Gibsonburg native and WNWO Chief Meteorologist Norm Van Ness grew up around race cars, but it’s impossible for him to remember the first time he actually sat in one.
“The first time I ever went to a race, I was still in diapers and I sat in a race car,” said Van Ness, 44, who still lives in Gibsonburg. “My grandfather and my dad and his brother all had race cars. It was like a family race car. Each person had a specific role in the car and they had people who drove for them over the years. Several members of my family are still active in racing to this day. It’s just always been a part of my life, ever since I was born.”
Van Ness, an Air Force veteran who served as an avionics technician on F-15s, has been a weatherman at Channel 24 since 2003. The 1988 Gibsonburg High School graduate still finds himself gravitating to race cars, and he can be seen every now and then driving in local celebrity races.
|Gibsonburg native Norm Van Ness can be seen
on TV as WNWO's chief meteorologist and
occasionally, driving in local celebrity races.
(Press photo by Russ Lytle)
On Sept. 15, Van Ness won the Fifth Annual Celebrity Charity Race at Oakshade Raceway, near Wauseon. It was his fourth celebrity race at Oakshade, and his third victory.
“The one that I lost,” Van Ness said, “I had a half-lap lead and the car broke down in the last corner.”
Van Ness got to race at Fremont Speedway when he was in high school and “did horribly.” He raced at Attica Raceway last year and finished 13th.
Van Ness drove what is called a “Bomber” race car, which has about 400 horsepower, at the 10-lap Oakshade charity event held Sept. 15.
“It combined racing and raising money for charity, so it’s the best of both worlds,” Van Ness said. “I did a fundraiser at Fremont Speedway the night before, and I brought that money to Oakshade. All of the drivers in the celebrity race were racing for their own charity, and they split the money depending on finishing position.”
Van Ness was driving for The Village House of Fremont, which assists families that are going through a “transitional” stage, such as divorce.
“It’s just a really neat organization,” Van Ness said. “There used to be one in just about every county in Ohio and now they’re only involved in about three counties.”
Oakshade Raceway’s Dan “Links” Rice, who was representing Friends in Service to Humanity (F.I.S.H.) led the first lap on Sept. 15. Oakshade announcer Scott Hammer, representing the American Diabetes Association, also competed in the six-man celebrity race along with Eldora Speedway announcer Dustin Jarrett, who was representing the Alzheimer’s Association Research Center.
Van Ness made a move underneath Hammer to take the lead on the eighth lap and managed to hold on for the win.
“The thing about motorsports is, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, a win is a win and it always feels great,” Van Ness said. “You know you had to work for it. When the race cars are fighting you and you have a couple of wrecks to get through and it’s close and you win it, that’s a lot of fun. It makes you want to go out there and do it again, that’s for sure.”
After the win, Van Ness presented his trophy to 8-year-old Keegan Miller, a local race fan who recently underwent his third open-heart surgery.
“Since I’ve been going to Oakshade I’ve gotten to know some of the race teams out there,” Van Ness said. “I know Keegan’s dad, who I met at Oakshade, and Keegan is a huge motorsports fan. He’s a big monster truck fan.
“When I found out he was there that night and saw what other people had done to show him support, I thought it would be cool to give him the trophy,” Van Ness said. “He had a huge smile on his face, so it was great to see.”