Q & A: Bud & Tim Kaeding
On growing up Kaeding and being on top of the sprint car game.
Text + Photos: Saroyan Humphrey
Feature | Third-gen sprint car racers, Bud and Tim Kaeding, are in the upstairs conference room at the family’s Kaeding Performance headquarters in Campbell, CA, talking shop. It’s early February and the 2019 sprint car racing season is nearly underway in Northern California. Both Kaedings are among the best sprint car drivers of their generation. Combined, they have nearly 400 victories at speedways from Ohio to Australia. Their father, Brent, and grandfather, Howard, were trailblazers in California short track racing, winning so many state, regional and track championships from the 1950s to the 2000s that it easily surpasses anyone else in the game.
Bud and Tim have continued to further the Kaeding family’s racing legacy. With championship careers that began in 1996, the brothers have expanded the family’s accomplishments to new racing fronts and solidly maintain the Kaeding dynasty in sprint car racing.
While the brothers talk, Tannyn, Tim’s 28-month old son, is playing with a Brent Kaeding number 69 die-cast sprint car on the smooth, oak conference table. Soon, Uncle Bud brings out four carved wooden winged sprinters with rolling wheels for the youngest family member to push around.
Tim has just returned from a month in Australia, where he competed in four races, including the Grand Annual Classic, Australia’s most prestigious sprint car race. Tim was the 2014 winner of the event. This year’s trip Down Under marked the first time that Tim had driven a sprint car since last September when he broke his ankle while riding an ATV.
“It keeps you on your game, that’s the biggest thing,” Tim says of racing during North America’s winter while it’s summer in the southern hemisphere. “On the first night, we qualified decent, put ourselves in the right spot, and ended up winning my first night back in the race car. After four or five months being out, that felt good.”
While both Kaedings started racing sprint cars in ’96, Bud cut his teeth at the long-gone San Jose Fairgrounds and Tim raced regularly in Chico and became one of the track’s winningest sprint car drivers. Both drivers raced throughout Northern California, but their paths soon diverged as Bud began chasing USAC non-wing sprint car dreams in the Midwest in 2000 and Tim became a regular on the World of Outlaws tour in 2003.
Bud, 39, who is about 15 months younger than Tim, works regularly at the Kaeding shop and is preparing for a seventh season in the Williams Motorsports sprint car, an iconic machine at Northern California dirt tracks. As usual, the brothers will be competing in the West Coast’s biggest winged sprint car events during the season and Bud will compete in a handful of non-wing USAC races throughout the state. Meanwhile, Tim has trimmed his racing schedule to about half of what he’s used to running as he plans to spend more family time with his young son. He also plans to compete in a select batch of World of Outlaws events in the Midwest.
Still on top of their game, both drivers continue to collect championships and victories. A few of Bud’s career highlights include: three-time USAC Silver Crown champ; three-time Oval Nationals champ; multi-time Knoxville non-wing sprint car and midget Nationals champion; 2015 Trophy Cup champ and 2017 King of the West Series champion.
Some of Tim’s career highlights include: 21-time World of Outlaw winner, three-time Trophy Cup champ; two-time King of the West Series champion; and two-time Chico track champion.
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Growing up, did you think you might want to try something else besides racing?
Tim: I think we could’ve done anything that we wanted. We were both pretty athletic kids. We played sports with all of our buddies in the neighborhood and we were fairly decent. But racing just held the attraction.
What was it like growing up as third-gen racers?
Bud: When we were kids, before we were racing [quarter midgets], we’d go with my dad to the races and hang out. But after we started racing, I’d say our dad only went to about 20 of our races, [while we were] between the ages of 7 and 15. He was just always gone, racing. My mom’s dad, “Soapbox” (Bob Herman), took us to our races, every weekend, everywhere.
Tim got into micro [sprints] in ’93 and I started in ’94. We ran those for two and three years.
Tim: … and then we stepped into sprint cars in ’96. Bud started at the beginning of the year and I started in April or May of the same year. And here we are, 23 years later.
When I started, I had a $10,000 budget and a bunch of stuff laying around. I went racing with Rick Wright. I was 16 or 17 years old and had fun. I was driving the truck and trailer to the race track, trying to live the dream. We went to Washington in my first year. I probably traveled and was gone a lot more than any kid should’ve been, but made a good time of it. It was just me and a good close friend of mine, Bobby Hoff. He basically grew up with us. He was like our other brother. He was always around, he loved working on the sprint cars and being around it and we took him to the races. It was free help for us.
During the first year we didn’t have the greatest success. I think we finished the one race that we won, or maybe two, during the entire year.
How did you get started in sprint cars, Bud?
Bud: We sold all of the micro stuff and I bought a roller [chassis] from my dad. I had some sponsor help and I got an engine from Dennis Roth. Really, that’s what made it all happen. We just had some small sponsors from here and there.
Alviso Rock has been a sponsor of mine since I started racing sprint cars. George Maciel [Aliviso Rock owner] started racing way back with TJ Winningham, and then with my grandfather for a few years. With us he wanted to go racing more and we put a small program together and ran San Jose Speedway during my first year and started traveling a little more in ’97.
You won the San Jose sprint car championship in your rookie year.
Bud: Yeah, in ’96 I won that, the Lloyd Beard, and the [Johnny] Key race. It was a good start. It was definitely a different time. There wasn’t social media, but it was a great era to be around sprint car racing. It was a lot of fun. Tim helped me a lot when I first started racing my sprint car because he wasn’t running at first and he was just hanging out and helping. And we had a lot of friends from high school that were helping and going to the track. It was a heck of a time. We got our name out there in the newspapers, Speed Sport [News], Racing Wheels, stuff like that. Today, it’s all in your hands [pointing to smart phone].
Tim: It was awesome; I got to watch Bud win the Lloyd Beard and Johnny Key races. The Key was always the iconic race of California that everybody wanted to win. It was 10-15 years later when I won it [in 2015]. And, it wasn’t a 100-lap race like it was. That’s the only disappointing thing about it [for me].
Your grandfather and dad have won that race.
Bud: Yeah; now we’ve all won it.
What was high school like for you guys?
Tim: We both went to Leigh High School. When I was a junior, Bud was a freshman, so I got to pick on him a little bit. We walked to school every day. He had his friends; I had my friends. We didn’t cross paths because I was usually never there. I didn’t get along with my teachers; I wanted to work for a living. I’d do whatever I could and started working, making money. It was a lot easier than sitting in a classroom with teachers pointing at you, telling you what to do.
Bud: I went to vocational, took machine shop for three years. Our teachers sponsored our race cars. So, we could work on race car parts for half a day.
What were you driving in school?
Bud: I drove a 1987 Mazda pickup that my dad won it in a King of California [Sprint Car Series] championship, or something like that.
Tim: I got my license during my senior year. My dad had bought my mom a ’61 Volkswagen and that’s what I drove to school. It was a convertible, about six inches off the ground. I couldn’t park it in the school parking lot because it wouldn’t make it.
Bud: … not having a license didn’t stop you from driving. (laughs)
Tim: No, it didn’t. (laughs) I could take any car I wanted. They just left the keys laying around. I was like, “You guys need a ride to school today? My parents are gone.” I’d take everybody to school, drive back home and then walk back to school.
Do you remember the first time you beat your dad on the track?
Tim: Yeah, the first time was at Placerville in a 410 in 1999, or 2000 [NARC event]. The track had built up a foot and half of curb. I remember, I had chased him around California for years and I just could not get past that hump and when I finally did get to beat him, it was a rush, you know. He’d run second and I got to say, “I finally beat ya!” You don’t even know what to say because it took all the breath away. I tried so hard for so many years. The family rivalry was alive and well. Christmas was a little light that year. (laughs)
Bud: The first time I won a race against my dad, I don’t remember where he ended up, but I raced against Jimmy Sills for about the last eight laps at the Pombo/Sargent race in Hanford. That was pretty cool because Jimmy was a guy that I looked up to during my whole career. I’ve known him since I was a little kid. Beating him [Sills] probably meant more to me than beating anybody else on the race track.
When we were 17 and 18 years old, Sills was at the top of his game in anything he raced, whether it was a winged sprint car, or Silver Crown, or midgets, he won in everything.
Bud, you started driving Indy Lights in ’98?
Bud: I did about five or six ovals—all the ovals [on the schedule]. We had a local guy [Glen Bollenbacher] that was involved with it and he saw some articles that were in the [San Jose] Mercury News [newspaper] about the San Jose Fairgrounds in ’96 and ’97. One day at the shop we got a phone call from this guy who was going to come down and talk with us. Two weeks later, I was testing Indy Light cars. I was 18, and it was cool. I was racing against guys that were on their way: Helio [Castroneves], Tony Renna, Paul Morris, quite a few guys that are still involved with Indy Car.
Did you have some success?
Bud: We sat on the front row at Milwaukee and was racing for second and got on the outside of a guy and we got into each other and spun out. Other than that, we were probably an eighth- to 12th-place car, most races. For me, just being there was success. I had a good time doing it and learned a lot.
So, in ’99, I said maybe we’ll race sprint cars for a couple more years and come back to this [Indy Lights] in a couple years. I was just a kid. So, Glen went sprint car racing with us and he fell in love with it and never looked back at Indy Cars.
You started racing non-wing sprint cars?
Bud: In 2000, we went to Indiana to try to further things back there. We bought a pavement sprint car in ’99 and raced it out here on the West Coast with USAC. We raced it at Irwindale, Madera, Stockton 99 and the next year went to run the national USAC series in Indiana. He didn’t have a big desire to run wing sprint cars. That was the 29 car, BK [Bollenbacher/Kaeding] Motorsports.
We had a lot of success. I couldn’t name a big race that we didn’t win multiple times. It was a heck of a run. It was good, really good. We won Knoxville, Oskaloosa, Eldora, Manzanita, which is one of my favorite tracks, Perris, the Oval Nationals. We won that three times.
But a part of me wishes I’d never made that choice [to stop driving Indy Lights]. I wish I had stuck with it. Who knows? I probably wouldn’t be racing sprint cars for 20 years but…
Tim: …you might have only been racing Indy Cars for five [years].
What kept you from moving up?
Bud: Indy Car or NASCAR was never really in the picture. I had some physical setbacks that kept me from going any further than sprint cars. I crashed at Terre Haute in 2001. I flipped and missed most of the season because I had a lot of vision issues. I detached the retina in my right eye. There was no surgery for it; it was a healing process. It’s something that I still deal with today. I still have a lot of blurred vision and no vision in my right eye. I have peripheral vision, which is good. But as far as seeing forward, I couldn’t pass physicals with NASCAR, or Indy Car to participate. So, those kind of dreams went out the window.
You won three Silver Crown championships; that’s impressive.
Bud: That was all BK Motorsports. My partner, Glen was a perfectionist at everything that he did. He taught me a lot of stuff, not just about racing, but about everything and I carry that into a lot of things today. We also won six USAC championships out here and some other non-USAC championships with Glen.
We left here when I was 20 years old with a couple of my buddies, who were 18 and 22, hit the road and went racing. We won the first Silver Crown championship in ’07, and ’08 and 2010. I think we were second a few times, too. There are three three-time Silver Crown champions: me, Kody Swanson and Jimmy Sills. I remember at the banquet, they asked me what it meant to be a three-time champion, and I said, “Oh, it just means you didn’t make it. Because anybody who’s won one or two is already in NASCAR, or Indy Car now. So, if you’ve won three, you got stuck in Silver Crown.
Tell me about your midget racing experience.
Bud: I went to the Chili Bowl in 1998 and ran for Terry Caves. [At that time] Chili Bowl was three nights long, with 150 cars. Now there’s twice as many cars and it’s five days long. That year I think we missed the show by one [position]. We were running in a transfer spot on our prelim night and got spun out by Tracy Hines. The next year we came back and ran third with Terry Caves again.
I never ran a full time midget program. I ran some pavement stuff here and there and then we’d run the bigger dirt midget races. In 2006, I had a partnership with Jason Leffler for two or three years and we ran a midget out of our shop and we won the midget Knoxville Nationals and ran third at the Belleville Midget Nationals—two pretty big races. I’m proud to be a part of those.
It seems like you would drive anything you could, as long as you had a shot to be competitive.
Bud: Yeah, it didn’t matter. I ran a dirt late model a couple of times. That was pretty wild. I went to this place called Wheel, Tenn. It was an experience. In the drivers meeting, they told us one of the rules is, you can’t wear sandals in the car, and no more firearms in your car. And they told the mini-stock guys, you need to drink less before the races. Not no more drinking; just drink less. (laughs) It was pretty wild: Rubber Ducky Speedway in Wheel, Tenn.
How did you end up there?
Bud: A guy that my dad had bought a trailer from, they owned a late model and asked me to come out and run it, while I was there [living in Indiana]. We weren’t very good in it, but it was a lot of fun. It was smaller than Watsonville, just a little place. I crashed the leader as he was lapping me. He wasn’t too happy with me after the race.
Was he armed?
Bud: He obviously didn’t have anything in his car that night. (laughs)
Was that your only time in a stock car?
Bud: In a dirt late model, it was. I ran some hot laps in Larry London’s dirt modified at Hanford one night. That was pretty cool.
You’ve been driving for the Williams team for a while. How’s that going?
Bud: This is my sixth year. They’re good people; they take good care of me. Good team, I couldn’t ask for anything better at this point.
I’ve raced for probably four teams during my whole career. I try to stay where I’m at most of the time. When I raced in the Midwest, Glen financed and put everything on the road for me. When he got out of it, all my stuff back there [in the Midwest] kinda dried up. So, I just came back here and worked at the shop and ran my own deal here, off and on, as much as I could afford to do it. Then started racing for Morrie and Katie six years ago. It’s been good because I couldn’t really afford to do it on my own anymore. The sport’s gotten so expensive and cost gets driven up all the time.
Do you like having your brother here in California a little more regularly these days?
Bud: Fans like seeing him back out here, which is good. It just raises the competition level and it raises your drive to be better, you know. So yeah, I enjoy having him back out here.
Do you guys race each other harder?
Tim: I know I do. We’re brothers but we’re competitors at the same time. You wanna win every night that you go on the race track and it doesn’t matter who, what, where or why.
Like, I remember the first time that he won in a wing car at Calistoga, we’d been running the top the whole race. We were fast, going away and there was a restart, and the crew chief told me to go to the bottom of the race track. Well, I went to the bottom and Bud drove right around me and ended up winning. I remember walking through the pits and looking at the guy and saying, “Don’t ever give me signals again. Don’t tell me what to do!”
But I know whenever I see him [Bud], I want to beat him. Anytime I get on the race track.
Bud: With him and my dad, I’ve always said, I don’t want to beat anybody else more, but if somebody else is going to win, I want it to be one of those two.
Tim, your first Outlaw win was beating Sammy Swindell. How do you remember that?
Tim: That was up at Chico in 1999 or 2000. I started on the front row, next to him. I messed up a little bit and he drove by me and then he did the same thing. He had 10 billion more laps than I’d ever even thought about having in a sprint car at that point. It was a good race. I never left the bottom. I cruised around and he kept trying and trying and trying. I was very emotional, I know that. I’d only been in a car for two or three years, and to beat the Outlaws was special. I was driving for Duke and Scotty McMillan.
The only other time that was comparable [to that experience] was running second to Steve Kinser in Gold Cup [at Chico in 2002]. Steve walked over to me after the race and congratulated me for running second. And I was like, “But you won…!” And he said, “I heard you the whole time. I could hear you back there, wide open and not giving up.”
[In 2006] when I drove for Steve, that was one of the biggest things that he always brought up. He remembered that night. He said, “You never gave up. You kept trying.”
How did the Outlaw opportunity first get started?
Tim: It started with Dennis and Theresa Roth in 2003. I’ve never run a full season with the Outlaws. I’ve run 50 to 60% of the races. In 2004, we started with them out here on the West Coast and I think we traveled to the Midwest about three or four times during the year and just traveled and raced.
I always remember it because we won on a short track, and a week later, I think it was Haubstadt, Ind., we won, and everybody said, “Oh, you’re just a short track guy, you’re never going to be able to win on a half mile…” Up to that point, I really didn’t have much half-mile experience, you know, I’d been California racing. So, we go to Oklahoma State Fairgrounds [a half mile] and I chased Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz around and ended up beating ’em. Just throwing Hail Marys and praying. It was not a fun race track to run on.
From there on out, I think for 10 years or something, I drove for Roth. Starting on the West Coast, tinker around, and go out there and have fun. It gave me a lot of exposure, taught me a lot about the aspects of racing that are so different from the West Coast to the east. We’ve had success at some of the biggest races throughout the years. We’ve won prelim nights at Knoxville Nationals, we’ve run top-five at Knoxville Nationals.
Dennis and Theresa have stood behind me 100% and still do. They’ll still give me an opportunity here and there. But they’re committed to other people now and I have my own thing.
You drove for the Kinsers, too. Was that a lot of pressure?
Tim: That was an awesome experience. It was pretty low key but I felt like I had some big shoes to fill. Steve was as laid back as can be. I think we won 15 out of 55 shows with them. That was a once-in-a-lifetime deal for anybody in the sport of sprint car racing, to say they’ve driven for an icon.
I remember Steve called me on a Friday night and they were having a going-away party [at his shop] for one of his employees. I thought somebody was messing with me. I was living back in Indianapolis at the time. I said, “This is not Steve Kinser; this is bull….” We’d been drinking, too. It was a Friday night in the middle of winter, freezing cold. I’ll never forget it.
We did it for a little over a year. Kraig [Kinser] was coming back and we just couldn’t find the financial backing to keep it on the road. It was definitely a moneymaker that year. My helmet is still here [at the Kaeding shop]. My fire suit is still at home and the 11K wing panel is on the wall here. I had Steve and everybody that worked on the car sign it. I’ve had people offer me $2,000 for that side panel and I just laugh at ’em.
Who were some of your heroes while you were growing up?
Tim: I don’t know; I watched everybody. I wasn’t a kid who truly had a favorite. I watched what the guy did who put on the show.
I liked what Jack Hewitt did. He ran anything and everything and did well. My dad, my grandpa. The pioneers of the sport were the ones that were wide open all the time. The ones that did things in a race car that you’d never seen before: Jac Haudenschild, Steve Kinser, Sammy [Swindell].
Do you have a favorite Howard story?
Tim: He always said, “Sit in your race car for an hour and a half and get comfortable because you never know how long you’re going to be in it.” That was the one thing he always told us about fitting seats in the car, and that’s the one that’s always stuck with me. [He said,] “It’ll help you down the road.” He came from 100-lap races and we run 30 lap races but I understood what he meant.
Bud: I can’t say there’s ever been any bad advice that he’s ever given. I hear it all of the time because I’m here [at the shop] all of the time. It’s hard not to get good knowledge from someone who was around before TVs. When you think about a guy like him, what he’s seen in his lifetime.
Are you looking forward to 2019? What are your plans?
Tim: Yeah, my schedule will be something like 60-plus races. I got 20 to 30 [World of Outlaw] shows with Jason Sides. We’ll be starting in Las Vegas. He offered to do a full Outlaw tour [with me] but I didn’t really want to do it. It would have been an opportunity of a lifetime, but you’re gone for 200-something days and it just wears on you, the grind, up and down the road. But we’re going to do quite a few races. We’ll do Knoxville Nationals again with them. We actually ran fifth last year at Knoxville. We’re going to try and do Kings Royal, the big-money Outlaw shows.
Last year, I think we ran 15 shows with them and I think our worst finish was a seventh. We’re going to run the Josh Bates 42x car here [in California] for the SCCT [Sprint Car Challenge Tour] championship and a lot of the big 360 shows on the West Coast. It’s an awesome opportunity to still be involved in racing as much as we are. And being competitive is the only reason that I’m still doing it.
But my biggest thing right now is hanging out with my little guy [son, Tannyn] and when I do have a weekend off, I want to have time with him and have fun. He’s the biggest reason why I quit traveling. I didn’t want him to grow up without his dad around, and I wanted him to grow up around racing because of the camaraderie and family that we have when we’re at the track. I wanted to be home.
I traveled for 15 years and it kicks your butt, week in and week out, living out of a suitcase. Trust me, you have great times, but then you just realize it’s not as fun as it used to be. I’m a lot older now and I want to be home and be with family and goof off here.
Bud: We’re going to run the King of the West Series, West Coast World of Outlaw shows and select 360 races. I’ve never won an Outlaw race. I think I’ve been second and third. I’d like to win one before I’m not doing this anymore.
Tim: More than anything it’s about still being competitive in a sport that nowadays has a lot of youth. I’m not saying we’re old but we’re watching what these kids are doing now and they’re doing in their teens what we were doing in our 20s. We weren’t allowed to race until we were 16 or 18 years old and today they start [driving sprint cars] at 14 or 15.
Do you guys do much together as family?
Bud: Not enough. We’re busy. He goes golfing; I go to Disneyland. (laughs)