I drank beer for 40-plus years and I wanted to see if I could quit and I have. I just drink a lot of water and I’ve lost probably 20 pounds. I feel a lot better.”

With his newfound energy, Aikey can now focus on passing the lessons he’s learned from Fuzzy onto his own teenage apprentice.

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Aikey has two 20-something daughters with his wife Kelli — Alyssa and Kelsi — and also has had a teenage driver from Pahrump, Nev., stay with his family the past few summers so he can race the dirt tracks of Iowa.

“Kolin Hibdon has stayed with us for two years now,” Aikey said. “I’m happy when he does well. He’s a good kid who is polite. He’s a hard-charger who likes to go to the front. He was struggling a bit this year, but he won Saturday night.”

Like Hibdon, Aikey keeps charging full speed ahead with no stop in sight.

“The goal is to get as many wins as I can get,” Aikey said. “I can’t see me hanging it up. I’m going to race until I can’t win. If I can’t win, then I’ll quit.

Comments: justin.webster@thegazette.com

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