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Exclusive interview with Monique Koedam, Marianne Pels and Jet van Geffen
Speak to any married racer and it will not be long before they tell you that they could not do what they do without the solid support of their spouses. Drag racing being a family sport in Europe, you will most likely find those spouses up to their elbows in oil in the pits, catering for a large and hungry team, or standing behind the race vehicle calmly watching their husband or wife preparing to race down the track.
We spoke to the wives of three Dutch bike racers - Monique Koedam, wife of 2003 FIM/UEM Top Fuel Bike Champion Roel Koedam; Marianne Pels, wife of Supertwin Top Fuel racer Tom Pels; and Henrietta 'Jet' van Geffen, wife of Supertwin Top Fuel racer Rob van Geffen - to get an insight into life on the other side of a drag racing marriage, and we discovered that these three ladies are far from drag racing widows.
Eurodragster: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Monique Koedam: My name is Monique Koedam and I live in Maarssen, Netherlands. I have been married for twenty two years. I am a counsellor for the unemployed, I help them to look for new jobs or to get money from the government.
Marianne Pels: I'm Marianne Pels, married to Ton for almost thirty nine years. We live in Mydrecht in the Netherlands, a friendly village fifteen miles from Amsterdam. We have a daughter Monique and a son Vincent, who are both very actively involved in the team as well, and we have two grandchildren. My day job is book-keeper. When Ton started Zodiac International nineteen years ago I did the company's bookkeeping all by myself, but now that the company has grown into what it is today (thirty five people, 40,000 sq ft warehouse, head office in the Netherlands and sales offices in most European countries), we have a book-keeping team in which I take care of the payment approvals and most of the bank business. Working with a team makes it easier for me to take time off for the races.
Jet van Geffen: We have lived together in Belgium for twenty seven years. I sell parts and bikes in our Harley shop.
Eurodragster: How did you meet your husband?
Marianne Pels: Ton and his brother, who lived in Amsterdam at the time, were cruising the town of Uithoorn (close to Mijdrecht) after they had visited their grandparents. We met outside the dancing school where my girlfriend and I had just finished a dance class. We ended up double-dating for a while, and Ton and I have managed to stick together ever since. His brother and my girlfriend didn't, by the way!
Jet van Geffen: Rob and I met at a school ball.
Monique Koedam: I was in a bar and so was Roel. We got talking and the next thing I knew we were living together - that was twenty six years ago.
Eurodragster: Were you a drag racing fan before you met?
Jet van Geffen: No, I'd never heard of it!
Monique Koedam: I never heard of drag racing before, but when Roel started I quickly found out about racing. And now after all those years I love it, because in Europe it is a hobby for everyone, and everybody helps one another.
Marianne Pels: I would have to say no, because drag racing was non-existent in the Netherlands at that time. Ton started with Sprint races in 1970. The first time we came into contact with drag racing was when we visited Santa Pod in 1974. The first drag race Ton which actually participated in was at Wroughton airfield in 1975. In the early days Ton was very actively involved in promoting sprint and drag races, organising races and of course racing himself. Together with some colleagues founded the Dutch drag racing club Explosion in the early 1970s and was its Chairman for over ten years.
Eurodragster: When your husband decided to race a Fuel Bike, what was your reaction?
Monique Koedam: Well he started at the bottom and grew into it. I thought "We will see", but now after all those years on a Top Fuel Bike it is nice, and 2003 especially has been very good so far. And I love the smell of Nitro!
Marianne Pels: I honestly don't know, because it was such a long time ago. Ton started racing Fuel bikes in the early seventies, so I gradually got used to the ETs and speeds they run today.
Jet van Geffen: I was right behind him.
Eurodragster: Do you have a specific job on the team?
Marianne Pels: Well, like every racer's wife I guess, I take care of all the travel and other logistics. And together with Monique Koedam, we do the catering for the Zodiac and Koedam teams and most of the time also for Rob van Geffen's team.
Jet van Geffen: I take care of the boys and fill up the camper with food etc. And I keep an eye out so Rob doesn't do anything stupid!
Monique Koedam: I make all of the travel arrangements and I also do the food and drink, always with Marianne Pels, and most of the time for Rob van Geffen's team. We think that when they are so busy with the bike, good food and drink are important. Also some foreign teams have dinner with us, so I think we do a very good job!
Eurodragster: What is the best and worst part of a race for you?
Jet van Geffen: The best part is when Rob is happy after a run. The worst part is when the bike doesn't go in a straight line.
Monique Koedam: The worst part is when they work so hard on the bike, some parts break and you can't fix it, that is frustrating. For me especially when the bike is running good, and Roel pulls a red light. And rain, especially when you travel so far for a race. The best part is a good Personal Best and winning.
Marianne Pels: The best part: winning, or running Personal Bests. The worst part: losing or seriously breaking parts.
Eurodragster: Do you worry when you stand on the track watching your husband race?
Monique Koedam: No, because Roel knows what he is doing. But at the beginning of the season I am nervous for the first race.
Marianne Pels: I am always a bit tense, but more nervous than usual at the first race of the season.
Jet van Geffen: No, because I know that Rob doesn't take extra risks to win.
Eurodragster: Have you ever raced yourself, or would you get on your husband's bike?
Marianne Pels: A definite NO to both questions. When I started motorcycle lessons with my daughter Monique some years ago, I had an accident and crashed during the third lesson. Nothing serious, but enough to decide that this was not the thing for me. I feel more stable on four wheels.
Jet van Geffen: No!
Monique Koedam: No, one racer in the family is enough. But many years ago Roel bought a small dragster, and he said to me "You can have a go if you like", but after a while we sold it (I didn't feel sad about that), and Roel started to build a Top Fuel Bike with Peter, Marius and Bauke.
Eurodragster: Could you imagine life without drag racing? If so, what would you be doing?
Jet van Geffen: We have a lot of other hobbies like riding old motorcycles, or having a weekend away with the camper. Rob is also learning to fly gliders and it's nice to have a day at the aero club and meet some different people.
Monique Koedam: Not yet, but there will come a time when it is over and done with. I think that then I am going to miss all of the car and bike people. Our dream is a house in Italy.
Marianne Pels: Ton has been drag racing for thirty three years now, and we have always done it with the whole family. Also some of our best friends are from the drag racing scene, so rather than drag racing being a part of your life it's actually a way of life. It's therefore very hard to imagine life without it. If Ton hadn't been drag racing, he would probably be involved in another form of motorsport (he did trials riding before he started drag racing) so our lives would probably be a bit similar to what we're used to now. We don't know how long Ton will continue active racing, he is sixty years old now, but after his racing career we would like to do some travelling, to see something other than race tracks.
Eurodragster: Well, we hope that none of you decide on a life without drag racing for a very long time! Thank you very much for your time Monique, Marianne and Jet. Good luck at the European Finals this weekend!
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