Off-road racer Chris Van Den Elzen makes the switch to pro racing

Seymour’s Chris Van Den Elzen is hoping to get closer to a dream ride this year.

the AMSOIL Championship Off-Road Racing Season will start on June 4 at the Antigo Lions Roaring Raceway, and Van Den Elzen, owner of VDE Racing, will be one of the competitors.

“I was born into off-road racing,” he said. “My grandfather competed in snocross and my father got into motocross. I started running in 1977 in Crandon and got hooked.

This passion has continued as he tries to make his hobby his full time business. Although he loves his career as a packaging designer, he is working hard to transition from weekend warrior to pro racer. He says the competition to succeed as a professional runner is similar to that experienced by people trying to succeed as a singer or actor.

“It’s a big transition from wanting to race to making a career out of it,” he said. “My wife and I are working on a business plan together. We are looking at what my basic income is now and what I will need to do to achieve it. businesses; create a better name and brand for myself.

Van Den Elzen aims to do just that. When he’s not working full-time, he says it’s like having two extra jobs. He goes home and goes to work on his vehicle and on the business. To build the vehicle, he works from the specifications required for the specific racing class (his is based on a Toyota Tacoma). There are no factory-made frames; everything is created from scratch, from the fiberglass panels on the exterior of the truck to the installation and selection of parts.

Chris Van Den Elzen spends hours working on his Pro Spec race truck for the season.  Everything is created from scratch, from the fiberglass panels on the exterior of the truck to the installation and selection of parts.

After spending time on the vehicle, he moves on to commercial duties. He builds lists of potential sponsors, schedules meetings, networks, develops budgets, works on marketing and posts on social media.

“I really don’t sleep much,” he said. “There’s so much planning, and I have lists of everything I need to do every week.”

The competition for sponsors is fierce; Van Den Elzen says it’s like applying for a job, only to find there are about 1,500 other applicants. Since he’s found success and built a following, it’s a bit easier, but he’s still considering other ways to monetize the business.

“I considered other options besides sponsorship money,” he said. “I ask myself, ‘Can I just be a racer or should I start a manufacturing company specializing in racing, or should I do both?’ When you become a pro, your world becomes so different, you need spare parts for everything, a semi-trailer, a VIP area or hospitality for sponsors, the expenses are much greater.

Chris Van Den Elzen competes in the Crandon Off-Road race.  Professional teams often have budgets in the six figures or higher.

Although a novice can get into racing for around $15,000 a year, professional racers have budgets in the mid-six figures. In addition to the costs already noted, there is usually a need for paid crew members. Van Den Elzen is currently able to run successfully with a crew of around four people, and that crew is mostly made up of volunteers. But for professional riders, that number can be as high as eight or nine paid positions.

The need for referral money is made evident when considering that the payouts are low. The pots are nothing like those in sports like golf, and the winner can walk away with a top prize of $500 to $1,000. This creates a more challenging business model.

“You have to watch it because it’s something I love to do, but how do I maintain it?” Van Den Elzen said. “I’ve always been a person who comes up with new ideas and wants to work for myself. I’m driven and determined. There may be a time when I want to throw in the towel, but that’s not in the cards right now. I have a different mindset. I’m here for fun, but if I want this to be a business, I have to do whatever I can.

He said he felt drawn to this sport which is unlike any other. Races can attract between 20,000 and 75,000 fans, depending on the size of the venue. Each has a podium where the winners stand after a race, and it’s usually right up there. He thanks his family for encouraging him and is in the unique position of having his father as a competitor.

At 60, his father is still racing. Instead of considering it odd, Van Den Elzen says it’s been great.

“With my father racing, we discover the track and what we do together,” said Van Den Elzen. “There’s this moment, though, where I’m racing and I’m maybe about to pass my dad on the track and think, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this.’

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Although his dad is family, he says there’s a sense of family among all runners – a group of people who are there because they love racing and sharing stories on the track. Although most will never try to become professionals, they do provide advice and support.

Van Den Elzen embraces that as he aims for a five-year plan to achieve his goal of going full-time. It’s more than a short racing season. This is a year-round vehicle wrecking and rebuilding business, and working with businesses.

“There are a lot of professional riders who started where I am and have proven that it’s totally possible,” he said. “I’m constantly finding new ways to market myself, and I have to be careful not to become so hyper-focused on my vehicle that I ignore the business aspect.

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and former district manager of SCORE, Wisconsin.

About Frances R. Smith

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