Deven VanHouse might be a slightly unconventional rookie. The Silver Bay-based racer celebrated his 17th racing season with recognition as Wissota Late Model National Rookie of the Year.

"It was a big accomplishment. It was a lot of time away from my family. I’ve got a wife and two kids and they were very supportive throughout the whole time," VanHouse said.

VanHouse's racing number has been 17 since he was a hockey player at Silver Bay's William Kelley High School, so he knew he wanted to do something special to mark this year. He decided to switch into a different model class and by early June, he noticed he was seeing some good results on the racetrack.

"I had some good results early in the season, so I looked at who the other rookies are and who was going for it," VanHouse said. "There was a kid in Winnipeg, Manitoba, who was way up there in the national points. But his finishes weren’t as good as mine, he just had way more races than me. So I decided I need to start racing more."

VanHouse usually races two to three days a week during the season, but he stepped it up to four race days a week.

"We'd have Thursdays in Grand Rapids, Fridays in Superior, Saturdays in Hibbing and Sundays in Proctor," VanHouse said. "We actually have a pretty good set-up because I don't have to travel more than two and a half hours to race."

Nevertheless, VanHouse also traveled a bit further, as he wanted to race against his casual rival, Ryan Kereluk in Manitoba.

"I really wanted to go head to head against him. And I did beat him twice, so that was pretty cool," VanHouse said.

The racing association counts a racer's top 30 finishes. VanHouse ran 42 races, the most he'd ever done in one year.

"And I had eight feature wins, 11 heat-race wins and 24 top-five finishes," VanHouse said. "So I was sitting pretty well by the end."

VanHouse ended the season with 3,044 points, earning him the fourth top slot nationally along with the top rookie spot. VanHouse credits his time off the track as helping him win on the track.

"A lot of the races are won in the shop. It’s half the battle right there," VanHouse said. "It’s not just the racing — it’s the preparation for it. People maybe don't see that. I spend a lot of late nights at the shop working on the cars. It’s the preventative maintenance side of it. You have to have a good maintenance program or you won’t be able to finish races."

He also credits his wife, Amy, parents, children and other family members, friends and fans for helping him push through and he encourages "people to get out and catch a race this summer."