Never too young: Stratford 14-year-old Derek Kraus turns heads in super late model
By Bert Lehman
Special for Hub City Times
Derek Kraus was introduced to the local racing scene through his father, Mark, who had raced dirt late models and asphalt super late models in the past.
“I raced, so he was at the race track right away when he was a baby,” Mark Kraus said. “As I raced, he enjoyed it. I took him to GSR (Kartway) one night just to watch. He knew how much money it was, and I said, ‘If we’re going to do this, you have to want to do this,’ but he wanted to do this.”
Kathy Kraus, Derek’s mother, added, “I took Derek to the races to watch Mark as much as I possibly could. He enjoyed it. He was the little boy that sat there and watched every lap of every race.”
Derek, who is from Stratford, said he won a heat race his second night racing a go-kart when he was 7 years old.
“That’s when I really started liking it,” Derek said. “After that I just kept racing.”
Three years after racing a go-kart, Derek moved up to the Bandelero division at State Park Speedway in Wausau.
“It (Bandelero division) just started up here when we were coming out of go-karts,” Mark said. “That was the next step. There really wasn’t anything else. There were quarter midgets, but they were so far away.”
Mark said he would not allow Derek to move up a division unless he won the points championship in his current division. Two Bandelero championships later, Kraus made the move to the Midwest Truck Series when he was 12.
“He had to start in the back, and he finished third,” Mark said. “When he was 13 he ran the full season and won seven truck races.”
Derek’s first Midwest Truck Series race win came at Dells Raceway Park.
“I was pretty excited to win my first truck race there, and to know I was the youngest one ever to win there in a full-size car was pretty cool,” Derek said.
Now 14 years old, Derek races an asphalt super late model.
“It’s the next step in racing, and that’s what I want to do,” Derek said.
The first time Derek raced a super late model was at the half-mile New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Derek said that he was nervous but that his experience in the Midwest Truck Series reassured him he could handle the super late model.
“You have to have way more control of the car,” Derek said. “It’s way snappier than a truck with all the horsepower.”
Kathy admitted she was nervous too the first time Derek raced a super late model.
“But he’s just so comfortable in there. I know with Mark and him working on the car, it’s as safe at it possibly can be. It’s something that he wants to do. He has such a passion. I don’t think I ever could say no,” Kathy said.
When Derek started racing, Mark said he realized that Derek was paying attention all those years watching him race and listening to the headset chatter between him and his crew.
“When I saw him race, what he gave me for feedback, I was really surprised, and I thanked her (Kathy),” Mark said. “He was watching and listening on the headset.”
To further his racing knowledge, Derek has super late model standout Ty Majeski mentoring him.
“He’s been helping me since I was in go-karts,” Derek said. “Him and I are really good friends.”
Majeski said he got to know the Kraus family when they were parked next to each other at the go-kart track in Ringle.
“One thing led to another, and I started helping him out more at the go-kart track because they didn’t know a ton about it,” Majeski said. “That’s kind of what I was specializing in then. We just kind of built a relationship up. He’s actually the one who hooked me up with Toby, my crew chief for the last few years.”
Majeski added, “Now Derek’s coming up in the super late model ranks, and we’ve been helping him out with that. I’ve kind of been mentoring him and help him to prepare for this stuff.”
Derek is competing for rookie of the year honors in the ARCA Midwest Tour as well as racing weekly at State Park Speedway. When he does not travel south on Saturdays, he races at Marshfield Speedway.
“Just try to keep him in the seat at much as I can,” Mark said.
Plenty of seat time is fine with Derek.
“My ultimate goal would be NASCAR, but I just want to keep racing as much as I can in the super late model and keep working my way up,” Derek said.
Once Derek started racing, Mark said he knew it was time for himself to stop racing.
“That was the turning point, my time to get out,” Mark said. “I’m not going to be selfish. I could see that I need him in there. I was done. I’d still love to race, but the opportunity he has is not going to pass him up, and I’m going to give it to him.”
Derek also knows none of this would be possible without his parents.
“They support me a lot,” Derek said. “They keep my head up when nights aren’t very good. It’s just really fun to have them at the track.”
Derek will next be in action Saturday, Aug. 13, in the ARCA Midwest Tour race at Marshfield Motor Speedway.