Family bonding

Most 15-year-olds are just learning how to drive.

Matt Oberhelman has proven to be a quick study.

This soon-to-be Fort Dodge Senior High sophomore doesn’t just drive cars. He races them — and seems to be a natural.

The young driver’s story is a tale of family bonding, sibling respect and early success.

Last weekend at Hamilton County Speedway, Oberhelman took the track for only the third time in his career. And he didn’t just compete in the IMCA Sports Compact race – he won the feature race.

“It felt really good to win,” Matt said. “I got a lot of help from my dad (Lyle), my cousin, Todd Cooney and Danny Sassman Jr.

“I was really happy – I was glad that I didn’t get interviewed, because I didn’t know what I was going to say.”

Competing against drivers double and triple his age, the youngster put together a solid run to reach Victory Lane — even though Oberhelman doesn’t have a driver’s license yet.

Matt’s 16-year-old sister, Mackenzie, is also on the track with Matt.

“You can drive a race car at 13 with parent consent,” said Lyle, Matt and Mackenzie’s father. “Both of them approached me last fall and said they wanted to start driving, so I gave up racing to put the kids in the cars.

“We maintain them through the week and get them through to race day.”

The story even gets more interesting, as Oberhelman, who has his driver’s permit and moped permit, just learned how to drive stick shift three weeks earlier.

“When he won, it was only the third time he had been in a race car,” Lyle said. “When he jumped into the car for the first time, he didn’t even know how to drive stick shift.

“It’s hard to drive stick shift and he just picked it up right away.”

Standing beside the first year drivers is Lyle, who has been driving for over 28 years.

“It brings us really close,” Lyle said. “We get the cars running together, get them unloaded and we all work on them. My kids listen to advice they get from anyone.

“They understand what everyone is telling them and it has really brought us close together.”

After Matt won his race in Webster City, you couldn’t take the smile off of Lyle’s face.

“I’ve raced for 28 years and it took me 24 years to win a feature race,” Lyle said. “I have a 15-year-old go out there and wins on his third night out – that win was priceless

“It was unreal. He sat there and won a feature race. It was unbelievable.”

Lyle doesn’t just have to watch out for his son, as his daughter is also following in his footsteps.

“They get along excellent,” Lyle said. “They’re not rivals, they just go out there and race each other clean.

“When Matt won, she came in the pits and she was the first one up to his car and slap his hand.”

Mackenzie has started her career out strong as well, finishing in the Top-6 in her first three races.

“We (Matt and Mackenzie) do fight, but racing is the one thing that we agree on and we agree on as a team,” Mackenzie said. “It has really brought us close.

“It’s really fun to learn. There are not a lot of 16-year-old girls that can build race cars. Our family motto is, racing is not a sport, it’s a lifestyle.”

Though the siblings have just started racing, the love for the track started at a young age.

“The kids were down in the pits ever since they were six or seven,” Lyle said. “They’ve taken care of tire pressure and have just been all around.”

Matt enjoys the fact that racing is in his blood.

“I was like seven or eight (when he became interested in cars),” Matt said. “It’s awesome. This has brought us really close because we’ve been around it forever.”

Lyle enjoys the fact that his kids want to walk into his footsteps and is glad that he gets to be the one help them out.

“I myself won’t get into a race car that I’m working on unless I know it’s safe,” Lyle said. “These are my two angels. They’re the reason I get up every morning.

“If I didn’t feel they were safe they wouldn’t be in the cars.”