November marks the beginning of season and right there ready to dash off the line at the drop of the first snowflake is Jan Hempton. “I have always competed in some kind of sport, but never found anything quite so exciting as snowmobile racing. The people make the sport what it is,” she said.
Jan has raced the snow and grass circuits for several seasons now and has a considerable amount of prize money and collection of trophies to show for her efforts. In 1970 she bagged the MISA Class A summer drag trophy and followed it up in winter of 1970-71 with a Class A championship, becoming the first woman to win the MISA overall high points title in Class A events.
With the 1970-71 Motor City Classic in her column, Jan went on to gather up a total of 18 firsts, including several outstate victories. Factory awards from Rupp include the Rupp state championship in 1970-71 for which a ruby ring was awarded and the Rupp national championship in 1971-72 for which a two-carat diamond ring was awarded.
Jan’s husband, Dan, also finds time to race a bit and is race team director for Jan’s Sport Shop, located in Goodrich. They are Yamaha and Rupp dealers.
The Sports Shop racing team includes two brothers, one sister, kids, in-laws and friends — everybody races — a total of 12 families traveling in four motor homes and four campers.
“Summer drags,” says Jan, “keep up enthusiasm for snowmobiles, and should be held where the largest audiences can be drawn to increase publicity.”
She would like to run some endurance races and go to a few biggies like Rhinelander and Ironwood, although they plan to run mostly MISA. “A word for women’s lib: When we have the same number of racers in a class, such as many of our classes did and equaled the men’s in size at the series, we should receive the same prize money. Our 400 class had more machines than the same 250 class of men, yet we received less than half the prize money. Men had a consolation run — women did not. Women do hold the attention of the crowd.”
“At the world series the juniors and women ran heats and semis on Saturday night until dark. This was all that was scheduled. The crowd did not thin. Women were scheduled for early Sunday morning, and the crowd gathered early. If we can draw a crowd at our endurance races we will have won a victory for women’s races.
A problem has been that we are divided much too thin between too many races. This is what made East Jordan such a great race for women. I believe some of the best women drivers are gathered together at East Jordan, right here in lower Michigan. I have been third once and runner-up twice to the overall trophy and it is an accomplishment that is a great challenge.
We need more such races for women. The Grand Prix is thinking about a woman next year along with their Prix champion. MISA is talking of endurance races for next year and it is a great challenge to the powder puffers. I want to wish them all a great year. We had so many great new drivers last year, I’m thinking of letting my daughter take over.” Jan’s daughter, Janell, is 13. Her brother, Brad, is 11.
Horseback riding and swimming help Jan keep fit between race dates while she is teaching sixth grade English at Goodrich School.