(7/14/2022 – Alex Nieten) Watsonville, CA… Most people recognize Bud Kaeding for his versatile prowess behind the wheel of both wing and non-wing Sprint Cars along with Silver Crown cars, but every summer he briefly shifts gears to promoting in a diligent effort to honor his iconic grandfather.
The Kaeding’s are undoubtedly the most familiar family of racing on the West Coast, and it all began with Howard Kaeding and his utter domination of San Jose Speedway in the mid to late 20th century among other accomplishments, so it’s only right that the legendary patriarch has a prestigious weekend of racing to salute his achievements.
Eleven years ago the Howard Kaeding Classic was born at Ocean Speedway, and this weekend the 12th edition of the race will take place as it continues to elevate its status as a marquee event with each passing year.
Howard’s grandson, Bud, has played an instrumental organizational role to make the event one of the most coveted on the NARC tour. After current Ocean Speedway promoter, John Prentice, helped come up with the idea, Bud’s work began in making it a special weekend and continues to this day.
“John Prentice actually came up with the idea to put on a race honoring my grandfather,” Bud explained. “He felt it was appropriate. My grandfather is always at his races, always good to John and his family, so John came up with the idea.
“As the race kind of evolved,” Bud continued. “We tried to build it a little bit bigger and a little bit better every year as far as raising funds for the drivers with awards and part giveaways, stuff like that.”
On top of those contingency prizes, Kaeding has gathered a consistent collection of supporters that allow the purse to be very racer friendly. The NARC finale this Saturday will award a healthy $6,900 to win, but perhaps most notably is the fact that the main event will pay at least $800 to start. Put it all together and the result is a very lucrative weekend thanks to Bud’s diligence and the generous group of contributors.
“I’ve got a lot of great supporters that help the event,” Bud said. “They’ve always came back. It’s a great group of people. Nowadays they kind of know it’s that time of year, and when I call them the first thing they say is ‘I’m sending a check today.’ It’s cool because a lot of those people know my grandfather from around the track, so they’re honored to help an event in his name.”
While satisfying the racers is a big part of the equation, making the race a fun and unique experience for the fans is another major factor, one that Bud also gives plenty of attention.
The Howard Kaeding Classic has developed into more of an event than merely a race. After Friday’s racing concludes, the night is far from over. Every year a pizza party hosted by the Kaedings takes place right on the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. Both racers and fans are welcome, and it gives those who fill the stands an opportunity to mingle with the drivers that draw them to the track in a relaxed environment.
Then on Saturday afternoon prior to the racing, a BBQ luncheon is held on the fairgrounds that is also open to both fans and race teams.
“We have High Five Pizza come in,” Bud said. “And they do a little after-hours party on Friday night for the fans and drivers and all of the teams. And then on Saturday we have the lunch with High Five catering that as well. A lot of happenings go on for it. It’s just fun to be a part of this event and fun to try come up with new gimmicks and new things to try to make something a little bit better for the next year.”
On top of creating an inviting atmosphere, the pizza party and luncheon both help benefit a good cause. The NARC Benevolent Fund goes toward aiding injured racers and their families in times of need, and a small donation is requested for each event with all proceeds going to the benevolent fund.
“With the BBQ and stuff, all of the money that is raised for that goes to the NARC Benevolent Fund,” Bud said. “We do a pretty good job every year, usually around eight to ten grand is raised, so that’s a pretty cool part.”
In the lead up to the event, Bud and Howard use a blend of modern promotional methods via social media along with routes that were more common before the rise of technology. Putting the two together, they hope, appeals to a wider audience and helps fill the Ocean Speedway stands even more every year.
“I build some flyers, and my grandfather is really old school,” Bud said. “He drives around the Campbell area and puts them in restaurants, in the streets, everywhere. He also still runs an ad in the local newspaper for the race. I build the ads, and my grandfather takes them down there and has them run them. As far as the promotional side, nowadays we’ve started doing a lot more with social media, too.”
Looking toward the future, Bud and the rest of the family are satisfied with the current status of the Howard Kaeding Classic. Aside from increasing the purse when possible, no big changes are in the works except for one potential development to restore some tradition to the HK Classic weekend.
“One thing I’d like to see is it get back to a two-day 410 race,” Bud said. “I think the proper steps are being taken in 410 racing as far as car counts getting bigger, so I think that as our car count continues to grow that we’ll be able to support a two-day 410 event there.”
The entire Kaeding family are major players in the effort to rebuild 410 racing on the West Coast, so it’s only fitting that they have their sights set on making the Friday portion of the event a 410 race once again.
Organizing and promoting may occupy a lot of Bud Kaeding’s mind this time of year, but the 42-year-old still has plenty left in the tank behind the wheel of a sprint car, and the 2017 NARC champion will be looking to add to his extensive resumé this weekend.
Kaeding, the 2014 and 2019 HK winner, is aiming for his third event triumph, which would equal him with Kyle Hirst for the most through 12 editions. And if he can pull it off, it’ll simply be the icing on an already ideal cake as his hard work continues to be rewarded in the form of a special, highly anticipated event to honor his grandfather, the Howard Kaeding Classic.