By Pam Shebest | Special to the Kalamazoo Gazette The Kalamazoo Gazette
KALAMAZOO — On Aug. 17, Trent Hellenga finished fifth at the Kalamazoo Klash.
Two days later, he was at the University of Michigan Hospital, undergoing 8 1/2 hours of scheduled brain surgery.
On Saturday, he was back at the Kalamazoo Speedway for autograph night and, by this Saturday, hopes to be back on the track, racing his No. 14 Super Late Model car.
“It’s just a great morale boost for everyone to see him,” track owner Gary Howe said during Saturday’s races. “At one time last Friday, there were 174 posts on Facebook on his page. That’s touching. That’s cool.
“I can’t say anything but he’s tough. He’s just tough as a son of a gun and the fact that he loaded his (race) car up and pulled it here from Lawton. He’s a racer.”
Hellenga preferred to be racing last Saturday, but had to settle for driving the American flag around the track during the national anthem.
“I feel great,” Hellenga said. “I wish they’d let me race. I’m gonna try to get back (on the track) next week.
“I’m going back to the doctor (this) week. They’re gonna take the staples and stitches out and we’ll see how I feel.”
Hellenga had his first brain surgery in May 2008.
“It’s a chondroblastoma tumor,” Hellenga said. “It’s a real, real rare tumor. I don’t know what they say your odds are, like one in 20 million of getting a second tumor.
“They make me go back every six months for an MRI and they were watching it. The first year, year and a half, they thought maybe it was just some scar tissue. Probably eight, nine months ago, they measured across the screen and they knew it was growing.”
Four surgeons performed the surgery and he still has staples and stitches going from one ear, over the top of his head, to his other ear.
“They kinda laid my ear back so they could go up under my jaw,” Hellenga, 40, said. “Then they can go down though the top of my skull, too. It’s just kind of a bugger where the tumor is. That makes it the hardest part to get to it.”
With the track points championship this Saturday, Howe didn’t expect Hellenga, who is fifth in points, to be back racing this year.
“I asked him if he wanted to come in the tire barn and take his wheels and stuff home, and he says he’s hoping to race Saturday,” Howe said.
“Whether that’s gonna happen, I don’t know. But he’s tough as concrete.”
Hellenga said he was back at the track Saturday “Just to show my support for everybody who showed their support for me. Just basically tell everybody thanks, that we made it and, hopefully, we’ll be back.”
While he was watching the races, Andy Bozell nosed out his son, Phil Bozell, to win the Super Late Model 50-lap feature.
Other winners were Mike Brooks in Modifieds, Jake Hopwood in Super Stocks, Lloyd Brooks in Pro Stocks and Doug Smith in the Cyber Stock Nationals feature.