Moving Day finally became a reality fall 2013 for Lex and Gerda Joon, and they had to tackle a garage full of Top Fuel equipment in addition to their personal belongings and their dog, Cha Cha — all for a 4,000-mile, cross-Atlantic journey from The Netherlands to the United States. If Dutch Top Fuel racer Lex Joon and wife and team manager Gerda thought their paperwork process to move to the United States was complicated, it paled against the administrative abyss they encountered once they arrived in the USA.
Before they could leave Zaandam, The Netherlands, they had to apply for green cards (filing as “aliens of extraordinary ability”). They were approved, but then they learned that the U.S. Immigration Service didn’t recognize their “registered partnership.” So February 8, 2013, while America’s top drag racers were heading to Pomona for the Winternationals, they dashed to their city hall and were married. That certificate had to go through the U.S. Embassy at Amsterdam. Then they had more forms to fill out and requirements to meet, including physicals and fingerprinting and taking an oath of allegiance. Eventually they re-entered America at Chicago April 15 2013 and received their green cards May 13 2013, Gerda’s birthday. Their move was complete in October 2013.
But Lex, the 2005 FIA European Top Fuel champion and 2007 and 2008 runner-up, wasn’t quite ready to roll out his dragster at the 2013 Winternationals, either. He just was recovering from the winter storms that socked his new home of Brownsburg, Ind., and from the latest U.S. federal government shutdown. And he is experiencing the same American Dream millions of Americans are – the one that takes 1,000 times harder effort and requires 1,000 times the patience originally figured.
“Our start was difficult,” Lex Joon said, “because we had to deal with the government shutdown. Our Social Security numbers couldn’t be issued, which implied we couldn’t do anything. We were not able to get electricity or gas. Our car could not be registered. No phone, internet or television, no insurance, driver’s license or company that could hire us. “We are very lucky to have a couple of good friends in Brownsburg that helped us out big-time,” he said.
“After the shutdown was stopped,” Joon said, “we managed to get our life streamlined. We received our Social Security numbers, which made it possible to apply for all the necessary things that belong to living in Brownsburg USA.”
He said he’s still working on finding that primary partner for his Top Fuel car: “We are getting closer to our ultimate goal, but at the same time it is so far away.”
And he reached one pragmatic conclusion: “In the mean time we have to make a living.” So he and Gerda are caught in the grind of the workaday world away from racing.
“It’s some kind of amusing — I was actually a specialist in American cars when I had my shop in Europe,” Joon said. “But we also handled the common European cars, which helps me now. Gerda is working for Advanced Auto and has started a mail-order service for people in Europe. Most American companies are not able to send their products outside the USA. Customers in Europe can order their products in the USA and they send it to our office in Brownsburg, from where we send it to the client in Europe.”
He’s ready to forget the deep freeze that paralyzed the Indianapolis area and much of the Eastern U.S. during the winter of 2019 and is enjoying the summer and racing. “It’s actually pretty funny to see what’s going on with the weather,” Joon said. “Here in Brownsburg we have to deal with records set with most snowfall and cold temperatures, where in The Netherlands they set high-temp records.”He is setting records for his effort to join the National Hot Rod Association’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour as soon as possible. Hearkening back to his eight-year stretch (1995-2002) as a Top Methanol Funny Car driver throughout Europe, he said he’s willing to drive a Funny Car. In whichever nitro class Joon begins his full-time U.S. career (as a permanent resident), he knows acquiring the right marketing partner will be a tough task.
“Our plans for the future are to start racing NHRA Top Fuel or Funny Car. We would love to do the full tour, but we wouldn’t mind to start with a limited schedule, because this will mean we at least can make a start with our dream being part of NHRA drag racing in the USA,” he said.
Moving to Brownsburg, Ind., was no easy move for Lex and Gerda Joon. They’re still working exhaustive hours to make their on-the-track American Dream come true. But at least they’re here in the U.S., settled into Brownsburg, Ind., from their hometown of Zaandam, The Netherlands.”We are working 24/7 to get our team program sold to Corporate America,” he said. “It’s general knowledge that selling your program is one of the most difficult tasks there are. When teams like [Don] Schumacher [Racing] and [John] Force [Racing] have no visible results adding sponsors and some of their cars are funded from out their own pockets, it’s obvious we have a huge challenge on our hands. “But I’m a strong believer we can make a difference. That’s why we are here,” Joon said.
“The question pops up why we don’t try to get European companies interested for our program. Be assured, we are working to get them onboard,” he said. “The problem we find is that most European companies don’t know about drag racing whatsoever. A plan to school them about drag racing has been made and is used to get them interested to be a partner in NHRA drag racing.” Said Joon, “We are proud to have associate partners lined up who are eager to start working with us as soon as we start racing. But drag racing in its present feature needs more. We need a major business partner that can supply the funding to be competitive, something we are able to do with the commitment from a championship-winning crew chief-tuner who is attracted to work with us because we think from the heart and with the passion that made the sport what it is today.”
That passion is what his and Gerda’s friends back home are puzzled about. They don’t quite understand why drag racing is the magnet that pulled them so far away from home, from all the things that are so familiar and safe. Some of them think he might have bumped his head and become a bit addle-brained.
“Our passion for the sport is what made us do what we did, moving 4,000 miles with our dog, Cha Cha, and a 40-foot container filled with personal belongings and our race program,” Joon said. Only half-joking, he added, “Most people who are familiar with drag racing ask if we are hit by a rock, causing the decision we made, leaving everything behind, chasing our dream.” His European friends can’t understand, either, why he and Gerda chose the Midwest for their new home.
“We decided to reside in Brownsburg, the place where most drag-race teams have their shops. It’s from a travel point of view, a central place in the USA. For Gerda and me, it was an easy decision to move to Brownsburg,” Joon said. “Our family and friends don’t understand why we choose to live in Indiana. For them, California or Florida are places to move to.”
He can warm up to the cold winters if it means some hot passes down the dragstrip soon – or at least being in the mix when the 24-race schedule kicks off.
He has a plan for staying involved until his own team is ready to debut. “In the meantime, we also work for the existing race teams,” he said, reminding that Gerda knows how to work on these highly specialized machines. “This allows us to stay in the swing of things. We know we are valuable for any of the race teams out there, because we are used to running our own championship-winning team under more difficult circumstances than here in the USA. We know what it takes to be successful as a team owner, crew chief and driver. “And when we find a major partner, it can be of a benefit for the partner and for the team we work for to keep working together,” Joon said.
Together with their dog Cha Cha the Joons have survived a 4,000-mile, cross-Atlantic uprooting, as well as a blizzard and a blizzard of paperwork, just to experience that American Dream in all its back-breaking glory. Surely they can tackle anything a racetrack throws at them.