Just over a month ago 14 year-old Derek Kraus was the youngest driver in a Snowball Derby field that contained some of the biggest names in short track racing. In just his first full year in a Super Late Model, the young driver cracked the top 30 in qualifying to guarantee himself a starting spot in the biggest race of the year. Kraus brought home a 24th-place finish, but what was most important was what he learned from the experience.
“To stay confident,” Kraus told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Never give up and it taught me how important qualifying is.”
The 48th annual Snowball Derby capped off a successful inaugural season of Super Late Model racing for the driver from Stratford, Wisconsin. He earned Rookie of the Year honors at State Park Speedway (WI) and picked up his first career Super Late Model win at Marshfield Motor Speedway (WI), just three days before turning 14.
“It was all about learning things like patience on the track, throttle control and the importance of gaining respect for other drivers,” Kraus said.
Kraus has big plans for the 2016 season, kicking off with a trip to SpeedFest 2016 next weekend at Crisp Motorsports Park (GA). He also has plans to run Speedweeks, returning to New Smyrna Speedway where he brought home a sixth-place finish in last year’s Governor’s Cup.
“I’ll run State Park Speedway on Thursdays, ARCA Midwest Tour and specials throughout the Midwest,” said Kraus. “Besides SpeedFest and Speedweeks, possibly the Rattler in Alabama and other races down South when time permits.”
Having time is important to the young driver, who must juggle school and racing. With all the travel to races down south, it makes it more important than ever to balance his time.
“My teachers have been very helpful and supportive,” said Kraus. “Sometimes it is tough getting all my homework done from being gone from school, but I know that school is important too. Between wrestling practice, working on the race car and homework I know that I have to use my time wisely so I am able to do things like snowmobiling, fishing, participating in sports at school and hanging out with my friends.”
Kraus is lucky enough to have a friend and mentor on his racing journey. Over the past few years Kraus and two-time ARCA Midwest Tour champion, Ty Majeski, have become friends, and for Kraus it’s a relationship that helps him grow as a driver.
“Ty has helped me learn how to better explain what is going on with the car on the track,” said Kraus. “During practice runs he will watch me and then we talk them over when it is done. Being a driver himself and knowing my driving style he knows what I am talking about and can suggest different ways to get around the track. Ty is not only a mentor at the track, he is my friend away from the track as well. He understands my passion for the sport of racing that other people can’t.”
While Majeski’s mentorship is important, he is just one piece of a large support puzzle that Kraus relies on.
“I would really like to thank my sponsors, the crew, my family and my supporters. Without them I would not have had the opportunities I have had so far,” said Kraus. “Marilyn Fanetti and Seubert Calf Ranches are my biggest supporters both on and off the track. I appreciate all the time that my crew spends in the shop and at the track that is time away from their families to help me pursue my aspirations. My sister gives up a lot of her stuff to be able to go to the races with me too. She has become a big help on race day and in the shop.”
With an action packed 2016 schedule and a chance to race with and against his mentor more, Kraus says his goals for the season are simple.
“Just continue to be patient and run consistently,” said Kraus.
That will all start next weekend at Watermelon Crisp Speedway when Kraus attempts his first ever SpeedFest event. Fans can watch that race live on Speed51 TV by purchasing a video ticket today.
-By Jana Wimmer, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: @JWimm22
-Photo credit: Bruce Nuttleman/Speed51.com