Buzz Around Kapp Hard to Ignore
As fans pour into Dells Raceway Park on any given Saturday, an infusion of purple shirts fills the grandstands just to the right of the flag stand. By the end of the night, the driver those fans are supporting rarely disappoints.
To say Haley Kapp lived up to any sort of hype she generated last year is an understatement. Whatever expectations there were of the 14 year old Portage driver were shattered on a weekly basis.
In just her second full season with the Bandits - a season which began when she was still 13 - Kapp scored the most top tens of any driver in the division with a perfect 15 in 15 starts. Of those, 11 were top five finishes. She finished just 39 points shy of the Championship.
Kapp broke through with her first feature win on June 25. Just weeks removed from her 14th birthday, she became the youngest weekly division feature winner in the track's 49 year history.
"That night was probably the most amazing night of my life. I went out to qualify and said, 'Dad, this is the night. I want to do it,'" Kapp recalled.
She then went out to set fast time and began to pick her way through the field at the drop of the green in the 18-lap feature event. "Coming from the back to the front, I was shaking in my car, literally. When I saw that checkered flag, I thought, 'Oh my gosh - I just won my first feature.' It was awesome to know that I had the ability to win a feature. There are no words that can explain my feelings."
Proving that night was no fluke, Kapp repeated the same fast time and feature win sequence on August 6. In doing so she defended her title of youngest DRP winner by passing eventual Bandit Rookie of the Year Spencer Wilhelm on the last lap.
"I was supporting Spencer. I thought it was going to be cool for him to get his first win. Then I started to pay really close attention because he started to slow down," Kapp remembered. "Then there he was, he was looking in the mirror. I wasn't sure if he wasn't paying close enough attention."
If anyone knows what it's like to be in that position, it's Kapp, who began her racing career at the age of 12, as well.
"It was incredibly nerve-wracking. I was nervous, I was trying to make my dad happy and have fun," Kapp said of her first experiences in racing. "It was an amazing experience, just doing it and having fun with it. Getting to interact with everyone, having fun and having the ability to win some races is really cool."
Although Kapp topped Wilhelm on that night, the 12-year-old Wilhelm would go on to win a feature just two weeks later and claim his place as the youngest DRP feature winner. Kapp was first to greet him in victory lane with a congratulations. There was no doubt that the two kids were among the strongest in the Bandit class over the final two months of 2011.
"I don't think it's that we changed anything, it's that I knew what I could do and I knew what my car was capable of doing," Kapp said of her strong finish to the season. "I pushed myself every night, harder and harder and I set my goals higher and higher. I was pushing as hard as I could. I just tried my hardest; it was unbelievable how hard I tried the last few weeks."
With plenty of momentum and a Late Model waiting for her in the 2013 season, Kapp is prepared to focus on another title run in the Bandits.
"Consistency is the key, I believe," Kapp said of capturing the Championship. "Staying consistent, stay fast, win as many races as you can, do what you can. You can't do anything but be consistent. I wasn't up to par in the beginning of the year and I think that's what I need to do this year to be considered for the Championship."
With bloodlines laced with racing fuel, Kapp was destined to get behind the wheel. If those bloodlines remain true, she also may be destined for a title. Her uncle Rocky Breezer was a mainstay and former Champion in the Limited Late Model division at DRP.
"I always used to come there with him. I used to stay [at the track] 24/7," Kapp said of growing up around racing. "One day I was with my grandpa at the race track and I told him I wanted to race. That night he bought me a car and I started that year."
With Breezer in retirement, a family crazy about racing now focuses its energy and support on Kapp. Joining her family each week is a host of fans who bask in Haley's success.
"They're probably the most supportive besides my family, without them I don't know what I could do. All of the fans are amazing," Kapp said. "They make me smile when I'm having a bad night. They're always there to support me. Seeing all of the purple in the crowd is awesome. I know how supportive everyone is and how they come to support me and the race track."
Slowly but surely, Kapp's peers are starting to join in that fan base. While most still may not understand what it is she does on Saturday nights, those who do come to watch their only classmate allowed behind a steering wheel are captivated.
"I've had a few friends come," Kapp said. "They didn't understand how involved I was and how seriously I take racing. Now that's all they talk about when they see me."
Perhaps one day they'll talk about their classmate and her advances into the higher ranks of racing. Kapp certainly has the drive, and has her goals set. However, she shows maturity beyond her 14 years of age, keeping things in perspective.
"It's every kids dream to go into NASCAR. My goal is to take [racing] as far as it will let me go," Kapp said. "To race at a big track or to race with the big dogs would be fun. But what can I ask for? I've gotten as far as I ever could dreamed of right now."
Not surprising, Kapp will not be short on support in 2012. Her sponsors include Crawford Oil and Propane, Keith's Recycling, Portage Veterinary Clinic, Rocky's Auto Salvage, Precious Paws Grooming and Boarding, Johnson Sausage Shop, Riley's, Captain Jack's Barbeque, Kapp Racing, Adrenaline Graphics, Weaver's Auto Parts, North Side Auto, Jones Automotive, La Tolteca, Smith's Pheasant Crest, Badger Diversified Metals, Local Point, Badger Transmissions, Custom R.V. Service, Auto Seconds, Foxy's Sports and J.P Metal Works.
Dells Raceway Park opens its 50th season on Saturday, May 19. Opening Night includes a burnout contest at 6 p.m. and bike giveaways for kids. Racing begins at 6:30 p.m.
Dells Raceway Park is located at N1070 Smith Road, five minutes north of downtown Wisconsin Dells, Wis., off highway 12-16. For more information including the latest news, the 2012 schedule and more visit www.dellsracewaypark.com