A strong family bond on the circuit

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Matt Petrzelka drives his cousin Jason Sherman’s car as he recovers from a broken leg

Matt Petrzelka (right) drove his cousin Jason Sherman’s Days of Thunder-themed race car to victory in the Hobby Stock class on opening night at Hawkeye Downs on May 13. (Family photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cousins ​​are often the first friends people make outside of their immediate family.

While Jason Sherman is 14 years older than his cousin Matt Petrzelka, their bond is expected to grow even stronger this summer at Hawkeye Downs Speedway.

That’s because Sherman, a 10-year-old Hobby Stock driver, broke his leg and tore ligaments March 26 in a freak accident while fixing his truck on the side of the road. He was returning from Dirt Nationals in Bristol, Tennessee.

First and foremost, Sherman’s concern is to return to work at General Mills in Cedar Rapids so that he can provide for his family.

With those details ironed out and surgery scheduled for June 20, Sherman called his brother Shane and sister Keela to ask if they’d like to drive his car for the season.

“They both have things going on in their lives that they don’t want to commit to,” Sherman said.

The next call was the easiest decision to make.

“Matt is a former track and field champion,” Sherman said. “When I started racing he was already winning so I have nothing but respect for him.”

Although Petrzelka is the youngest cousin, having just turned 29 earlier this month, he got his start going to Jason’s family to work on show cars with his dad and uncles.

After graduating from Benton Community High School in 2009, Petrzelka moved from show derbies to weekly races at Hawkeye Downs. He won three track championships in the Hobby Stock division before buying a Sport Mod and hitting the dirt.

Eventually, Petrzelka wanted to focus on her growing family and a house-turning project with her mother, Virginia, and decided to slow down her run.

In March 2019, a week after Petrzelka and his girlfriend, Kaitlyn Burns, welcomed their 2.5-month-premature daughter, Petrzelka’s mother and father, Bruce, were killed in a motorcycle accident in Florida.

With all the chaos in her life, Petrzelka needed to extend her break from racing and focus on her family.

Now it’s the family calling and asking for help with the race. Petrzelka gladly said yes.

“I was really excited and knew I couldn’t refuse,” Petrzelka said. “We went out and practiced and it was fast.”

So fast in fact, with essentially the same setup that Sherman used a year ago, Petrzelka parked it in Victory Lane on opening night.

“I was in the stands on Friday,” Sherman said. “It was fun to be able to relax and watch the races and enjoy it for what it is. you’re not there.”

Sherman and Petrzelka felt great about the first run and plan to spend the summer working together for a track title.

Now that some of the chaos of 2019 has faded and his 3-year-old daughter, Willow, is healthy, Petrzelka has found himself feeling at home on the track again.

“I felt like I still missed him,” Petrzelka said. “I feel less pressure and am more relaxed now running at Hawkeye Downs.”

With at least six months of recovery ahead of Sherman, Petrzelka knows what he can do to help his cousin feel comfortable during his lost racing season.

“I just want to do my best and get victories and trophies for him,” Petrzelka said. “Put a smile on his face.”

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