Van Kempen, Nieland are 2009 Hall of Famers
Jerry Van Kempen and Jim Nieland were inducted into the 2009 Viking Speedway Hall of Fame last Saturday night, August 8.
Jerry Van Kempen
Van Kempen, a lifetime Alexandria resident and businessman, was the first announcer at the Viking Speedway.
The well-known central Minnesota radio and TV personality became involved in auto racing in 1953 with the old West Central Racing Association, which featured races in Alexandria, Morris, Fergus Falls and Wadena.
The association was the only other racing organization to race in Alexandria, and paved the way for the Viking Speedway, which emerged in 1965.
Van Kempen served as track announcer at these tracks until 1960 when the association dissolved. He was also a car owner and served as president during those seven seasons.
When the Viking Speedway came into existence in 1965, Van Kempen took on the announcing duties. He not only was the original announcer, but brought with him years of experience in auto racing as an announcer and car owner, which was invaluable to the original Viking Speedway board of directors. He advised and helped in numerous ways to ensure the first race season was not the speedway's last.
He was instrumental in getting the speedway to change the Sunday afternoon show to today's successful Saturday night program.
During his six seasons as announcer, his wit, humor and experience entertained race fans and no doubt influenced the success of the local half-mile oval.
His voice is one of central Minnesota's most recognized, as he not only has been involved in auto racing but also has been master of ceremonies for just about every event held in the area.
Van Kempen was on radio and television for years as he co-hosted the popular local Jingle Bells show for decades. He also hosted a local radio show, The Jerry and Harland Mess, and most recently spent 18 years as voice of the Red Baron Pizza Squadron - a national air show and division of Schwan Food Products of Marshall.
He and his wife, Margaret, have traveled the entire U.S. doing practically every military base and large air show in the country.
Jim Johnson succeeded Van Kempen as announcer during the 1971 season, being groomed for that post by Van Kempen during the 1970 campaign.
Jim Nieland, 63, of Garfield, launched his racing career in 1968 as a car owner and driver and member of the local racing association for 40 years.
Nieland competed in a host of classes during his career, with one of the highlights winning the Sportsman Division crown during the 1979 season.
During that season he won a number of heats, trophy dashes and feature races and recorded several clean sweeps. He was named the hard charger and recorded the fastest time of the season in the time trials.
He said the most memorable season occurred in 1974 when he won the year-end Viking Speedway Invitational, along with recording the fastest time of the season and taking home the traveling trophy for that accomplishment.
In addition to his racing, Nieland served three three-year terms on the Viking Speedway board of directors, serving from 1981-1983, 1992-1995 and 2001-2003.
He was also one of the key people in saving the Viking Speedway during the 1992 season. He put up his house to the bank to pay outstanding loans to have the oval signed back and re-incorporated.
Through the years Nieland helped a large number of racers at the speedway for little or no charge, on his own time. In fact, he and Gil Moe of Gil's Repair sponsored 28 racecars at the Viking Speedway to help keep everybody racing.
Nieland was also instrumental in bringing the Pro Four Modified Division to the speedway and helped promote the class.
He also has been a key person in purchases of track equipment and has put in many hours to help keep equipment up and running.
Nieland has been a strong asset to the Viking Speedway not only as a competitor, but also in devoted dedication, volunteered time and knowledge shared to help the speedway continue to grow.