Lucas Oil Speedway Offseason Spotlight: 12 questions with Late Model driver "Cowboy" Jessen
WHEATLAND, Missouri (February 12, 2019) - When he's not wearing a helmet and driving a race car, Daniel Jessen of Joplin, Missouri, often dons a western hat and sits behind the controls of an 18-wheeler. "Cowboy" as he's known around the pits is coming off a solid season at Lucas Oil Speedway, where he finished fourth in the Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA Late Model division.
Lucas Oil Speedway Public Relations Director Lyndal Scranton recently caught up with Jessen - between an 18-wheel run - to hit on a variety of topics. Included was the story of how he got his racing start in Wyoming, why he drives No. 17 and the origin of Jessen's nickname:
How is the offseason going and, considering the busy work schedule, how prepared are you for the 2019 season at Lucas Oil Speedway?
"We've got the body all ready to go. We don't have a wrap on it yet, but we're getting there. We're way further ahead of what we normally are this time of the year. We have a tendency to wait until the last minute and we're trying not to do this this year. We're trying to be a little more prepared."
It looked like a solid season for you in 2018 with a fourth-place finish in points, highlighted by a second-place feature finish and two other top-fives. How do you evaluate it?
"I think we had a good year. We finished fourth in points and in '17 we finished sixth before that. We're steadily moving forward. The competition is pretty tough up there. I feel like we'll be a top-five contender on any given night this year. Our goal is to be, every night, in the top five. Consistency is a big deal if you're points racing."
What kind of Late Model do you drive and what is the history behind your race car?
"It's a Black Diamond, a car I bought from Jesse Stovall, a 2015 car. He won 20-some races and the (Lucas Oil) MLRA championship that year in it. I crashed it the first night I was in it, at West Plains in hot laps. The throttle stuck, I hit the wall and ended up having to get it clipped down at Black Diamond. I'd like to have another car. It makes it easier when you're trucking if you tear one up over the weekend and don't have time to work on it, we can just load the second one and continue on."
How does your busy trucking job work out with your racing schedule during the season?
"I'm not home at all right now, during the week. Half the year I'm home about every other night. The other half I'm gone, leaving Monday and don't get home until usually Friday morning. It takes a toll on our racing program. If I worked a normal job, we'd be better. When I get in on Friday night, we're often not working on our car until Saturday morning and we have to be gone by 2 o'clock Saturday. It's a two-hour ride to get to Lucas."
Are there plans to manage the schedule a little better for this season?
"This year we're living where the race cars are in Joplin. It's going to be better. Part of it, our race cars have not been housed where the house is. It's always back and forth. I think we're gonna have a really good year. I know the competition is stiff up there. I feel like we're gonna be in the top-three at the end of this season.
What is your background in racing?
"I'm 38 years old and I started when I was 17. I started out in Wyoming at Big Country Speedway, in the Bomber division. My uncle, Loren Jessen, raced. He raced some Enduro and Street Stock stuff. That's asphalt country out there and my first five years were racing on pavement."
What about your car number, 17, and the history behind it?
"I bought my first car for $1,000, out of the newspaper. It had the No. 17 on it, and I was 17 years old. One of the names on the car was Katie, my girlfriend. It seemed to fit. I've ran a couple of cars I bought from people with other numbers, run out their bodies until end of the year, but typically it's always been No. 17."
How did you wind up moving from Wyoming to Missouri?
"Just a change of pace. My Mom lived down here and I've been here since 2002. This is home now."
You say you raced on pavement in Wyoming. What was the transition to dirt-track racing in Missouri like?
"I started at Joplin 66 Speedway with a few races in '03 and my first full season on dirt in '04 at Joplin 66. At first I set the car up for pavement because that was what I knew. The track was always pretty dry slick. I won 9 features in 2004. Like I said, I never was a dirt racer until I moved to Missouri. I just fell in love with it. Looking back, I tell people I would throw rocks at an asphalt car now. It's just not as exciting for me as a dirt car is."
What about the progression into Late Model racing?
"I bought my first Late Model in 2007. The first five nights I ran top five. The second night in a dirt car, I won at Nevada. It was totally unexpected. Haven't won a Late Model feature since then. I've led them and thrown them out the window. I've been checked out at Lucas, a caution came out and I jumped the berm on the restart and cost myself the race. So that next win, it's been elusive. To get another win has been really hard for me. I took three years off and got way behind the times. I've been playing catch up. We're always fast. We just can't seem to find victory lane. But I have a feeling, once we break the ice we're going to be OK."
So is the obvious goal to win a race in 2019?
"I would like to win more than one. We're gonna race more in '19 than I've raced in the last two seasons. I just want to race a whole lot. My boy Bristol is 16 and he is my crew chief. He can work on car when I'm gone in the summer during the week. Without him, I wouldn't do this. Don't have the time and manpower. Big shout-out to Bristol. We might start him racing after he turns 17, in May. He's been helping me since he was a little kid. He's really shined these last two seasons."
Finally, tell us about your nickname of 'Cowboy' and what you think of it?
"It's a little of the Wyoming background. The Cowboy is the state mascot. People just starting calling me that and it stuck. I'm a country guy. Sort of like as asphalt cowboy - they're truckers. It seemed to go good together, so we roll with it."
The 2019 Lucas Oil Speedway season kicks off March 30 with an open test and tune. The Big Adventure RV Weekly Racing Series begins April 6 with action in all four of the weekly divisions - Pitts Homes USRA Modifieds, Ozark Golf Cars USRA B-Mods, Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA Late Models and O'Reilly Auto Parts Street Stocks.
Lucas Oil Speedway General Manager
Office: (417) 282-5984