Pursuing Life's Passions
Car racing and real estate
When Bill Hansen talks about “red eye,” he doesn’t mean an overnight flight from Minneapolis to the West Coast—although he has flown many such flights as a commercial airline pilot.
He means what happens when the blood vessels in your eyes burst after you land upside down in the race car you’ve been driving at unearthly speeds. Hansen knows this because he has in fact landed like that. Broken retinal vessels are only one of the traumas he has sustained since his first rollover at age 19.
an entrepreneur. I just make stuff
Racing has been Hansen’s passion since high school in Lake Stevens, a logging town near Edmonds, Washington. He bought his first stock car in 1959, not long after graduating. He was good enough to win some races, but he had to work in the mills to make ends meet; racing wasn’t going to pay the bills. For that, he figured he’d need to go to college.
Ultimately, however, job insecurity became the obstacle to flying. Hansen had moved to Minnesota to fly for Northwest Airlines when a series of airline strikes made him rethink his vocation again. Now, Hansen—the man whose energy had always been kindled when he got behind a wheel—decided to go to law school. He enrolled in the University of Minnesota, graduated with a psychology major, got a degree from William Mitchell College of Law, and passed the bar. Both a stellar student and a tireless worker, he graduated near the top of his law-school class while flying nights between Minneapolis and the West Coast.
By this time, he was married with two children. His zest for racing persisted, but he was having second thoughts about a law practice. So, to feed both his passion and his family, he bought two things in one week: a brownstone apartment building in Minneapolis and an open-wheel race car.
He continued to race for years, until the day he finished second and hit reality at the Reno Indycar Grand Prix. “I pulled up to the podium, and I was too tired to get out of the car,” he laughs. “I knew then I couldn’t go much further.” It was his finale as an independent driver.
Now, he would invest his entrepreneurial energy in three ventures: a property management business to generate income; a race car company to feed his passion; and a juvenile-diabetes foundation to help kids like his son Todd, diagnosed with the disease as an infant.
The property management business, begun with the purchase of that first brownstone, became Copenhagen Enterprises, which grew into a successful chain of Twin Cities apartment buildings—thanks in large measure to his business partner and wife, Diane. “There is no way I could have been as successful without her input and support,” says Hansen emphatically.
The race car company, Hansen MotorSports, was launched when Todd took the mantle as family driver. Todd—“a better driver than I could ever hope to be,” says Hansen—became a successful professional competitor.
And with Todd as an inspiration, his foundation—Juvenile Diabetes No Limits—grew out of a zeal to encourage kids with diabetes to pursue their dreams.
For Hansen, life has been about pursuing his passion. And what would he do if he had to do it over again? Somehow, his answer isn’t a surprise.
“I really would have loved to run submarines,” he says.
“My first time in a race car I knew it’s what I wanted. I never felt any fear. Once you get the engine started…boom!”
“My tombstone would say, ‘Here lies Bill Hansen. He had a good time.’”
“I don’t really consider myself an entrepreneur. I just make stuff happen.”