A blustery October day in Minnesota meant the world to Jonathan Eilen. It was a day that was going to make or break his career as driver in Midwest Late Model ranks. It was the first time he was getting back behind the wheel of a car, a Super Late Model in fact, after a horrible crash at Hawkeye Downs Speedway (IA) that left him with a broken bones and a potential slim chance to race again.
"I just wanted to get out there and make sure I wasn’t going all winter long wondering, ‘Am I going to be able to do this next year?" admitted Eilen.
The doctors suggested that there were better ways to spend his time, but Eilen is like all race car drivers and nothing was going to keep him out of the car if he felt right. He was fine that day and he waited all winter know that things were going to be all right when the 2011 ASA Midwest Tour kicked off.
Just over nine months later, Eilen is the middle of his comeback season and he's ready to win. Sitting ninth in points with a pair of top 10's and a recent fast time award he is reminded every day that you can't take for granted the high speed and danger of Super Late Model racing.
"I never thought from where I was at in that race, that's what could happen," said Eilen. "That was the last thing I anticipated. I thought, ‘Okay, I might spin it around and back it into the fence.’ I thought I had the best safety stuff you could have. It’s nothing to mess around with. You always hear that, but it’s like you can get this or that. I learned a lot there and you never know what can happen. It could be the smallest, dumbest hit in the world and it can mess you up for good."
A year ago, Eilen was racing for a top 10 at Hawkeye Downs when the panhard bar broke and cut the right rear tire, sending him for a spin and into the wall where the car made a hard impact with the driver’s- side door.
"I broke my L3 (vertebra), bulged disc, torn cartilage and broke four ribs," said Eilen. "I messed her up pretty good.
"What I thought at first, I thought the trailing arm went through my back. I kind of reached around and then – we had a bad fire with our hauler two weeks before – the thing [car] started smoking, so I got all nervous thinking the thing was going to be on fire. So I crawl out of the car on my own and roll down the hill. The paramedics come over and they wanted me to get up and as soon I tried getting up, I was like there’s no way. There’s something going on."
Eilen's season was done and it was a long road back to the 2011 season, but the extra time and focus has strengthened him got him ready for racing more then he could have imagined.
“Just going physical therapy every day, going to the gym was tough," said Eilen. "I’m probably in better shape and it’s helped me out better. I woke up in the morning and I was starting to feel like an old man. After doing therapy stuff every morning, I don’t even notice it’s even there."
Now the ASA Midwest Tour heads to Elko for a big $10,000 to win show this weekend. The Grandstay Summer Clash 250 would be the second-best place to complete a comeback for a Minnesota Touring Star regular.
"Elko would be amazing, but to go back and do it at Hawkeye, that’d be huge," said Eilen. "It’d be more than huge. It’d mean the world to get back there and put an exclamation mark on the whole thing."
Even if Eilen can't find victory lane this season, he values the chance to race every weekend more then the next guy after what happened.
"This [racing] is what you break your teeth for. It’s in your blood, it’s hard to get it out once it’s in you."