by Kevin Ramsell
Elko, MN – After a brief hiatus, the Thunderstruck 93 event returns to Elko Speedway on Saturday, September 23rd. The full racing program will feature the ASA Midwest Tour headlining with a 125-lap feature along with the Elko Speedway Late Models, Power Stocks, Thunder Stocks, Legends and Bandoleros.
Jake Ryan, 41-year-old driver who lives just five miles away from Elko Speedway, is in a current point battle with Jacob Goede for the Late Model championship, only 17 points behind the former NASCAR All-American Series National Champion.
Ryan was hoping to get a Super Late Model to compete in the ASA Midwest Tour but decided to focus on a season championship.
“I was searching and hoping to find a Super Late ride because I don’t have any other cars, just the one I am racing,” Ryan explained. “I am in the points battle with Goede on the weekly stuff. I thought about putting 10-inch tires but it would be too much. Danny Fredrickson was going to try to put a car together, and I was like, it’s a week and a half before the race and he was talking about getting this car, then go to the Dells on Wednesday and practice. I was going you guys are going to get three cars prepared, one for me, one for you and one for his son Ty? It just didn’t make sense. I really wanted to race because it has been a while since we have had Super Lates at Elko.”
For Jake Ryan, this is not just about simply competing in a race, it’s about participating in an event that honors his father Dan Ryan, Sr.
Dan Ryan was a dedicated driver at Elko Speedway. He got the itch to race starting in 1991 and was going strong until he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 2005.
“Everywhere I look at Elko Speedway, when I go out there, I am reminded of him,” Jake Ryan explained. “All of the plumbing, heating and HVAC stuff around the track when they re-did was all done by him. Ever since he has passed away, it seems like the water main in the tire shed freezes or blows up cause my dad used to have a guy go out there and winterize it for the track,” he says with a chuckle. “Bob and David Fredrickson put up a flagpole at the pit entrance in memory of my dad.”
“Going to the race track these days are a lot different, some days are better than others, but it is good therapy for me.”
The event name itself has a special personal meaning.
The #93 was one of Dan Ryan’s car numbers along with #39. He competed in lower classes with #39 but when he moved up to Late Models, the #39 was already taken and the track wouldn’t allow duplicate numbers, so he used #93.
As far as the “Thunderstruck”?
“He liked AC/DC, his favorite band, but I think his favorite song was ‘Shoot to thrill,’ but anytime Thunderstruck came on when we were racing or out at the bar, he would drag mom out to the dance floor and rip it up. It was pretty funny,” Ryan recalled. “His crew guys Jason Welvaert and Tim Holmes used to call him Thunder. At the end of the year, Conrad Jorgensen would have a big bonfire and we would close out the night with Thunderstruck, and it’s been going on since dad’s been gone. Whenever they play that song, everyone remembers my dad.”
About eight months prior to his passing, he and Jake shared one special moment.
On April 19, 2008 it was the series opener for the ASA Midwest Tour at Elko Speedway with Jake Ryan winning that event. While in victory lane, a minivan pulled out to the track bringing his father to be a part of that celebration.
“I remember that! That was awesome, it was the Kwik Trip 125,” Jake Ryan remembered.
The one thing about ALS is that it’s a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
“My dad was a big tough guy and would barely go to the doctor unless he was dying or cut his arm off or something,” Jake Ryan said with a smile. “But I remember when mom and dad built their dream house and dad was moving his toolbox out of our old house and he tore his bicep. He had issues like a weak arm. We would be at the racetrack and he would drop a piece of lead walking to the tech shed with it and we thought it was his bicep. But it was actually the beginning stages of ALS. Once he got with a doctor, which was around the summer of 2005 he was diagnosed with it.”
“They gave him about a three-year window and we did everything we could. We went to Tijuana and had some stem cell stuff done, try secondary medicine that wasn’t covered by insurance. But basically it’s a nervous system disorder that takes away a protein that regenerates your nerve cells, so you basically lose all of your motor skills along with breathing and coughing. Towards the end he couldn’t talk well, he was on a breathing machine.”
Dan Ryan lost his battle with ALS on January 2, 2009. He is survived by his wife Lisa and their three kids Allison, Jake and Dan Jr.
The father/son memories still stick with Jake Ryan in 2023.
“Last weekend, I pit in between Owin Giles and Steve Anderson. With both of them, the boys and their dads would butt heads, bicker back and forth and at the track when things don’t go right,” Ryan said. “I told them hey guys just a little perspective here, I wish I could still argue with my dad and butt heads like that at the racetrack one more time. So just remember that when you guys are pissed at each other. Don’t take those things for granted because those are the best days of my life that I miss most. I just wish I could bicker with him just one more time.”
The Ryan family, along with many close friends, started “A Race Worth Winning ALS.” Their goal is to raise awareness of the disease and raise money to support research for the treatment and cure for ALS.
“In 2013, A Race Worth Winning was recognized by the ALS Association MN/ND/SD Chapter as Honoree of the Year,” Ryan recalled. “At that time, we had raised around $300,000 and talking to my mom last weekend, she said we are close to raising a million dollars of raising money for ALS awareness and research, just for a little group. We haven’t stopped. We are part of a blizzard tour in Minnesota which is about a 350 mile a day snowmobile trek which has raffles, food and prizes at the end. We have done a golf tournament every year and we are happy to get the race back.”
You can learn more by looking up “A Race Worth Winning ALS” on Facebook.
The winner of the Thunderstruck 93 will get a special guitar trophy.
“Our favorite racetrack when our dad was around was Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. When we went there for the All-American 400, I led a lot of laps and ended up losing to Boris Jurkovic right at the end, but it was the most fun we have ever had,” Ryan said. “They gave away a guitar as a trophy down there and we thought that was pretty cool. So when we thought of this Thunderstruck race, mom would get a guitar every year and have it hand painted by Cliff Anderson, who is very talented pin striping and painting it.”
For Jake Ryan, he hopes that this race hangs around for a long time.
“I’m excited to have it back and I hope it has a good turnout. I hope it stays around and have it more than just once a year and not take seven years off and have it again.”
The Thunderstruck 93 is the 11th race of the 2023 season for the ASA Midwest Tour. The 125-lap race will have a 10-minute break at lap 93 in honor of Dan Ryan.
Along with the ASA Midwest Tour, the Elko Speedway Late Models, Power Stocks, Thunder Cars, Legends and Bandoleros will also be in action.
Front gates opens at 4:30pm with racing and qualifying underway at 6pm.
For ticket information and more info, please visit midwesttour.racing.