14-year-old Kraus turns heads in Super Late Model
By Bert Lehman
Derek Kraus was introduced to the local racing scene through his dad Mark, who has 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 mom, 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 seven years old.
“That’s when I really started liking it,” Derek said. “After that I just kept racing.”
After three years 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.”
Two Bandelero championships later Kraus made the move to the Midwest Truck Series when he was 12 years old.
Mark said he didn’t allow Derek to move up a division unless he won the points championship in his current division.
Not all the tracks allowed Derek to race a truck right away. Dells Raceway Park did let him race the truck right away.
“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 fullsize 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 about the move to the Super Late Model division.
The first time Derek raced a Super Late Model was at the half mile New Smyrna Speedway in Florida.
He said he was really nervous, but his experience in the Midwest Truck Series helped reassure 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.”
Mark said Derek ran “decent” at New Smyrna, but it was nerve-racking for him to watch.
“Because I raced myself and I knew what was going on, and I was wondering how he was doing,” Mark said.
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.”
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. It wasn’t like he was there screwing off.”
To help 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 said Majeski is helpful in teaching him about different race tracks.
“It’s his first couple years and he has a lot of racing left in front of him,” Majeski said. “He seems to be real fine behind the wheel. Watching him, you can’t even tell he’s 14 years old. That says a lot. He’s going to be good someday.”
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’s not traveling south to race on Saturdays, he’ll also race at Marshfield Speedway on Saturday nights.
“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.”
(This article appeared in the July issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)