Auto Racing

'This is my home': Brandon Herb has worked at the biggest tracks, but he's happy at Hawkeye Downs

After nearly going blind from keratoconus, his vision is back and he's still racing

IMCA Hobby Stock driver Brandon Herb of Marion, is seen in the pits at Hawkeye Downs on Friday evening, July 1, 2005. (T
IMCA Hobby Stock driver Brandon Herb of Marion, is seen in the pits at Hawkeye Downs on Friday evening, July 1, 2005. (The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — In 1969 the world was reminded of a valuable lesson from The Rolling Stones with “You can’t always get what you want.”

The next line is even more important.

“But if you try sometime you find, you get what you need.”

Brandon Herb knows this all too well.

Herb started his tenure at Hawkeye Downs Speedway more than two decades ago, straight out of Marion High School.

A friend, Gary Moeller, was working on the pit crew for Randy Coghlan and invited him to help.

“I thought, ‘That sounds like fun, I like cars,” Herb said. “I started helping him and that fall there was a thunder stock car available for $800. I took out a loan and bought/raced that for two years during the old Saturday amateur nights.”

In 2004, IMCA introduced the hobby stock class and Herb raced, getting a win his first season.

“I didn’t win a single race in 2005, but I did win the championship,” Herb said. “That’s kind of been the theme to my career. Mr. Second Place.”

After claiming his first track title, Herb decided to pursue a degree in motor sports technology, which focuses on specializing in high-performance vehicles, at the University of Northwest Ohio.

While there, Herb received an internship to work for the Automobile Racing Club of America.

“I traveled for two years going to school and working on cars,” Herb said. “I got to go to Talladega, Daytona, Poconos — each weekend we went to a different track.”

The coolest thing for Herb about being part of Frank Kimmel’s legendary ARCA team was “standing in Victory Lane and having to change hats every 30 seconds. It was just a really cool experience.”

After graduation, Herb returned to Iowa in late 2007.

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“When I got out of school I was a little bit burned out,” Herb said. “I had come to the decision that doing racing for a living sucks the fun out of it.”

So Herb left again, this time moving to North Carolina, a place that is full of racing.

“I decided I missed the small-time stuff,” Herb said. “I spent my time out there going to short tracks. I really missed racing, but I didn’t miss the traveling and the long hours. Nobody knew me out there at that point, so I mostly just went to enjoy the races as a broke recent college grad.”

Herb came back to Iowa in 2011 for a wedding and upon his return to North Carolina, find out his position had been eliminated at his company.

“I had applied at Toyota Financial (in Iowa) in January of 2011, but got the standard thanks for applying letter,” Herb said. “Then a week after I was laid off, I got a random call from Toyota asking if I was still interested.”

Now Herb had a job, but still some reservations.

“I didn’t completely want to move back to Iowa because I really loved North Carolina,” Herb said. “I loved the weather and hate the snow. If I was coming back to Iowa, at least I was going to get back into racing.”

The next year he bought a hobby stock car before moving to the sportsman division a few years later. The sportsman car he bought belonged to Coghlan, who had retired while Herb was gone.

“It’s cool that it just sat in a warehouse for a decade before I acquired it,” Herb said. “It has a Johnny Spaw chassis with a 2005 Ford Taurus body which is pretty rare. It gets up to about 400 horsepower with its small carburetor.”

Now that he has been home for some time, Herb is settled into life with his 15-year-old daughter, Macy, who lives with him and his son, Jaxon, who attends the races at Hawkeye Downs each week.

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“He’s kind of the unofficial mascot at the racetrack,” Herb said with a laugh. “I free-range parent him and everyone knows that he’s my kid.”

Herb also has a part-time job to cover the extra costs of raising two kids and racing each weekend.

“I’m older now and am not that 22-year-old racing for a championship,” Herb said. “I’ve got work and responsibility and deliver pizzas on the side to pay for this race stuff. I get off work and go to my part-time job to help pay for tires and stuff like that.”

Herb not only gladly does what is needed to be able to race, he appreciates the opportunity after nearly going blind from keratoconus, a progressive eye disease that causes distorted vision.

“I had to have a cornea transplant a few years ago,” Herb said. “I was going blind and there was no prescription that could correct my vision to be able to read the biggest letter on the chart. It was just gone.”

Years after the replacement, Herb has nearly 20/20 vision and sees his future clearly.

“Hawkeye Downs has been home to me for the last 20 years,” Herb said. “I don’t care about the wins and championships, I want it to be fun again. I really care about the place and I’m just going to keep going no matter what. I genuinely love the place and I’ve been to tracks all over the country. This is my home.”

Comments: justin.webster@thegazette.com

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