If there was ever a natural born race driver, it may be said that Tim Steele fitted into that category like a glove.
But for the three-time ARCA RE/MAX Series national driving champion, it just didn’t feel natural anymore.
“It took me nine and a half years to get there,” said Steele. “But the last time I was in a car, it just didn’t feel natural anymore. It seems like I’ve struggled with this decision forever; but I always told myself that if I ever got scared it was time to get out; or that if I ever felt like I had lost my God-given ability, it was time to get out.”
For Steele, 39, that time has come. The Coopersville, Michigan driver has officially announced his retirement from driving.
After a very successful career in the ARCA RE/MAX Series that produced championships in ’93, ’96 and ’97, and more superspeedway victories than any other driver in series history, Steele was on the verge of signing a contract to race fulltime in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. Then a crash at Atlanta Motor Speedway on November 5th, 1997 left him with a closed head injury and changed his world forever.
“I was 10 days away from signing a Winston Cup contract when I crashed; and we were going to run for the 1998 Cup Rookie of the Year. My dad and (Green Bay Packers quarterback) Brett Favre were purchasing the team from Bud Moore, and we had Nike and Sony lined up as sponsors.
“Looking back in ’98 when I was at the Mayo Clinic, I now know the doctors were right when they told me I should probably find a different career.
“I just wasn’t willing to accept that. It was like admitting defeat. Racing was my life; it’s how I earned my living, and the only job I ever had since I was 20. I didn’t know anything else, so it was so hard to walk away from my life. I had worked so hard to get where I had gotten. I just couldn’t give up on it now.”
Unfortunately, there would be ongoing, residual physical and personal issues that would plague Steele during his comeback phase of his career. Regardless, it’s worth noting that despite the ongoing struggles, Steele still managed 11 more ARCA RE/MAX Series victories after the accident.
From 1993 through 2006, Steele, driving his father Harold Steele’s HS Die entries, won 41 ARCA RE/MAX Series races in 146 attempts, which equates to victories in 28% of all the races he entered. Steele is still the all-time superspeedway winner with 24 victories, including nine at Pocono Raceway, which still tops the charts. Through it all, he earned 86 top-five finishes, 101 top-10s and led 5,423 laps in 93 races. That means that Steele led laps in 64% of every race he entered, a feat unmatched yet today. He also won 31 career pole awards.