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Luyendyk hoping to get back on track

Arie Luyendyk Jr. was ready to give up on racing.

He had raised enough money to mount a run in the 2011 season-ending Las Vegas Indy Car 300. But there wasn't enough cash to make it worthwhile, considering one wreck in practice would have ended his operation.

So he passed.

Then, his friend and IndyCar racing legend Dan Wheldon died in a horrific 15-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16 that continues to reverberate throughout the sport.

Luyendyk had just turned 30, and it was time to decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

"Dan Wheldon had passed away and there I am, trying to raise enough money to keep racing and risking my life. I could have been in that race," he told Playbook on Friday. "I've raced with Tony Renna, Paul Dana -- who passed away -- and it never really affected me. I don't know what it was. I knew Dan and he gave me some good advice when I was racing. Everyone who knew Dan felt close to him by the way he engaged everyone. I didn't know if I was getting old, but I asked myself: 'Do I want to spend my whole life scrounging for sponsors?' "

That was about the time he received an offer to be a contestant on ABC's "The Bachelorette." The rest is reality-show history.

"Going on that show was good for me in a lot of ways," he said. "It gave me time to reflect on a lot of things, sort out some things and helped me regain my motivation and focus."

After his admittedly heartbreaking second-place finish on "The Bachelorette" (losing Emily Maynard’s heart to Jef Holm) and a guest appearance on "The Bachelor," Luyendyk, who lives outside Phoenix, has found his way back behind the wheel as a driver in Robby Gordon's Stadium Super Truck series. It features 12 off-road, two-day stadium stops starting on April 5 at Glendale, Ariz. The trucks will have identical 600-horsepower engines, 20-inch wheels, chassis and body frames.

Luyendyk is crowd-funding his ride, selling spots on his car and helmet for fans to post their photographs via indiegogo.com.

His initial goal was $400,000, but several unnamed corporate sponsors have lowered that figure to $50,000. He was about $39,000 shy of that number as of Monday, and the online funding site closes on March 3.

Luyendyk blogs about "The Bachelor" for Hollywood.com, posts a weekly video blog about the show and has 132,000-plus Twitter followers, the vast majority of which are a result of his reality-show fame.

He's trying to leverage that fame in order to finance his truck, turning the often unpleasant task of funding into something that’s enjoyable.

"It's 100 percent women, 100 percent fans of the show, that's been really cool," he said of his online financial backers. "I haven't reached out to former associates or sponsors. These are completely new fans. These people know nothing about racing and they're getting a taste and loving it."

Luyendyk is the son of two-time Indy 500 champ Arie Luyendyk and has been racing competitively for more than a decade, most notably on the Indy Lights series. His career hit a major pothole when a sponsorship deal featuring stock options collapsed in 2008. "It left me in personal and professional difficulty," he said.

Luyendyk's racing goal remains unchanged -- to return to the Indianapolis 500. He finished 28th at Indy in 2006, completing just 54 laps of 200 laps. He believes racing a truck in the SST series is a "good first step," even though he's always raced on asphalt and has only driven these trucks for a grand total of about 60 minutes.

"You're leading with an ever-changing track, jumping a truck in the air. This is a completely different side of racing, driving through aggression. You have to make sure you're lined up and don't over jump. The track is really narrow," he said. "But after going through the first turn at Indy at full speed, you have the courage to do anything."

Racing these trucks and getting his fans involved through crowd-funding the ride are just a couple of ways Luyendyk, who is very active on social media, hopes he can go back to being recognized first and foremost as a race car driver.

"It's a great way for fans to interact with me. There are people who want to see me succeed at something besides wooing Emily," he said. "If the last time you see me on TV is driving a race, I'll be happy."

Seven SST races will be televised on NBC or NBC Sports Network, starting with a broadcast of the first race on April 14.