It was “Turn Back the Clock Night” at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe last Saturday, and Pete Jensen took the promotion to heart.
The 61-year-old from Snohomish cashed in on a favor from defending Mini-Stocks points champion Nat Barber, borrowing Barber’s car and racing to victory ahead of his younger competitors.
Jensen has now won a race at Evergreen in each of the past five decades, a goal he has held for the last few years.
“I had a burning desire to win a race this decade and to win one after I turned 60,” Jensen said. “It was so nice what Nat did for me. The car was just a rocket. It was the first time I ever drove it and it was just awesome.”
While Barber was glad to help Jensen, he also owed him one. In 1999, Barber blew an engine in his car and Jensen, having a similar car, allowed Barber to use one of his.
“That helped me out points-wise,” Barber said. “I always planned on paying him back but I didn’t know when. Then things just fell into place.”
After a strong start to the season, Barber ran into engine trouble, realistically costing him a shot at repeating as points champion. After one sponsor, Whitman Engines in Kirkland, helped with a new motor, Barber decided to help out another sponsor. Last year, Jensen was Barber’s top sponsor during the championship season.
“We knew we weren’t going to repeat so we just decided to have fun the rest of the season,” Barber said. “So I told Pete that since he had helped me to put the car together, why doesn’t he race it? You could tell he was excited to do it.”
“He’s just a great kid,” Jensen said. “When he asked me if I wanted to run the car, I said ‘Let’s do it.’”
Jensen grew up in a racing family in Seattle. After doing a tour in Vietnam, Jensen returned home and ran his first race at Evergreen in 1969. He intended to have a serious racing career until 1975, when he married and moved to Yakima. He raced off-and-on from that point, finding some success but never really focusing on racing.
“Other things happened in my life and I ended up with other priorities,” Jensen said. “So I just started doing it for fun, and I’ve had a great time.”
After racing go-karts in a master’s class, Jensen had an itching to get into a Mini-Stocks car. He heard that Evergreen Mini-Stock champion Ross Jones was looking to sell his car, and Jensen jumped on it, resuming his career in 1998. He raced full-time that year and again in ‘99 before retiring. He raced once a year since then but had yet to win.
But a friendship he had already formed with Barber through racing deepened when Jensen, who owns an investment company, began sponsoring Barber last year.
“I always liked the way he raced, he reminds me of myself,” Jensen said. “So I thought I’d help him out if I could.”
Barber returned the favor Saturday.
Jensen ran some practice laps to get used to the car and made some suggestions on adjustments.
“I told him to loosen it up,” Jensen said. “Other than that, I knew the car could win it. But he did make it clear that he wanted the car back in one piece.”
“I knew he had been trying to win for a couple of years, and I knew my car was similar to the ones he was used to,” Barber said. “He’s the kind of guy who likes to make things happen when he’s racing, and that’s how I am to. So I knew what he would need in the car because it’s exactly like I would need it. We adjusted it the same way we would adjust it for me.”
After enduring some old-man jokes from other drivers and fans, Jensen climbed into the car confident that he could finally achieve his goal.
The car had a little trouble early on but Jensen ran in the middle of the pack before finally making a move. He ran up behind the leader, current points leader Jamie Richardson, before going by him with five laps to go. Jensen then roared to the finish line.
“The car was a bullet,” Jensen said. “It was so exciting. I was literally breathless when I was done. I could hardly stand up.”
“I wasn’t going to be surprised if he won or if he lost,” Barber said. “He had always been a competitive driver but it had been awhile since he’d been in a car. I was just beside myself when he moved to the lead. I was as excited as if I’d been in the car. The fans went crazy. I ran onto the track and Pete was like a little kid at Christmas. He was so excited he could hardly speak, and I was kind of the same way too. You wouldn’t have known he was 61.”
Jensen will race Barber’s car two more times this year. One will be on Sept. 3, the day before he turns 62, and the other will be on Championship Night at the end of the season.
After that, who knows? Maybe he’ll make a run for a main win next decade when he’s in his 70s.
“If I get the chance, I will,” Jensen said. “There are some guys still racing in their 70s. I’m in good shape, I’m healthy. We’ll see where we’re at when that time comes. I’m just so thankful that I got this opportunity.”