Catching Up With: Viking Speedway Hall of Famer Jeff Hinkemeyer
Jeff Hinkemeyer had a season for the ages in 1990 at Viking Speedway in Alexandria, Minn. He won 18 of 20 features and won the Great Northern Region championship.
But what set the stage for that season was racing on the NASCAR Busch Tour in the late 1980s. Racing for Joe and Audrey Salner’s #4F late model team out of St. Cloud, Minn., Hinkemeyer raced on the Busch Tour against top Midwest late model drivers like Gary Webb, Ray Guss Jr., Steve Kosiski and Joe Kosiski in late 1980s.
That competition brought the Salner/Hinkemeyer team to a different level.
“Running against those guys — you got fast or you went home,” Hinkemeyer said.
It ultimately started with a partnership with Joe and Audrey Salner of St. Cloud. Joe Salner raced the 4F car for more than 30 years, including driving for Hinkemeyer’s father, Glen in the 1960s. The Salners owned the car, and Hinkemeyer would be the driver. It proved to be a match made in heaven.
Scott Zenner and Scott Salner were key parts of the pit crew.
“They had top-notch stuff,” said Hinkemeyer of the Salners, who retired from racing after 2011.
Rainouts early in the year on the Busch Tour caused the 4F team to start focus on weekly racing in 1989, and that meant making the hour-trip weekly from St. Cloud to Viking Speedway in Alexandria. He won the track championship at Viking in 1989, setting the stage for a huge year in 1990.
In 1990, Hinkemeyer had as dominant a season as a late model as ever had at the 1/2-mile oval. He won 18 of 20 features and was crowned the champion of the Great Northern Region. He said running in the Busch Tour in previous years had allowed the race team to step up its game.
“We came from a different league,” Hinkemeyer said. “We had run against those (Busch Tour) guys. We had a good Rayburn car, and (Dick) Klug made us a good engine. It was the perfect storm for us.”
Hinkemeyer was already an accomplished late model driver before teaming up with Salner. Driving the #13 car at Superior, Proctor, Hibbing and Thunder Bay, Ontario — he won 33 features alone in 1981, which included wins at Proctor Speedway’s Silver 1000 and the Hibbing Labor Day Shootout.
“1981 was a pretty strong start for a 21-year old,” Hinkemeyer said.
The Hibbing win in 1981 was special to Hinkemeyer because it came against another driver who was at the top of his game in that era — Thunder Bay’s Tom Nesbitt, who won 36 features himself in 1981. Hinkemeyer passed Nesbitt on the outside with three laps to go in the 1981 race to pick up the win.
“Nesbitt was kind of the big dog. He had his stuff together,” Hinkemeyer said. “He was tough there. He was tough everywhere.”
Hinkemeyer ended up as a two-time winner of the prestigious Silver 1000, winning back-to-back in 1981 and 1982. He also won the Thunderbird Open in Kasson.
After teaming up with Salner’s team, he won more than 200 features and won 21 track titles at nine different tracks. He won eight titles at Viking Speedway alone, his first coming in 1979 and the final one coming in 2008. He was inducted into the track’s Hall of Fame in 2012. He also was inducted to the Superior Speedway (now Gondik Law) in 2012.
“We had such fun,” Hinkemeyer said.
Hinkemeyer owns Glen's Precision Auto in St. Cloud, which he says works on anything from RVs to boats to classic cars to current cars.
After several surgeries on his spine, Hinkemeyer stepped away from racing in 2011 with a pile of wins and memories.
“I’ve met so many fabulous people,” he said. “I’ve got more memories than I can count. I had more fun than 10 guys should have.”