Huntingburg native Kempf comes away with titleOctober 31, 2018
From Local Sources
SALEM – Huntingburg’s Todd Kempf pulls his 40 hours a week at a local upholstery shop to scratch out a living. Outside of the daily grind, it’s another full-time job to keep up with his racing addiction.
“It’s about 55 hours a week just on the race car,” said Kempf.
That’s quite a commitment for a racing program that isn’t exactly kicking back big bucks. Yet the rewards are enough to keep Kempf coming back for more each season at Salem Speedway. Despite getting involved in a multi-car pile-up in the Halloween 200 season finale at Salem, Kempf marched away with another Lucas Oil Great American Stocks championship in 2018, his fifth track title at the historic half-mile, high-banked bullring in southern Indiana.
“We don’t have a lot of financial help, compared to some, so that makes the championship that much better,” said Kempf. “Kind of crazy…I still get excited. I’m doing it out of my own back pocket. My buddy Danny Strunk…he used to pay for half. He passed away. He just loved to watch me race. Came out here to watch right up till he died. I miss him a lot. I don’t know how much longer I can afford it; I suppose I can go for a little while.”
Kempf’s addiction to racing took hold when he was still a teenager.
“I got all charged up about racing years ago. When I was 17-18, I had a ’68 F-100 with a Cleveland 351 and 4-speed. It would do 135-140 (mph). My mom said I needed to go to the race track instead. You can learn to drive pretty quick when you have red lights flashing in your mirror.”
Kempf also says he gets a little help from family, mainly Kempf Excavating. Auto Body & Glass (St. Anthony) helps too; they’ve been painting his race cars since he was 18. And that’s a fairly long time considering Kempf has been racing for decades. In fact, his son, A.J., who is now 30, also raced in the Halloween 200 this year at Salem. His daughter Andi is 22.
“I can’t tell you how old I am. Pretty old…let’s go with that.”
Kempf also gets a little help from Hank’s Sign Shop out of Ferdinand and from Jones Engineering of Washington, which helps out on the motor side. There is also a sizeable mob of volunteers who help out at the track, including his brother Kurt Kempf, friends Noll Staff, Travis Kern and whoever else chooses to show up. But, make no mistake about it; nothing happens on race day without Todd Kempf’s long hours in the race shop, which doubles as his garage next to his house.
“I do just about everything on the car. I guess you could say I’m the crew chief and head mechanic. That way I can blame myself when things don’t go right. I do everything except build the transmissions, and I wish I could do that.”
Kempf also added how fortunate he is to have the support of his fiancé, Cynthia.
“She knew what she was getting into; that don’t make it easy. I feel pretty lucky to have her support.”
Kempf also understands that to win races at Salem – he won three of the first four this season – he’s got to come prepared, hence the long hours in the garage.
“It’s real competitive. That class (Great American Stocks) has really tightened up. If you don’t qualify within 2/10ths of the pole, you’re way in the back.”
It also helps to understand the track as well as he does. He’s been going in circles at Salem for nearly 30 years.
“If my car’s good, I can take it to the front. If it’s not handling, then you have to search around on the track. It’s just a neat place to run…a lot of history, a lot of competition. If you can get to the front, you just drive the wheels off ‘em. We still get lucky and win a few.”
It’s been more than a few actually. In addition to his championships, the veteran racer has 37 career wins at Salem alone and another victory at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway back in 2008. He also won the two biggest races in the Lucas Oil Great American Stocks division at Salem, the Firecracker 200 in 2001 and the Halloween 200 in 2013.
Kempf also knows that, despite his impressive career, his days of driving are numbered.
“I’m starting to focus more on my boy getting in a better car, so he can start running up front. It’s a lot to keep two cars going.”
As if Kempf doesn’t have enough laps around the grand ole speedway, he went back for more testing this past Tuesday.
“We wrecked pretty bad at the Halloween race, so we tested the back-up car. It’s the best this car has handled in a long time.”
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