Kern County Raceway in Bakersfield, California may have been built with Derek Kraus in mind. The 17-year-old Stratford, Wisconsin high school student has won the last three NASCAR K&N Pro Series West events at the high speed, half-mile tri-oval. Kraus will return to Bakersfield on February 1-2 to participate in the $30,000-to-win 5th Annual Winter Showdown. The event boasts a total purse of over $150,000, making it the richest asphalt Super Late Model race in the country.
Kraus participated in last year’s Winter Showdown and qualified 21st before racing into the top 10 and finishing sixth after 300 laps of competition. That first voyage to the Showdown came in 2018 after a conversation with his father, a former racer himself, Mark Kraus. The conversation resulted in a two-car tandem heading from Wisconsin to California.
Kraus’ second Showdown attempt was made more certain after his experience one year ago, his prior success at the facility, and his enjoyment of racing at the top-notch venue.
“Last year’s Showdown was a very fun race,” Kraus said. “The race was really clean, which is always good. And I really like how long the distance is. I’ve always enjoyed Kern from day one, when I got to test there with BMR (Bill McAnally Racing). Ever since then, I really liked the race track because of how fast, smooth and how much grip it has.”
Kraus has made a name for himself in Super Late Models in Wisconsin, as well as on the west coast in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. Kraus finished third in his Rookie-of-the-Year effort for BMR in 2017 and fourth in 2018. He amassed five wins in those two seasons, four of which occurred this past year. Kraus has also found success in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, with five top-five finishes in only seven career starts.
In his Super Late Model, Kraus scored a victory at Dells Raceway Park (WI) during his ARCA Midwest Tour Series rookie season in 2016. In doing so, he became the youngest driver to win in the history of that series. Previously, Kraus was the Super Late Model Rookie of the Year at State Park Speedway (WI) in 2015, the same year he captured the championship in the Midwest Truck Series.
At the conclusion of the 2018 season, Kraus made his first start in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series for BMR. He immediately turned heads by qualifying eighth at ISM Speedway (AZ). He followed it up with an eighth-place run in the race to show his true potential behind the wheel of a NASCAR Truck. Those races, as well as a race victory at Kern County Raceway against a well-known “Cup” series driver, are two of Kraus’ career highlights to date.
“I would say the the two races that really highlight my career so far is first; the win I had at Kern County Raceway racing against Kevin Harvick in the West race and then the Phoenix Truck race, which was really fun too.”
Kraus’ feels the laps he has turned and the success he has had in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series at Kern County Raceway will help him at the Winter Showdown, in terms of familiarity with the track. But his main challenge will be finding speed in the lighter Super Late Models that are featured at the Showdown.
“The biggest challenge will be getting the car fast,” Kraus estimated. “Pretty much everyone that is there has been there all year with the Super Late Model, so they have a really solid baseline, where I feel like we have a good baseline from last year. But there is nothing like racing there more than once a year with the car that they are racing at the Showdown. But I was there twice last year with the K&N car, so that will help.”
Kraus will be bringing his family-owned Super Late Model with sponsorship from Napa Filters, B&K Trucking, Fanetti Inc. and R&J 23 Hour Towing. With a $30,000 winner’s check and $3,000 to start on the line, Kraus knows the competition will be stiff. But with a track seemingly tailored to his diving style, Kraus is confident that he will be a driver to be reckoned with.
-Story by: Kevin Peters / SRL
-Photo credit: Speed51.com