Race Weekend Central

‘Kveeping’ Up With the Kvapils, Travis & Carson

Exactly two months prior to the 20th anniversary of winning the 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship, Travis Kvapil watched his son, Carson, make his first-ever start in the division at Bristol Motor Speedway in September.

Things have come full circle: 20 years after his series title, Travis’ son made his debut in the series that returned to the moniker it held in 2003. The elder Kvapil holds nine Truck Series victories to his name and enjoyed a lengthy career in NASCAR: he made 271 Cup Series starts and 481 appearances across the three major series, driving at the top level for Team Penske, BK Racing, Front Row Motorsports and more.

Son Carson is no slouch himself: he’s got a number of CARS Late Model Tour wins under his belt while driving for JR Motorsports and made his Truck Series debut with a HendrickCars.com-backed Spire Motorsports truck at Bristol.

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Frontstretch caught up with the father-son duo to talk about the opportunities that have come Carson’s way, how Travis has coached his son and much more at Bristol ahead of Carson’s first start — where he finished 12th.

Adam Cheek, Frontstretch: Carson, you were born into a racing family. Take me through your journey to where you’re at now.

Carson Kvapil: It’s been a long journey for me, going all the way back to bandoleros. 10 years is a long time, running bandoleros at the Charlotte quarter-mile, getting into outlaw karts and stuff like that on dirt and then getting into the late models when I was probably 13.

I remember that was a big step-up, for sure. That was one of those milestones, it took a little bit of time to figure out, obviously. And obviously getting to this point, […] running the ARCA car last weekend at Kansas [Speedway] and getting the shot to run a truck here in Bristol.

Throughout it all, I feel like I’ve learned a bunch, got a bunch of experience. I feel pretty well prepared for this race, just from a racing background and also through Chevy, all the pre-race preparations they were able to give me and all the other Chevy drivers.

Cheek: Similar question for you, [Travis].

Travis Kvapil: He started out sitting on the pit box and things like that when I was racing. We started going to the Summer Shootout, watching bandoleros, legend cars, and we did it a few times. He never really had much interest in it, and then whatever sparked and he took an interest in it. Then we bought a Bandolero, and he kind of went through all the steps there.

For me, I really enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun going — not only him, but his younger brother Caden — we’re at the racetrack every weekend. And for me, my priorities changed, right?

For me, it was all about me racing on Sundays or running for a Truck championship or whatever. But when your boys start following in your footsteps and you start spending time with them — and especially when you see that they’re good at it — my priorities just changed, right?

So all my attention focused on them, and, for me driving, I didn’t really care anymore — not saying I still don’t want to do it, but it was just more gratifying to see them do well and chase their dreams.

Cheek: With your experiences in Front Row and all these different teams in Cup — Team Penske for a bit as well — how did that lend to mentoring [Carson]?

Travis: Just experiences. There’s no way to get experience just other than just doing it, and when I was doing it, we didn’t have simulation. We didn’t have Team Chevy behind them talking about trends of the race and watching video and studying onboard cameras. It was just thrown to the wolves, right?

But we were able to test, we had practice for a day. These guys, what they do now, it’s hard to imagine what is expected of them. Like we go to Kansas last week, and he’s never been to a mile-and-a-half — you have 45 minutes of practice to figure it out. It’s crazy for me to think that way.

But obviously, I’ve been to all these tracks and kind of been there, done that, won a Truck race here [at Bristol] as a matter of fact. So we talked a lot about things — I might have hit some roadblocks for me. Just with some simple advice, maybe it’s not a hurdle for him, but he’s gonna have roadblocks, he’s gonna have to learn things on his own. But if myself or Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., Josh Wise, these guys that are behind him can help them just skip some of these hurdles and get the results right away. So that’s what we’re shooting for.

Cheek: Carson, what’s that mentorship like, being in a racing family and having your dad guiding you?

Carson: I think it’s a huge advantage. Having my dad right there, who’s been there, done that, pretty much all the things that I’m trying to go through now, it’s something that I think not a lot of others have. I’m fortunate to have that. Anytime I can lean on him, Josh Berry, Dale Jr., I mean, all those guys, it’s just having all those people right there to answer your call whenever you have any sort of questions. It just helps, for sure.

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Cheek: What’s your outlook for your first start in a truck and in the playoff race at Bristol?

Carson: I honestly don’t have any expectations. I’m kind of going into this open-minded. […] So it’s just going to be up to me trying to figure out a racetrack and kind of try to adapt to these these trucks. It’ll be a lot of information to take in, for sure, but I think we can have a really good day today and just trying to stay out of trouble.

Cheek: You’ve got a couple championships under your belt, and you won at North Wilkesboro Speedway last year. How huge was that for you?

Carson: That Wilkesboro win was obviously, to this date, the biggest win of my career. I think, that year, everybody had that race circled. Obviously, we all want to win races every week, but that race was kind of the holy grail race of the year for us, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us to run that race.

It was a huge deal. It was really important for the season. It really kind of opened my eyes up to the late model stock scene, and fortunately, we had a really fast late model there and we were able to pick up that win. But winning the championship, I think it solidifies you and the whole team — kind of showing that week in and week out, you can consistently run good and win races and stay out of trouble to where you have most points at the end of the year.

Cheek: What do you have planned ahead for the rest of the season and 2024?

Carson: So far, just after this race, the ARCA race I ran last weekend and [Bristol] are kind of the big deals for us this year. But I think we got three more Cars Tour late model stock races left. We got a good little points advantage right now, defending last year’s championship, so hopefully we get through those clean.

Next weekend (Sept. 23), we’re going to Martinsville [Speedway] for the ValleyStar 300 with those late model stocks. And that’ll be a fun one — last year we finished second there, so just going into that race knowing we had a runner-up finish last year just kind of boosts the confidence, I guess you could say. Hopefully, we’re bringing home a grandfather clock.

Cheek: I talked to Scott Riggs last year at Richmond when [son] Layne [Riggs] was making his second start. From a dad’s perspective, watching [Carson’s] success and his career, what’s that like?

Travis: I’ve had race-win moments and championship moments, and I’ve probably never been so happy or joyful or whatever as when [Carson] won Wilkesboro last year. That trumps all my successes, honestly.

I’m sure people reading this that have kids out there in sports or doing whatever, you see them have success at a high level and be a winner. It’s just very gratifying. Behind the scenes, for a long time, we put in a lot of work — a lot of family weekends at the racetrack, long nights in the shop and a lot of money spent.

To see it paying dividends and having both boys have success, I don’t know what the right word is. For me, when you have a long-term goal and you have a vision, right? Like, are you really going to get there? You never know. It’s unpredictable, there’s so many variables along the way.

But to see what he’s been able to do these last couple of years, see him grow as a racecar driver, and off the track, [he’s] a great human. It’s just really gratifying. I’m super proud of him and his younger brother Caden as well.

About the author

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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