For Ball State student and NewsLink Indiana news anchor, Bille Lehmann leads a double life. By day, he’s a reporter and a student, while on the weekends, he’s a Legends race car driver for Johnson Racing.
Lehmann said he has been around the racetrack, since he was six-months-old.
“It’s a part of my life now,” Lehmann said. “There’s a saying in racing, ‘Once it gets into your blood, it doesn’t leave.’ I firmly believe that. I have learned a lot throughout my life doing it. I think one big life lesson that it kind of taught me was you have to mature a lot faster.”
As he began driving at 14-years-old, Lehmann grasped onto learning about his car pretty quickly. Bob Schneider, a race car mentor for Lehmann, said Lehmann learned how to fix his car to go as fast as possible.
“You’re constantly changing the car to the conditions you’re racing on,” Schneider said. “As a driver, to be complete, you have to be able to take what you can and feel it in your arms to the seat of your pants and put that on the car to make it fast. That’s the toughest thing for any racer, Bille included, to learn what the car needs to go faster. And he learned it.”
At just 14-years-old, Lehmann learned how to drive race cars before he even earned his drivers’ license. And even now, at 21-years-old, his mother is still nervous when he races.
“For my mom, it takes a lot of courage to let your 14-year-old kid get strapped into a racecar,” Lehmann said. “I don’t get to see her because I’m racing, but from what people told me, she’s always pacing when I’m on the track and she’s nervous every time. She’s always there cheering and supporting me, but she’s always nervous.”
In Legends car racing, Lehmann races against 20 other drivers, who vary in age The youngest he races against is 14-years-old, while the oldest driver — Nelson Stewart, NASCAR driver Tony Stewart’s father — is 79-years-old.
Schneider said he remembers a race in 2012 when Nelson rammed Lehmann in the back.
“Bille was running pretty well and broke his fender off the back,” Schneider said. “Nelson comes up to me after the race and said, ‘I’m going to buy you a new fender for the car, because I did that. I’m sorry I ruined your night.’ And I said to Nelson, ‘Nelson, we’re not worried about a damn fender. We’re worried about getting tires for Nationals coming up.
“Two minutes later, he came over and handed me a brand new tire. I said, ‘We can’t take this.’ He said, ‘You’re taking it.’” And I said, ‘Wow thanks a lot.’ It really helped him because we had a fresh tire on the car.”
During that same year, Lehmann finished third place at Nationals in the Young Lions Division, which is for racers 14-18-years-old. Then, Lehmann moved up to the Pro Division. Lehmann said Pro Division racing has taught him to be consistent with his driving.
Lehmann was picked up by Johnson Racing in the summer of 2016. Joey Johnson, owner of Johnson Racing, said Lehmann is a great addition to the team.
“He brings a new way of looking at racing,” Johnson said. “We try and keep him as little hands-on as possible. We let him focus on his driving and he brings a family-atmosphere to our team.”
This racing season which began on April 28, Lehmann is driving full-time for Johnson Racing and also sponsoring Life of Hope Project. The Life of Hope Project is a suicide prevention non-profit organization in Wisconsin.
“I’ll be running their name on my car and they’ll also be receiving a portion of my winnings from each race to go towards their mission of preventing mental illness,” Lehmann said. “Because with giving back, I have a lot of awesome sponsors that make it possible for me to race. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s a costly sport.
“I’m very passionate about mental health and suicide prevention. Very excited to be able to partner with them. I will be speaking at one of their events later this year and have them at the track. This is one way that I’m giving back to the community.”
Lehmann is currently in fourth place in the Legends racing division. Lehmann’s next race is June 2 at Beaver Dam Raceway in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.