Jan Opperman became known as one of the “Original Outlaws.” Opperman was plucked from obscurity in 1968 when a Speedway Motors employee, Jerry Janssen, spotted him in California racing a Ranger airplane engine sprint car. Janssen brought Jan to Lincoln and Opperman’s career took off.
Jan partnered with Don Maxwell to design and build sprint cars. The Maxwell sprint car, designed by Opperman was a top seller around the country in the mid and late 1970s. Jan got a 15% commission on each sale, but it was his promise to car owners that he would drive the car for them that made more sales than any other factor. This spread Opp pretty thin at times, trying to keep everyone happy.
He drove many different cars in a number of states on an even greater number of tracks, recording 44 feature victories in 1972. He raced motorcycles, midgets, sprints, champ cars and Indy Cars. His USAC sprint wins include the 1976 Hulman Classic at Terre Haute, Ind., in Bill Smith’s No. 4x. He won the Knoxville Nationals in 1971 and drove in two Indy 500 races prior to career-ending injuries in a sprint car.
Opperman was one of the most beloved sprint car racers in the history of the sport. He had a charisma few others did. Because of this, he was a big draw to every race track he came to and was a favorite of promoters.
Jan suffered head injuries in the 1976 Hooiser Hundred which took more than a year to recover from. He returned to racing early in 1978, but never captured his previous brilliance as a driver. A second crash in 1981, at Jennerstown, Pennsylvania, caused more head injuries. Opperman passed away September 4, 1997.