It seemed like a typical night at Ocean Speedway.
The black sprint car with the white No. 69 across the tail tank was in the pits like it had been most of the summer. As the 30-lapper wound down to the checkered flag, that black car was running solidly in a podium spot and on pace with the race winner, something most fans expected.
All in all, it seemed like a routine night on the quarter-mile dirt oval in Watsonville, not far from California’s Monterey Bay. Routine, that is, until the top three drivers crawled out of their cars for interviews in front of the grandstands and fans realized that the driver of the black car was a generation older than they expected.
Being in the winner’s circle or close to it was familiar territory for Brent Kaeding, a spot he has claimed hundreds of times at race tracks across northern California during the last 40 years. And the black No. 69 sprint car is an icon, instantly recognizable as a Kaeding car just like a certain black No. 3 stock car is identified with Dale Earnhardt in NASCAR circles.
But on this night, the elder Kaeding was not on hand to add to his Hall of Fame legacy as one of the most winning drivers to strap on a sprint car. On this night, he was in an unfamiliar situation. He was a former headliner coming in from the wings as a stand-in, a substitute, an emergency backup, a pinch-hitter. His name wasn’t even painted on the car.
On this retro night, the not-quite-retired Kaeding showed he could still hit the high notes as he whipped the black machine to a podium finish, working to preserve the chances of adding another championship to the family’s trove.
That black sprint car had raced at Watsonville all year, with Brent’s son, Bud — a multi-time champion in his own right — behind the wheel.
“We were just going to race now and then to get the car out of the shop,” Brent Kaeding said. But as Bud won — and won again — and backed it up with other podium finishes, they realized they were in contention for the track championship.
But on this night, Bud Kaeding had a scheduling conflict with his ride in the King of the West by NARC Fujitsu Sprint Car Series.
“The only way for us to honor our commitments to the people who support the car was for me to jump in and get it in the show,” said Kaeding, while Bud left the track in a helicopter headed for The Stockton Dirt Track.
“I didn’t even tell my wife I was going to drive the car until the night before,” the elder Kaeding confessed.
It had been more than two years since the 60-year-old Kaeding had raced a sprint car and about five years since he had raced regularly.
“I was in better condition then,” he admitted, “so I was a little sore the next day, but it wasn’t too bad.”
There are some families that could be considered “dynasties” with racing success spanning generations. Think Andretti, Unser, Petty and Earnhardt. In sprint car racing, the Kaedings have certainly earned that status with multiple championships and victories stretching across three generations.
Brent’s sons, Tim and Bud Kaeding, have racked up their fair share of track and series championships and are still winning races in California and with the World of Outlaws.
Brent’s father, the very youthful 80-plus-year-old Howard Kaeding (who pedals his way around the pit area on a mountain bike), was a three-time California state champion, racing rocket-fast supermodifieds on the high banks of San Jose Speedway in the 1960s and ’70s.
Howard Kaeding became such a legend that his shadow loomed over Brent Kaeding’s introduction to racing.
“Kaeding’s Son To Make Racing Debut,” heralded the headlines in the San Jose Mercury News.
Brent Kaeding’s first race car was one he built with his dad. A partner in the car backed out of the deal, creating the opportunity for Brent Kaeding to drive it.
At 20 years old, Brent Kaeding was somewhat late to the game. Ironically, watching his dad win every week didn’t motivate him to race any sooner.
“Growing up, I had no aspirations to be a race car driver,” Kaeding recalled. “I had no desire to race up to the age of 18 and by 20 I was racing.”
Hundreds of wins, dozens of championships and decades later, “Kaeding’s Son” has more than etched his name in the sport’s history books. When Brent Kaeding was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2008, years before he cut back on his schedule, he was credited with at least 375 race wins.
The tally incudes victories in some of the sport’s biggest events, including Skagit Speedway’s Dirt Cup (three times), the Trophy Cup (four times) and the Gold Cup Race of Champions at Silver Dollar Speedway (four times). He has even won one of midget racing’s premier events, the Turkey Night Grand Prix.
Kaeding’s championship trophies stack up like cordwood for an Alaskan winter. They include an amazing 13 in the Northern Auto Racing Club/King of the West series and another 13 in the Golden State Challenge, in addition to dozens of individual track titles, some of which he has won multiple times.
Kaeding doesn’t keep a tally of his victories, deferring to historians and stats guys while he focuses on the day in front of him.
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