Parkites share a need for speed at Miller Motorsports Park
November 2, 2012
Mike Kaeske sits on the Park City Film Series Board and, while the 71-year-old enjoys that job, he likes another seat just as much.
He races Spec Miatas at the Miller Motorsports Park (MMP) in Tooele, and on Oct. 27, he and his co-driver, Larry Carpenter of Ogden, placed first in the three-hour 2012 Fall Enduro race at the park.
"It was a pins-and-needles race with a lot of surprises," Kaeske said during an interview with The Park Record. "We each drove for one-and-a-half hours and it was a hard-fought battle."
The Spec Miata is a racing class recognized by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) and the Midwestern Council of Sports Car Clubs (MCSCC) and is intended to give people a chance to compete in races that involve low-cost cars with limited modifications, Kaeske said.
the time Kaeske, who drove first, finished his laps, Carpenter knew they were close to winning.
"Mike did really well to the point to where, when he came in for the driver change, he had passed the second-place car and was in first," said Carpenter, owner of Carpenter Motorsports. "That put us in good position, and regardless of a penalty we got, we were able to get back into the race and as luck would have it, we won."
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The luck was that a couple of cars that had passed them after the driver switch had technical problems and collided, throwing them out of the race.
"All I had to do after that was to finish," Carpenter said.
Carpenter has been building, renting and servicing Miata race cars and street cars for more than a decade.
"Mike contacted me a little more than a year ago to rent a car to race on his 70th birthday, and has been a great client ever since," Carpenter said. "He’s rented the cars and has raced in every event he could. He’s doing really well.
"He’s like a little kid on Christmas and it’s great to see a man his age doing what he’s doing and being excited about it," Carpenter said.
Kaeske found a love for racing while growing up in Wisconsin.
"I was born just before the (U.S. entered the) second World War, so I’m an old guy, and back then, motorcycles and roads weren’t like they are today," he said with a knowing smile. "I grew up in a rural community and worked with a lot of farm equipment and drove tractors and some old motorbikes, which were very crude."
Citing the lack of video games, Kaeske found himself outside learning to ride those bikes.
"By the time I was in high school, I had a motorcycle and after high school, I did some minor motorcycle racing in events that are considered the precursor to motocross, called scrambling."
He worked at Harley Davidson for a few months and got to know a lot of the professional dirt-track racers.
"That was my limited career with racing at the time, but I had developed a bug for it," he said.
The bug lay dormant until 2001 when it was awoken by Kaeske’s son.
"He raced shifter carts, which is kind of like high-end go carts, in Texas," Kaeske said. "So, I joined him and did that for a few years, and it was fun."
After moving to Park City to ski, Kaeske injured himself on the slopes but still wanted to keep active. So, his son told him to attend the race-driving school at Miller Motorsports Park.
"I got licensed in racing Spec Miatas through that program," Kaeske said.
"The reason why I love Spec Miatas is because, throughout the history of racing, there have been just a few cars that an average person could afford to race, and these are one of those cars," he said. "Also, there are strict requirements regarding the amount of extras you can do the car."
The racers are different than street cars in many ways.
"First, the insides have been stripped and rebuilt with roll cages," Kaeske said. "They also have a fire suppression systems, and the suspensions are changed, but done in specific ways.
"There are even requirements on the engine so that everything is equal between the drivers," he said.
Furthermore, there is no age limit for the racers.
"Scores are tallied by how fast you’re driving and how many races you participate in," he said.
Kaeske isn’t the only Parkite who races Spec Miatas at the MMP.
He and Carpenter are friends with and compete against Mike Ferrara, a professional horse-show photographer who lives in Silver Creek.
Ferrara grew up in Southern California, and that’s where his love of racing blossomed.
"I worked for an engine builder who was part of the drag-racing community," Ferrara said during an interview. "Unfortunately, the gas crisis in the late 1970s kind of shut that down."
So Ferrara decided to join civilian life and got married, started a family and started his own photography business.
He moved to Park City in 2007, because his wife, Julie Ott Ferrara, is from Park City.
"I remember telling her before we were married that I wanted to live in the Tahoe area, and she said, ‘I’m from Park City and Park City is better than Tahoe,’" Ferrara said with a laugh. "I agree with her, now."
After his children left home, Ferrara found he had some "discretionary income" and started driving a Corvette at one of the Miller Motorsports Park open-track days.
"I found out how slow I was and enrolled in the Ford high-performance driving school and raced some of their cars," he said. "I found I didn’t want to drive my Corvette that hard, so, I built a Spec Miata myself."
Ferrara contacted Carpenter and started racing two seasons ago.
"I like that, (because) all the cars are technically the same, the only reason one person is faster than the others is because of driving skills and the lack of mistakes," he said. "If someone is following you and you miss a shift, they’ll pass you and you won’t get back around them unless they make a mistake."
Ferrara said his driving has improved with each race.
"I started out the slowest guy in the track and then became the fastest guy in the slow pack," he said. "Now, I’m in the middle of the fast pack"
Like Kaeske, Ferrara is just happy he’s able to race.
"We all have a competitive spirit in us and it’s great just to be racing," he said. "My wife said after she first saw me drive that my reward is the big smile I have when I get out of the car."
For more information about the Enduro races or driving classes, visit http://www.millermotorsportspark.com.