Imagine what it would be like to work your whole life to accomplish one goal, to be the best in the world at one sport, to get so close for years and to just miss winning it all. Dan Jansen doesn’t have to imagine any of this because he lived it. Jansen broke numerous speed skating records and went to four Olympics. At three of those games, he was favored to win numerous races, but, in 1988, he contracted mononucleosis and his beloved sister, Jane, died of Leukemia. In 1992, he slipped. It cost him the gold.
But, Dan Jansen persevered. In his last Olympic race ever, in 1994, he accomplished his goal, setting a World record as he won his gold medal in the 1000-meter event by finishing the race II seconds faster than any other human being ever had – at 1:12:43.
What was your first car?
I shared a car with my brother because I’m the youngest of nine kids, so we didn’t have a lot of money. The first one my dad bought us, because we were training and we needed to get to our workouts, I think it was a Chevy Malibu. It was this green thing with a white top and he paid $300 for it. We’d get so frustrated because we’d pull up to stop at a stoplight and as soon as you hit the gas, for whatever reason, it would stall. We would get stuck in intersection after intersection as the light turned green and it would stall. That was pretty much our first car, you know, mine, where I had to pay for gas and do what I did to get where I had to go.
I understand what you are saying about having to share cars with your siblings or having hand-me- downs, because I grew up with six big brothers. My vehicles were always their trucks. What was the first car that you bought for yourself?
The first car that I purchased was a Chrysler LeBaron. No reason. I started saving money to buy a car, and it wasn’t the old boxy kind, like when Chrysler started making their comeback. It was a sportier car. It was nothing special, but it was nice.
What color was it?
It was silver. Same color as my car now, actually.
When you were a kid, did you have a “perfect” dream car? Like a Porsche or a Ferrari?
For whatever reason, I was more of a sedan kind of guy than a sporty guy. I never really was into small, two-door sports cars, for whatever reason. Not that I don’t like them, I was just more into a nice Cadillac, Mercedes or Lexus, or something like that. That was always something I aspired to buy.
Which do you like the best: cars, pickup trucks or SUVs?
I’m not a pickup guy, never have been, but I have had several SUVs because I travel a lot. When I travel with my wife – she’s a golf pro – we take the golf clubs, so we need at least one SUV for the family. We currently have a sedan and an SUV. But if I were just to choose, I would have to be practical about things. It would probably be a sedan. Like a 7 series BMW or something like that.
Those are nice. What’s your favorite color combination when it comes to cars?
I’ve been through them all. My last car was jet black and now I have silver. I was kind of happy to get rid of the black just because it was so hard to keep clean. Now that I think of it, I kind of like dark colors. It’s like, whatever you have, you want the other one.
Right but there is nothing like a black car when it’s freshly cleaned up.
Exactly. The only thing is, this time of year, it’s hard to keep any car clean because the roads are wet so much and get so muddy. So, when they’re black, they really show the dirt. A cleaned up black car…you’re right, it is nice.
So would you ever own a hybrid?
You know, I would. I never thought about it until lately, just with the economy and all that’s going on with energy. I’m certainly all for saving energy and so I would think about it, yeah. Now they’ve got nicer hybrids out. I’ve seen nicer hybrids, nicer SUVs and nice sedan hybrids. I don’t think I’d go for a tiny little thing, but I would go for a hybrid.
The zero to 60 in 30 minutes type thing.
Yeah, I’ll pass.
Have you ever been big on motorcycles, ATVs or dirt bikes?
Never. I’ve ridden on motorcycles and I’ve driven them, but I’ve never wanted to own one, simply because I don’t trust other drivers on the road. I would always be defensive driving if I owned a motorcycle. It’s just too dangerous for me.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re driving?
I am still, at heart, a country music guy. I grew up that way for whatever reason, even living in the Midwest.
What was up with that?
I don’t know, I really don’t know. One of my older brothers was into country music and it stuck with me. But I still like all kinds of music. I listen mostly to country, but then some older music groups that aren’t so popular, that are from my era, that are more rock kind of groups. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the BoDeans or Lowen and Navarro.
Who are they?
They’re called Lowen and Navarro.
Lowen and Navarro?
Yeah. They’re actually very good. One guy, unfortunately, has ALS now and he probably doesn’t have too much time left. Lou Gehrig’s disease, it’s awful. They’re very good song writers. Do you know Pat Benatar? Do you know the song We Belong? They wrote that and they sing a version of that. Anyway, I have everything in my car, from Bon Jovi to Kenny Chesney and those kinds. I like variety; the only kinds I don’t like are rap and heavy metal. Other than that, I’m pretty open.
Right. Classic country like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash.
Love that. Those are the ones I grew up with.
Charlie Daniels, Charlie Pride, Ronnie Milsap.
Tom T. Hall, and I am a huge fan of Jimmy Buffett. I even named my dog after him.
Oh yeah! My brothers and I used to have some of his 8-tracks.
The good stuff.
That’s right. I have those. I just don’t carry them in my car anymore.
How many cars do you think that you’ve owned throughout your life?
I would say in the neighborhood of 10 to 12, in that range. I owned them, or some I got from promotional stuff, like representing either the company or doing some commercials for them or that kind of thing. Not necessarily owned them, but I had them for a few years and that kind of thing.
You can’t argue with that
No, those are the best kind. So, yeah, I would say 10 or
- Something like that.
Tell me what you own and drive now.
I have always liked the BMW brand. When those first came out – the X5s – I just loved the look of them. I owned a black one first, and then I went to silver just about a year ago. It is a 2006.
Does it have the 4.4 engine?
No, it’s actually the 3.0
The 3.0, so you chose the smaller engine with less horsepower?
The 3.0, yeah. Hey, be nice.
What do see as, let’s say, your next vehicle?
I’ve actually thought about that. I feel, sometimes, like I should be driving an American car because I’m this Olympic guy driving a foreign car in the United States. I’ve thought about going back to an American-made vehicle. If I do, it would probably be in the Cadillac line, maybe an Escalade. The new models are great. They’re kind of sporty and a little bit smaller. Anyway, that’s possibly my next one.
You would look good in an Escalade! What was your all-time favorite car that you had from the get-go?
I would say a two-passenger Chrysler that I had. It was really fun to drive on spring days. It was a little Chrysler, tiny little one. I’m sure you’ve seen them around, they’re just two-seaters and they’re real small. It was a fun, fast car and fun to drive. Other than that, I would say I like the one I’m in now. I’ve had a Lexus before, and that was my first new nice car that I bought for myself. Not to say that my Chrysler wasn’t nice.
What model Lexus was it?
It was just a 300, the smaller version.
Like the ES 300?
The ES 300, right. That must have been in the early ’90s. It was a while ago, but it was nice and it was the first time I could afford a little more expensive car.
Have you had any speeding tickets?
I’ve never had a speeding ticket.
No way! Not one?
Not one. Ever.
Are you serious?
I’m serious. I’ve been stopped a few times.
Was it for speeding or an unsafe movement?
No, twice for speeding. But once was in my hometown, and they knew who I was and they let me go. The other one was actually down here, going to Augusta, Georgia. This very, very Southern police officer recognized me. I couldn’t believe it. He said something about skating and about going fast, like you’re used to this, but you take your time on the roads. And this was a long time after I had won my medal, so I was really surprised he recognized me. He let me go, so I got lucky.
Wow. You can’t complain about that.
No, and I probably drive five to nine miles over the limit and then I set the cruise. If they’re going to stop me for nine over, then they stop me. But I’m not a speed racer.
Have you ever been in an accident?
I’ve never caused one. I’ve been rear-ended once. I’ve been pretty lucky on that side, too. I’ve been good that way, too.
You obviously drive a bunch. How many miles a year do you think you drive?
I probably drive 15,000 to 20,000 miles a year. It is not too crazy, but in that range. Most of it’s in the Southeast at least. If I’m going anywhere else, I’ll fly. I don’t drive crosscountry.
You should try. you might like it sometime!
I drove my parents down here; they live across the lake in Davidson. Well, they live here in the winter. They still live in Wisconsin in the summer. This year, in October, I flew up and drove them back here. They’re both 80 now, so it’s getting to be a longer drive for them to do it by themselves. That was the longest trip I’ve made lately. It’s about 15 hours, with my dad in the passenger seat and my mom in the back, and me listening to country music. It was a fun trip.
Did you do it all in one day or did you stop?
No, we stopped overnight. Eight hours the first day and six or seven the next day.
Can you drive a stick shift?
Pretty good or do you grind the clutch?
Pretty good because I’ve owned three sticks, and then I’ve driven in Europe a bunch. A lot of those cars over there are stick shifts.
All stick shifts are different as they have different adjustments.
That’s what was fun about that little Chrysler car, being as it was a five-speed. That’s the most recent stick shift that I’ve owned. It’s probably been four or five years ago, now.
All right so how fast have you gone in a car, like top speed?
With myself driving? Probably about 120.
That’s pretty good.
Yeah, it was on the Autobahn in Germany, so it was legal. That’s moving.
How long did you stay at that speed?
Probably three minutes and then I brought it down a little bit. But it is fun. Those roads are so nice. Have you ever been to Germany?
I actually just spent this past New Year’s Eve in Germany. I will take Dubai over Germany any day!
I’ve been to that airport.
Yeah. We stopped there on this weird route on the way to Japan. We stopped there just to refuel.
It’s a big airport.
Yeah. We were getting ready to skate the World Championships. It was cold in Europe, and it was fairly cold in Japan. Then you get out in Dubai and it’s, like, 80 degrees. I didn’t want to keep going, I didn’t want to move.
What year was this?
This was probably ’86, maybe. Nineteen eighty-six.
Then it was not the Dubai that it is now.
No. Now it’s the place to be.
Do you have a favorite road trip?
Favorite road trip. Oh man, I would say, I think I’d go way back for that one. My parents, my brother and sister and I went out to Yellowstone Park and did the whole Western thing. We had this old camper.
Did it fit on your truck?
Yeah. It was the kind you put on a trailer hitch and pull, so it’s not the kind you’re driving. We went out and did Yellowstone Park and Mt. Rushmore and the whole thing. It’s good memories because my sister passed away later in life. It’s a good one for me to look back and remember her as a child. You know, that’s probably the best one that I remember. And we did some fun ones with some skating friends after the season; we did this a couple times. We’d drive from Milwaukee down to Florida just to kick back and play golf and drink beer and go to the beach. The way down is great, but the way back isn’t.
Yeah, especially if you’re hung over.
Yeah, if you’re cooked. It took, like, 18 hours to get back home, so, those were fun too. Great memories. It really is great to look back on road trips, even though, at the time, you just want to get there. Great fun.
I’m surprised that you didn’t get any speeding tickets on those trips.
Yeah, true. True.
Dan’s story is inspirational, and you don’t get to meet too many Olympic heroes. Meeting one that persevered so long and who worked so hard to accomplish his goal was truly a pleasure for me that I will never forget.
Some cool info…next time you’re watching the Olympics or a speed skating competition, they streamline those competitors so much that they make the skates to fit without socks. Apparently, Dan never lost his need for speed because his pant leg came up during the photograph session and he was wearing loafers with no socksl You can take the man out of the game, but never take his soul out of the sport.