Battery Tender Mazda MX-5Cup Presented by BFGoodrich

Drake Kemper Racing in the Tender Battery MX-5 Cup

The Battery Tender Mazda MX-5Cup presented by BFGoodrich is a series unlike any other. With 32 entries all in the same exact spec racecar, a field made up of 70% returning pros/30% rookies, and a $200,000 Mazda Ladder scholarship on the line. Preseason is over, the time is now, let’s go racing.

There is no better place to start the season than Sebring International Raceway. It has 17 turns along the 3.74 mile circuit, tight technical corners where the exit is key, long fast flowing curves following extremely long straights, and enough bumps to make a motocross rider jealous. With 270,000 fans at the 12hr of Sebring week, it kicks you into high gear immediately. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that the competition is absolutely insane.

At the front of the pack we have the winningest driver in series history, John Dean II, ex MAZDASPEED Ladder drivers Patrick Gallagher and Peter Portante, current Mazda Motorsports Sportscar Academy Ladder driver Kyle Loustaunau, and drivers such as Dean Copeland, Nathanial Sparks (known as Sparky), and Sebastian Landy who have had numerous podiums in this series over the last few years. It is safe to say that it will be a fierce fight for the win all season long.

This year, I have chosen to drive with Sebring’s local team – SickSideways. They have podiumed every round at Sebring that they have ever entered. My teammates, John Dean II and Sparky, were veterans in the series and no strangers to the front row. I spent my preseason doing homework and improving my skills. As a team, we were confident that it would be a great week.

Testing Day didn’t exactly go as planned. John fell incredibly ill with a case of food poisoning. Without his data to compare with my own, this was going to be a challenge. With my AIM dash reading out personal lap times and my dad on the front straight measuring competitors with a stopwatch, I felt pretty good about where I stood – at least Top 5.

It was Wednesday, the first officially sanctioned day of the season. John was still sick and missed practice one while Sparky and I were sitting comfortably in 4th and 6th with P2-P6 all within 1/10th of a second. Practice two came and John managed to make it to the track. He did two laps, finished P2 and pulled off to get an IV for rehydration from medic. We were lined up 2nd, 5th, and 7th for qualifying.

However, there was a mishap. Most of the top 15 cars missed the grid so we went out 1st, 3rd, and 4th. Sparky and I instantly topped the charts, P1 and P2 separated by just 5/100ths of a second, with John not able to get a good lap and lying P5. But then we got freight trained. All of the cars that were late to grid got to go out in the 2nd qualifying session with slightly more ideal conditions. We ended up with less than optimal P3, P5, and P10 for Race #1. But it’s not about where you start; it’s about where you finish.

Race #1 was finally here. It was standing start and we were in the Top 5 for the first 3 laps. Sparky led the way until my new brakes got hot in the draft. It was on the 4th lap when I made the pass for the lead and never looked back. Nate played a fantastic teammate and made sure that no one else could crack our lead until lap 14 when John made the move to 2nd place and unfortunately Sparky fell back to 5th right before a double yellow caution. Although my 2.9-second gap was gone, the race ended under double yellow. I HAD WON MY VERY FIRST MX-5CUP RACE!!!!!!!!!!

It really didn’t kick in until I was on the podium next to John and Patrick Gallagher, with me standing at the top step (however I was still shorter than both of them). SickSideways finished 1, 2 and 5. A fantastic start to the season that would have only been succeeded by a podium sweep – next time!

It was time for Race #2, a rolling start. John went from P10 to P1 in 3 turns and Sparky held on to P3 the entire time. I, however, had my exhaust fall off during the first lap. It caused a loss in backpressure/torque and dropped me back to P6, where I stayed for half the race. Eventually a double yellow caution came out and when we restarted, I missed my chance to capitalize and I finished P7. In the end, SickSideways chalked up another win and another double podium! We successfully won both races (2 down, 10 more to go) and are sitting P1, P3 and P4 in the Championship. I can’t think of a much better start to the season.

All in all, I had a fantastic opening week. Winning the first race, being placed in the Top 3 for the Championship and leaving with little-to-no damage on my car, I call that a big win. I learned a lot about the competitors, how this series works and I am extremely excited for the next 10 rounds. Teamwork is key in this series; the Championship is a long journey not a sprint race. Consistent podiums and keeping our team up front will prove to be very important.

We head to the INDYCAR GP of NOLA in two and a half weeks, where hopefully we can sweep the podium in epic fashion and extend our lead over the other competitors. The NOLA Motorsport Park is a wildcard track; no one has ever raced its INDY configuration before. I am confident that we can win both races with the help of my new sponsor BARCADIA (an absolutely amazing bar/arcade/restaurant in New Orleans where we are having a post race party with all of the drivers on Sunday April 12th at 9pm). Until then, I’ve still got work to do. Back to the green juice and training to stay in peak shape for racing.

I’ll see you on the top step of the podium.

- Drake Kemper #99


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