Racing is in Jeff Kolan's blood and he doesn't hide his love of it.
The former Morgan Township three-sport athlete made his name in cross country and distance races on the track, which bred enthusiasm for his real love of speed. Kolan has raced snowmobiles and works on race cars at his Valparaiso business.
"I loved running, but this is my passion," Kolan said. "I love working on cars and engines. I am having a blast."
Kolan owns Southlake Hydro, which sells water products, as well as TJ Motorsports, which specializes in snowmobile and other recreational vehicle engine repair, water systems. TJ Motorsports also sponsors the weekly running of Chris Gurley's Team Automotive USAC sprint and midget cars.
Kolon got his start with the Brayton family in Coldwater, Mich., in 1998. He helped build the engine for Eddie Cheever Jr.'s winning car in the 1998 Indianapolis 500.
"That was something to be on the race course and all those people," Kolan said. "You look up and Jim Nabors is singing 'Back Home Again in Indiana,' and what an experience."
In 2006, Kolan had an experience he will never forget when he was in a snocross race in Lake Geneva, Wis., He was in a near-fatal accident.
"I lost about 60 percent of my pancreas," he said. "It was tough and I was in not-too-good of shape. I remember it, St. Patrick's Day in 2006 and that was the first time I ever watched all the NCAA (men's basketball) games that they show in a day.
"I am just lucky I recovered, though it took me about five years to get back to 100 percent."
Adversity was not new to Kolan. He lost his mom, Joyce, when he was 15 and helped his dad, Dan, raise his two younger sisters.
"It was tough, but my dad and family got us through it," Kolan said. "My dad died when I was 26, so I had to walk my sister down the aisle when she got married. That was tough too, but I was proud to do it."
At Morgan Township, Kolan became the boys track program's first athlete to qualify in a running event for the IHSAA state meet when he did so in the 1,600-meter run in 1993. He also ran cross country and played basketball.
"That too was something, with all those runners," Kolan said. "For someone from a little school to make it to the state meet was big. I had to run at the Roosevelt Regional against very good competition. It was a lot of fun though."
While he did not place at the state meet, Kolan had an illustrious prep career as he won the Porter County Conference championships in 1993 in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 and was second in the high jump. He was the 1992 PCC champ in the 3,200.
In cross country, he won the PCC meet in his senior year (1992), finished second in 1991 and third in 1990. He was the 1992 PCC mental attitude winner and was second at the prestigious New Prairie Invitational and just missed qualifying for the state meet.
"I was 13th at Culver and they took 10," Kolan said. "Funny thing, next year, they took 15. But that's how it goes."
Kolan ran at Tri-State (now Trine) University and qualified for the 1996 NAIA cross country meet. He graduated with a degree in engineering. He said he was tied of running, thus taking to racing vehicles.
One of the highlights for the Green Bay Packers fan was taking part in a snowmobile race at Lambeau Field, which did resemble a frozen tundra.
"I got to walk down that tunnel and you don't know how that felt," Kolan said. "Then onto the field and actually be on it. A few years later, I took a tour and the tour guide asked who had ever been on the field. I raised my hand and he said: 'Let me shake your hand. I have been here 40 years and have never been on the field."
Kolan said he starting to run again and is also enjoying distance running, despite the warm temperatures.