by Mike Adaskaveg
Sprint car driver Tim Kaeding considers himself close to being a real “outlaw” racer. He’s never run a full season at any track or a whole season with any organized group of racers. He’s even an “outlaw” to the renowned “World of Outlaws” touring group.
When he races at Merced Speedway on March 29 and Antioch Speedway on April 5, Kaeding, from San Jose, will be one of a handful of drivers representing California as he battles a field of the fastest, most experienced dirt track drivers in the country.
“I jump around, racing in the big shows, wherever they are,” the 34-year-old driver explains. “That’s what an outlaw racer is.”
Yet, he won enough feature events to be champion of the King of the West sprint car series two seasons ago.
His life is like the lives of the surfers in “Endless Summer”. He’s forever searching for that perfect sprint car race.
But for Kaeding, there’s no ‘should have been here yesterday.’ More often than not, he’s there and he’s riding out front.
Kaeding just finished the season down under – racing 24 events in Australia, wining three, not finishing in three, but crossing the finish line in the top ten for the remaining 18 features.
He won his last big event halfway around the world last Tuesday. The next day, he landed in Las Vegas, jumped into the sprint car he drives in the States, and won his first World of Outlaws event of the new year.
Kaeding went from autumn to spring in a day. The dawning of a new season would mean an 80-race schedule ahead of him. The Merced race is just two weeks down the road – an early stop on a long journey.
“I’ve had good runs at Merced,” Kaeding says. “Finishing second to a legend like Sammy Swindell in the first race ever at Merced two years ago was great.”
Kaeding has won 10 World of Outlaw races, which is an accomplishment for a driver who does not compete in every event. He’s usually taking the role of the spoiler – the young guy or the local guy who steals one away from the seasoned veterans on the circuit.
“Guys like Swindell, Donny Schatz and Steve Kinser know all the ins and outs,” he explains. “They make it tough to win. They are like magicians – you never know what they are going to pull out of their hat.”
When the World of Outlaws rides into town, a scene out of a western movie develops. Fans come out to see the locals fending off the Outlaws – a battle waged at over 100 miles per hour on a clay oval. It’s community pride that is on the line whether you’re in Pennsylvania, Canada, or California. Last September, Kaeding chalked up one for the locals, fending off the invaders to win at Antioch Speedway.
“The fans and sponsors of the local cars are there to see how their drivers size up to the World of Outlaw drivers,” Kaeding says. “The World of Outlaw drivers are the center of the sprint car universe. Any one driver in their group can win on any given night. It brings out the fiercest competition from the locals, who want to show they are just as good as the Outlaws.”
Kaeding’s jumps into the fray everywhere he goes. In some places he’s neither the good guy nor the bad guy. He’s the surprise the others didn’t count on.
“Everybody loves you when you’re trying hard,” he reasons. “When you start winning a lot, they love to hate you. California is my home, it’s where I grew up. So, when I’m here I have a big following. When I’m in the Midwest or East I’m another outsider. I get in the car and drive like I’m supposed to – trying to win against the locals and the veterans.”
He sees places like the Ohio-Pennsylvania sprint car scene the toughest on the circuit.
“Out there you have 40 great local drivers, plus the Outlaws, trying for a spot in a 24 car feature,” he says. “It’s been my Achilles’ heel.”
Back at Merced Speedway, Kaeding will be driving a car owned by Dennis and Teresa Roth of Easton. They have three sprint cars. Kaeding will be behind the wheel of the No. 83 and Kyle Hirst of Sacramento will drive the No. 83jr. The third car is a spare, or can be raced by a driver chosen by the Roths for the event.
“Racing at tracks like Merced Speedways require a learning curve,” he adds. “Every track is different, but Merced is a true “short track”. The track is the same for everyone racing on it. How you adapt your driving style to the track will determine how much better you are than your competition.”
MERCED SPEEDWAY NOTES – Advanced reserved tickets are on sale through the World of Outlaws website: woosprint.com. The Outlaws invade Merced Speedway on Friday, March 29. Along with the Outlaws will be a full program of IMCA modified stock car racing. General admission tickets will be available at the gate after 3 p.m. on race day. Merced Speedway is located at 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced.