Jake Kruger, a 16-year-old late-model driver from Bastrop (TX), refuses to acknowledge a championship he won during a four-race season when he raced quarter midgets years ago.
It’s not surprising, though, that Kruger – the driver for Kruger Motorsports – won’t soon forget his latest trophy; the 2009 Texas Super Racing Series championship.
“I appreciate this championship and will enjoy it a lot,” stated Kruger, the son of Bill and Deb Kruger. “It took 11 years to get here, but I finally got here.”
Surprising words from one so young.
However, consider his father, Bill, was a long-time local short-track racer and Jake grew up around racing. And consider the youngster – who rebounded to win two races in his Rookie of the Year season in 2008 – didn’t even start the ’08 season-opener because Kruger Motorsports had problems with race engines.
This past season, though, there was very little trouble in a TSRS series filled with great drivers.
Kruger took the checkered flag five times in a 10-race season in ’09 as he beat out long-time racing veteran Robert Barker (Boerne, TX) by 50 points (1,687-1,637).
Don’t get it wrong – Kruger, his parents (Bill and Deb), his younger sister (Nikki), his crew chief (Texas short-track veteran John Heil) and the team’s sponsors and crew all worked very hard to claim the ’09 TSRS title.
“We were originally thinking that five wins in the season wouldn’t be enough,” Kruger stated.
“We wanted to win six and tie Tommy Gural and Chris Schild (the all-time leaders in TSRS features wins with eight apiece). It didn’t hit me at first (that he’d won the championship) until people came up and congratulated me. I enjoyed it; it felt pretty good.”
Even more important, though – a late-model championship at 16 years old.
“That’s what (crew chief) John Heil told me, the importance of a late-model title,” Kruger said.
“He said you need to put a late-model championship on your resume; as the season went on I understood what he was saying – to be 16 and beating everyone else out there.”
“Jake’s championship is exciting; it’s a very big accomplishment for him,” Deb Kruger remarked. “I’ve been overwhelmed by it all; I’m very proud of what everyone has done to get him there.”
“He’s 10 times the driver that I was,” joked Kruger’s father Bill. “The championships I accomplished were minor compared to what he’s done. I’ve never done what he did at his age and it means a lot to me to say he learned from me; he surpassed my level a long time ago.”
“Consistency” was the word that may have best described the team’s success.
“We won consistently throughout the season,” the younger Kruger remarked. “We didn’t win just in the beginning or just the end of the season. Knowing I was stretching my points lead (after each win) gave me more incentive the next race.”
All three major personalities in Kruger Motorsports agreed on one thing – crew chief John Heil was a major factor in the team’s stellar season.
“A driver is just a spacer behind the wheel, if nothing’s working then it’s time to change the spacer,” the younger Kruger said. “But John Heil was the ‘constant’ in our season and success. We didn’t stick with same setup all year; we changed pretty much every race. What he did and suggested worked each and every race. John did everything – that car all year was in a class of its own and John put it there.”
“John Heil – he’s very good at what he does,” Bill Kruger stated. “He’s very meticulous at everything. He goes over everything then double- and triple-checks everything we do. He’s phenomenal in that respect.”
“John and Jake jelled so well together,” Deb Kruger remarked. “They not only became driver/crew chief but also good buddies. I think that meant a lot to Jake. You always look up to parents and others; Jake looks up to John and they were great as a team.
“They hunt together, race together, work together – especially during summer. It’s like a brotherhood with those two.”
Then, thinking about the dedication of Heil, Deb added, “We also want to thank Teresa and Riley Heil for their sacrifices for not having John at home, because he was at the race shop or at the track helping Jake. We really appreciate their sacrifice.”
Along with Heil, Kruger Motorsports was thankful to its crew - Heil, Jamie Fuller, Lance, Brandon and Dillon Gaither, TJ Hopper and John Wasek.
Of course, auto racing at any level wouldn’t happen without sponsors.
“We could not have done this without Steve Turner and Turner Motorsports,” Deb Kruger declared. “They’re our biggest contributor this year as a sponsor. They were always there for us; I would call and ask for help and they’d always come through.
“They’re helping us in a huge way for the (upcoming) Snowflake (Derby race in Florida in December) and we couldn’t have done it without Turner Motorsports as the main sponsor.”
Among the team’s other sponsors: BMF Shocks and Chassis, Gen Tech, Oval Components, Aramendia Motorsports (and Joe Aramendia).
What’s ahead for Kruger? A run in the Pro Late Models, be it regional or over on the East Coast.
“A lot of sacrifices,” Deb said. “We don’t have a lot of social time; we don’t go to movies, we don’t do special outings as a family outside of going to the races. We don’t drive big fancy vehicles because we don’t need to do that.
“We’re very comfortable with our lifestyle, we’re not materialistic people. We do what we can to put our resources into Jake’s racing.”
The “driver” of the family is cognizant of his family’s efforts on his behalf.
“My mom and dad and my sister are terrific for what they do so I can race,” Jake exclaimed. “I owe a big thanks to my family. (Simply put), I wouldn’t have done anything I’ve done without them.”
“The fact Jake recognizes and acknowledges (our efforts) means a lot to me,” Bill said. “We never forced this on him; it’s been an understanding in the family. We do what we could to give Jake the best of what we can to race.
“We’d like to thank Mary Ann Naumann (owner/operator of TSRS) and her sacrifices for having the series. We have a lot of respect for Mary Ann and what she’s done for both TSRS and for local racing, period.”
Bill then summed up the upcoming future for his son. “We look forward to the next step; we look forward to the work ahead and hope we can continue to climb the ladder of success.”