CONCORD, N.C. — Opening day at Charlotte Motor Speedway could easily have seen Derek Kraus singing strains of Disney’s A Whole New World as he prepared to suit up at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
After all, driving a NASCAR tour-type modified for the first time is indeed far different than anything else the recently-turned 16-year-old has ever done in his young racing career.
Kraus, who has spent most of the season competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West for Bill McAnally Racing and before that raced predominately in late models throughout the Midwest, is making his modified debut this weekend driving the Mike Curb-owned No. 77 Menards/Curb Records Chevrolet.
It’s a moment that Kraus described as “surreal” and said he’s looking forward to, despite the newness of the situation.
“This is definitely different for me … everything is all new,” Kraus told Race Chaser Online Friday morning. “I’ve got way more tire than I’m used to (with the modified) than I do in a late model or a K&N car.”
“It’s something I’ve never done or even come close to doing in my career; the closest I have gotten to (driving something like) this is through iRacing. I’m sure (the cars) will drive really close to (how they do on) iRacing when we get into race trim, and hopefully that will help me a lot in the race tonight.”
Kraus, who hails from Stratford, Wis., explained that the opportunity to drive the Menards-sponsored entry came about thanks to the namesake of the sponsorship — courtesy of a meeting with family friend Paul Menard.
“It all came together at Iowa when we won the pole (for the K&N Pro Series combo race). We talked to Paul Menard and that’s when it kind of all connected. To make a long story short, Paul flew my dad (back in 2001) so he could be there for my birth. That’s kind of where we all met … and we’re all from Wisconsin, so that’s the spark, really.”
The teenager has excelled in his first season with Bill McAnally Racing, sitting third in points behind teammates Todd Gilliland and Chris Eggleston on the strength of seven top-fives and eight top-10s in 12 starts.
Kraus led 58 laps in the West Series’ most recent stop at Meridian (Idaho) Speedway last weekend, falling just short of victory lane after stumbling on a green-white-checkered restart.
“It’s been really good this season,” Kraus said of his rookie season out west. “BMR has put a great team and great group behind me, with everyone that works at the shop at night. They are there until nine o’clock at night and that’s really nice to see and be a part of … that they are working their tails off to try to get me to victory lane.”
“We almost got there in this last race, but we had difficulty on the last restart and that kind of hurt us a little bit. Hopefully when we go to Roseville, we’ll be really good.”
He added that running as strong as he did at Meridian boosts his morale going into the final stages of the year.
“That was a huge confidence boost,” Kraus said. “To know that we are there and to let everyone know it too is nice. I am confident going into Roseville and we have a really good piece, I think. So, hopefully we will have a really good car … it’ll be the same car we had at Meridian, so that will help a lot.”
“It’s been a really good season so far and it’s exceeded my expectations. Hopefully we can win this modified race and also Roseville and run really well.”
The young gun hopes to return with McAnally for a second go-round next season, as he leads Will Rodgers by five points in the battle for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors going down the home stretch.
“I want to be back with BMR; we don’t know for sure yet, but that’s my hope,” Kraus expressed. “All we can do is keep running strong … and if we do that, everything should work out alright.”
Qualifying for the Southern Slam 150 kicks off at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the race at 8:30 p.m.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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