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When Jerry Hansen was 12 years old he was a quiet, self-conscious kid with a harelip. He sold Popsicles and whistles to earn spending money. He also dealt in junk. He would knock on neighborhood doors and ask, "Got any junk you don't want?" "That Hansen kid is going to be something someday," the neighbors would say.
When Jerry Hansen was in high school he couldn't get a summer job because it seemed that all those available went to football players and sons of influential businessmen. So one night he knocked on another door, at the home of the man who owned one of the largest construction companies in Minneapolis. "I don't like the way the system is about getting jobs," he said. "I'm not a football player and my dad doesn't know anybody and you don't know me. But I want a job working for your company, and if you hire me, I'll outwork anybody around." He got the job and he kept his promise.
When Jerry Hansen was in college he was sitting in a physics class when the professor was called out of the room. A moment or so later he came back with a puzzled look on his face. "Jerry," he said, "there's a fellow on the phone for you. Something to do with one of the 24 apartment buildings you own."
A few years later Jerry Hansen turned up on the grid at a sports-car race, behind the wheel of a backyard special called an Echidna. He had never road-raced. "I was really nervous," he recalls. "I was scared that I wouldn't win." He needn't have been; he won by a mile.
Hansen is 37 now, and he has done a lot of winning since his days as a teenage junk dealer. He owns more buildings than he keeps track of, as well as a Cadillac, a Rolls-Royce, a Ferrari and all sorts of similar stuff. He also holds 14 Sports Car Club of America national championships, more than anyone else in history. Ten more, to be exact.
Despite the fact that he has occasionally competed in professional races, and is good enough to hold his own against the pros, Hansen is still an amateur driver. This status might not fit the AAU's definition, but it remains true that almost all of his races are run for trophies only, and most of his time is spent making money at endeavors other than racing, such as playing Monopoly with Minneapolis as the board.
Recently Hansen acquired SCCA titles Nos. 13 and 14, driving his open-wheel Lola-Chevy in Formula A and his big-bore two-seater Lola-Chevy in the ASR sports-car division, the two fastest classes in the Champion Spark Plug races at Road Atlanta. He won Formula A despite a cracked cylinder block that kept his race laps 14 seconds slower than his qualifying time. In the ASR race he spun out but still narrowly defeated a driver from Oregon named Monte Shelton, who hadn't been beaten in two years. The next week Shelton sent Hansen a fan letter that said, "You're truly great!"
Hansen has won his last 38 races, not counting ice racing, which he dabbles in during the winter. When was he last beaten in a race? "Uh, the last time I lost, last time I lost, let's see..." and he scrunches up his forehead and stares at the ceiling for 30 seconds before he gives up and sheepishly shrugs his shoulders. It was the summer of 1972.
This much success is bound to earn a man a few enemies. Innuendos sometimes float around the pits that Hansen has a chronic case of the overkills, that he is a checkbook racer who buys his championships. Hansen's own admission that racing is a $50,000-a-year hobby is strong ammunition for that argument, but he bristles when he is accused of winning simply because he spends more on his cars than his rivals. Actually, he buys and sells race cars the way he traded junk as a kid. For example, after some involved swapping and dealing, he got the ASR Lola as a wreck with a bent chassis. He insists that it represents a basic investment of less than $5,000. He has owned 23 race cars since he began racing 12 years ago, has sold many of them for as much as he paid for them and made money on a few. Both Lolas he raced last year are well worn; one is three years old, the other six. On the track, that shows. Hansen's competitors frequently have a horsepower edge.
Most of Hansen's money goes toward punctilious preparation. He maintains a roomy shop and employs two full-time mechanics, Mike Lindorfer and Brian Anderson. Hansen is no nuts-and-bolts man. "We see him at the races, and that's about all," says Lindorfer. "He hardly ever comes around the shop." Since Lindorfer became the chief tuner three years ago, Hansen has finished every race he has entered.