Auto Racing: Kaffel figuring it out at Oxford

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Those longtime race fans once concerned with a lack of new talent coming into asphalt short track racing can now put those worries aside.

As we witness this refreshing influx of young drivers jumping into the sport, a few examples stand above the rest. They’re driven by competitive genes, the desire to succeed and a passion for racing.

For 16-year-old Raymond native Ivan Kaffel, it’s those characteristics and more that have propelled him into the spotlight. After a slow start, Kaffel earned his first career Super Late Model victory at Oxford in thrilling style on July 14 and is making solid progress in the premier division.

“It felt great to rebound from our early struggles and get that first win,” Kaffel said. “We had torn the car up a lot in mid-June, but we rebuilt it completely and it felt almost like a brand new race car. My whole team worked hard to get it right, and it really paid off. It was exciting and very satisfying.”

Like his pal Austin Teras, Kaffel is another graduate of the Legends cars and honed his skills for two years (2016-17) in the small yet high-speed race machines.

“When I was seven years old,” Kaffel said, “my father told me about a place called Route 106 Raceway in New Hampshire and asked me if it was something I wanted to try. I thought it sounded pretty cool, so off we went to go Kart racing.

“We started out there, and have just been working our way up ever since.”

After five years in Karts, he jumped into a Legends car in 2013 at the the age of 12. After that, he ran a half season in the Pro Stock division at Wiscasset in 2015.

“We had a lot of fun competing in Karts, but it was time to move on,” Kaffel explained. “It was the Legends division that really taught me how to race. From there, the challenges grow with each level.”

Along with former Legends standout Teras, Kaffel also runs weekly against New Hampshire native Gabe Brown, the teenage sensation from Center Conway who led the SLM point standings earlier this season before falling off the pace just a bit. The three teenagers have turned some heads in 2018.

“I have raced against those two a lot now and have big respect for them both,” Kaffel said. “Austin and Gabe are very talented and have adapted to Super Late Model racing pretty quickly. There is a lot to learn with these cars; you need a good coach.”

As Kaffel and his fellow teenage rookies tackle one of the most competitive weekly divisions in all of New England, those challenges he referred to are great.

“My biggest challenge to start off with this year was the transition from a Legends car back to a Super Late Model,” Kaffel added. “I also had to get used to the track, because Oxford is tricky to get around no matter how much seat time time you have.”

Along with learning the right lines, finding a rhythm and learning a new car, Kaffel also had another goal to focus on during April, May and June.

“I wanted to be sure and earn respect from the veterans. I needed to show them I’m not there because my Dad thinks it’s cool or to impress my friends,” he said. “We’re both there to race hard, race clean and have a good time with family and friends. If I’ve made some gains earning their respect, I’ll be happy.”

Mitch Green owns Crazy Horse Racing, a respected source for chassis, parts and complete turn-key race cars. He’s worked with a lot of drivers over the years, and says he sees something special in Kaffel.

“Ivan is very polite and respectful to everybody around him,” Green said. “He has tremendous natural talent behind the wheel, which makes him easy to coach. If he wasn’t so serious about racing and didn’t have such a positive attitude, I wouldn’t do as much with him as I do. 

“He has the strong work ethic it takes to succeed in racing, and in life,” Green added. “When Ivan isn’t working at his regular day job, he’s in my shop working on his race cars. I just enjoy working with him; he’s one of the nicest, most courteous 16-year-olds I’ve met in many years.” 

To help keep his racing program on-track and running up front, Kaffel has a fine core group of crew members working hard behind the scenes.

“I’m so lucky to have Mitch and Mickey working with me,” Kaffel said. “They put a lot of effort into my program and I appreciate all they do. I also have crew members Brandon Williams, Matt Thompson, Justin Hynes and Greg Holt.

“The guys at Crazy Horse Racing have all been super helpful, including veteran Dennis Spencer, who has given me great advice on how to get around Oxford.”

Along with those dedicated team members slaving away in the shop and pit area, Kaffel also has a nice group of marketing partners who contribute to his efforts as he seeks the 2018 Rookie-of-theYear title.

“I’m fortunate to have VIP Tires and Service, Raymond Car Wash, Landing Real Estate, Windham Millwork and Windham Power Sports on board with our team. We couldn’t do this or be nearly as competitive without their valued support,” he said.

As the season’s second half rolls on and the famed 250 draws closer, Kaffel has some realistic goals yet to achieve. He’s willing to do the work necessary to make them a reality.

“One of our biggest goals for this year was to qualify for the Oxford 250,” Kaffel said. “After that race, we’ll try our hand at some different tracks.

“Next weekend, in fact, we’ll run at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, on Saturday, before coming back up to Oxford to run the 250 qualifier on Sunday. That will be our first big challenge away from Oxford’s weekly Championship series,” Kaffel said. “I can’t wait to learn more.” 

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Sixteen-year-old Ivan Kaffel leads fellow Super Late Model rookie Gabe Brown through Turn 1 at Oxford Plains Speedway earlier this season. Kaffel won his first SLM feature on July 14 and is making great gains in the premier division. 

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