John Ferden of Swisher started driving at Hawkeye Downs at 57 and is still learning at 61
Swisher’s John Ferden (9) prepares to hit the track in his Legend Series car for hot laps at Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids on Friday June 18, 2021 (Cliff Jette / Freelance for The Gazette)
CEDAR RAPIDS – John Ferden is proof that it’s never too late to live your dreams.
Originally from the Mason City area, Ferden began helping other drivers at the age of 15. A few years ago, when his three youngest daughters – who are currently 20, 19 and 16 – were “big enough”, he started helping. a friend with his SportMod at Independence.
This raised a question from his 27-year-old wife, Gina, who wondered aloud why he wasn’t driving his own car.
“I told him I was 57,” Ferden said. “She said I wasn’t too old. (Gina) was the main influence.
So the couple drove to Kalona and a salesperson let Ferden try it out first to make sure he really wanted to drive it.
“I did!” said Ferden. “Then I bought a car.”
Now Ferden is racing in the Legends Division at Hawkeye Downs every week and slowly gaining the experience needed to build his confidence in the car.
“My first qualifying race, I was like, ‘I’m just going to pass (the car in front of me),’” said Ferden. “I hit him and sped right away and ended up against the wall.”
Then, the day before the derecho, Ferden hit the wall at Vinton and needed Dave McCalla’s help to get his ride back in place. Camaraderie among all the pilots is important to Ferden, who didn’t grow up at Hawkeye Downs like many of his younger peers.
“Everyone is there to help each other,” Ferden said. “Even if we want to beat you on the track, if we destroy a car or tear something apart, they’re the first to help you put it back together. It’s something special.”
Another special thing is the support Ferden has from his wife, who told him to get in the car in the first place.
“You really have to have their support because it takes so long,” Ferden said. “I wondered if we shouldn’t sell the car and put our funds somewhere else, but my wife says ‘No we are not.’
While you’ll find Ferden living his lifelong dream every Friday night at Hawkeye Downs, you won’t find the 61-year-old (his birthday was Thursday) trying to relive his youth through racing.
(left to right) Legends Series Drivers Austin Slabaugh of Kalona (6) and John Ferden of Swisher (9) chat in the pits of the Slabaughs car while waiting for the Legends Series hot laps at Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids on Friday June 18, 2021 (Cliff Jette / Independent for The Gazette)
“Younger guys take more risks than us older guys,” Ferden said. “I’m happy to load it in one piece. I’m not necessarily going to win, but if I can finish honorably, maybe in the top 10, I’m happy. “