Ever since he was seven years old, Jamie Vanderaa, now 21, had a dream: to race professionally.
Growing up in Rocky Mountain House, Vanderaa spent much of his childhood quadding with his parents in the Alberta backcountry—until a powersports dealership in town invited him to compete in a local ATV race.
A first-place finish and he was hooked. Soon, Vanderaa was racing in the Alberta CMRC provincial series. Working his way up through the ranks, he turned pro at 14. Two years later, he took home the pro title in the provincial series, the Alberta Triple Crown ATV Series and the 2011 Western Canadian Amateur Nationals.
After becoming the No. 1 quad racer in his division, Vanderaa turned his attention to the more competitive STI QuadX series on the west coast of California.
“I was racing Pro-Am there,” said Vanderaa, “and in 2012, I was five rounds in and I won four in a row. No other Canadian has gone down there and done that on the west side before.”
Right before the series ended, Vanderaa was leading the championship when a mechanical mishap caused him to crash and break both of his legs.
“That put me back a long time,” he said. “I was in a wheelchair for about three months and on crutches for another month.”
Vanderaa was out for the rest of 2012 and the 2013 season. In 2014, he returned; this time, deciding to compete at the highest level of ATV racing there is—the Mountain Dew ATV MX National Championship.
“I raced in Pro-Am and Open A and it was a big eye opener for me because if anyone in the world is any good at all, that’s where they’ll be,” said Vanderaa. “There are guys from New Zealand, Australia and Europe.”
It's no easy being the lone Western Canadian on the U.S. national circuit. — Corey Allen photo (GateDropMedia.com)
Being from Western Canada, Vanderaa had a major handicap. With races scattered throughout the U.S. and as far away as Daytona Beach, Florida, he would sometimes be on the road for a week just to get to the starting gate. Not only that, but finding factory support is tough these days—especially since the sport ATV segment has declined and most ATV manufacturers are cautious of where they invest.
“My quads were not new by any means,” said Vanderaa. “They were the best I could do, but the tracks down there are so much rougher than here and it’s hard on equipment so you constantly break down. I was on a limited budget so I’d have to try and find something used that was in pretty good condition.”
His parents supported him whenever they could but even then, Vanderaa worked seven days a week when he wasn’t racing to pay the bills. Nevertheless, Vanderaa always managed to finish Top 15 in his qualifying runs.
When he's not racing, Jamie Vanderaa works full-time as an equipment operator in the Alberta oilfield. — Pierre Tremblay photo
At the start of 2015, he committed to eight of the 10 national rounds, but only made it to six.
“I did Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, New York and Michigan,” said Vanderaa.
It was by no means the results he wanted, but again, Vanderaa managed a Top 15 finish in the Pro-Am championship and Top 11 in Pro-Sport.
Frustrated and broke, Vanderaa almost gave up on his dream when a new kind of racing bug bit him.
“Now I’m racing snocross,” said Vanderaa.
Having grown up around snowmobiles, Vanderaa is no stranger to the sled scene in Western Canada, but when it comes to snocross, he’s a bit of a rookie. That being said, Vanderaa isn’t one to let fear of the unknown hold him back.
He had a strong debut this season at the starting round of the East Coast Snocross Series on January 23 and 24 in Plattsburgh, New York—ending with a third-place finish in the Sport or intermediate class on Saturday and a second place finish on Sunday.
“I lost to first place by less than a hundredth of a second, but I’m super happy with it being the first round . . . .” said Vanderaa.
His goal is to be top overall in the Sport class and Pro Lite calibre by the end of the winter.
“I’ve always had a dream of racing for a career,” said Vanderaa.
With the sport of snocross growing, Vanderaa might be well on his way to seeing his dream become reality. And even though he’s not competing on the national circuit anymore, Vanderaa will continue to race in Canada.
“I’ll always own quads and I’m still racing,” he said. “That’s still what I love to do. Quads, sleds, dirt bikes, I always have to be behind the handlebars. I could not imagine life any other way.”
For the winter, Jamie Vanderaa is competing in the 2016 East Coast Snocross Series (ECS). According to him, the ECS is the second toughest circuit there is and it’s a stepping stone to the International Series of Champions (ISOC). — Pierre Tremblay photo