It was the kind of phone call any sprint car driver would welcome. When Tony Stewart Racing is on the other end of the line, offering seat time in a Donny Schatz companion car, most drivers would likely accept that offer faster than they could strap on a helmet.
But before Tim Kaeding could accept the offer, he had to check with his scheduler.
It didn’t matter that the person who largely influences where Kaeding spends his time over the last few years is too young to answer the phone by himself and is not quite three feet tall.
That Kaeding’s phone rings often is no surprise. He is a third-generation driver of one of California’s royal racing families. In the hunt for a third King of the West 410 championship as this is written, he is still an odds-on favorite to add to his 137 career wins every weekend. He’s won the Australian version of the Knoxville Nationals (the
He is not only a three-time winner of the Trophy Cup, but the only driver in the race’s 27-year history to claim the Saturday night feature win from the last row on the grid, the maximum test in the event’s unique “winners come from the back” format.
The records he and his brother Bud are chasing in California were set by their dad, Brent Kaeding, as their legendary grandfather (Howard Kaeding), a former California supermodified champion and superstar of the high banks of the old San Jose Speedway, looks on in the pit area.
But as sprint car stardom came early to Tim Kaeding, becoming a first-time dad came later. As result, the 42-year-old Kaeding is on the high wire that all racers walk, looking for a balance between the intense demands of being on the road every weekend and being home with a family.
Juggling play dates and race dates is also complicated by living on the West Coast, where every so-called out of town race requires getting on an airplane.
As a result, Kaeding’s son Tannyn, enrolled in transition kindergarten and who celebrated his fifth birthday on Trophy Cup weekend, is the biggest influence on where Kaeding races while calls for his service come from across the country.
After checking his schedule and knowing it would be a short trip, Kaeding was on an airplane early this year headed to Eldora for a couple of days to test drive a TSR car and help sort out the new Ford Performance 410 engine.
Kaeding has a well-earned reputation as an on-the-gas racer who will push a car to its limits, but with a surgeon’s touch for feeling what the car is willing to do.
The goal was to improve the drivability and throttle response of the new powerplant that is still in its developmental stages.
“My driving style is different, so I was building on how Donny and Tony Stewart drive the car to fine-tune little things,” Kaeding explained.
After two days of testing, Kaeding was impressed. “It’s a better Ford program especially stepping in after being away from sprint cars for such a long time,” he said, noting that the company didn’t stick around dirt tracks after Ford dealer and WoO champion car owner Casey Luna retired from racing.
“It was an awesome experience and I learned a lot,” Kaeding confessed. Apparently, Kaeding taught the TSR team a few things as well. “They wanted me to do more testing,” he noted, but scheduling the time was difficult.
But as the 2021 season began, Kaeding’s phone continued to ring with calls from long-distance area codes and a variety of car owners who have him on speed dial, while he continued to juggle a “mix-and-match” schedule, combining short trips eastward with weeks of racing closer to home with the goal of winning his third King of the West 410 title in California.
March brought a win in the Bandits Outlaw Sprint Series in Texas. The April calendar included racing with the World of Outlaws at Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway, Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway and I-70 Motorsports Park in Missouri.
Kaeding took advantage of a break in the King of the West schedule in May for a typical weekend for him in South Dakota. He flew to Park Jefferson Raceway to claim a win with the Northern Outlaw Sprint Association on Saturday and raced at Huset’s Speedway on Sunday before hustling back to California.
In June, Kaeding won the Pombo-Sargeant Classic at California’s Ocean Speedway in his regular Bates-Hamilton Racing ride with the KWS before spending the second half of the month in the Midwest, racing at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway, Huset’s and the Jackson (Minn.) Motorplex.
It’s the kind of “have helmet bag, will travel” schedule that many top-flight racers simply accept as the everyday price they pay for driving at the top levels of the sport and, in one sense, is nothing extraordinary. It’s also a schedule that requires the emotional support of family members, who often stay behind to keep home life on track.
Tannyn’s mom, Sheree Thompson, is that backstop for Kaeding at home.