Kyle Soper knows how to win at Riverhead Raceway. He’s been doing it since he was 7 years old.
The 23-year-old has been driving at his “second home” for 16 years, starting with go-karts, and moving up to legends, then late models, and now modifieds. He’s won four championships at Riverhead, a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series sanctioned quarter-mile asphalt oval track on Long Island, including two last year in the late model and modified division.
And the winning hasn’t stopped for Soper in 2019. He’s built a healthy lead in the track’s Division I modifieds standing, with seven wins and 12 top-5 finishes in 13 races this season. He’s up to 19th in the national NWAAS standings, and also leads the New York standings.
“Right now we’re having a really good season. Probably the best I’ve had,” Soper said.
More than just wins, Soper is staying consistent, always finishing near the front. Even though he just won his first Division I track championship last year, knowing how to race at Riverhead wasn’t a new skill for him. Having the experience of racing at the tight bullring every Saturday of the summer for most of his life means getting around the track has become old hat by now.
“Racing go-karts since I was so young, you learn so much about the track since it’s so different from a car,” he said. “You learn where all the bumps are and what will make the car faster. Then every time you go to the track you become better. Once you realize what it will take to get to the front, even if it’s not when you’re going to win the race, even if you’re just going to finish third for the night, and that’s almost better than winning than finishing last. It’s all about consistency.”
Soper isn’t the only one in his family who has made a career racing at Riverhead. His dad raced at the track, and his grandfather raced before that. Soper’s dad stepped away from racing when he and his sister started to get older to spend more time with them. But as soon as Soper’s seventh birthday came it was time for the youngster to get into a go-kart and continue the family legacy.
He thanks his parents for helping him get the opportunities to race.
By this point, Soper’s life revolves around knowing that weekends are for racing.
“It started out on Sundays with go-karts but now Saturdays it’s just strictly racecars,” he said. “You plan your weekend around that so Sunday is really the only day I have to do for myself to go to the beach or barbecue or whatever.”
Even though his life has always revolved around racing, Soper wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s the competition. Just like any driver will tell you they like to compete,” he said. “They like to win really is what it is. I hate losing more than I like winning. So that’s just a real plus to win and prove to myself I can be the best that I can be.”
Soper won Riverhead’s Islip 300 on June 15th, a race he called “ the crown jewel of Riverhead, besides a tour race.” He picked up his 16th career modified feature win at the track on August 3. Now halfway through the season, he’s racing for a championship, but not getting bogged down in the standings.
He has found, though, that defending his title was less stressful than he thought it would be.
“I try not to pay attention to points, although it’s hard not to,” he said. “It’s just added pressure and stress. I kind of take it race by race and see how each race goes.
“People have been racing me pretty respectfully. I try to race people that way so they race me back the same way. But this year, I don’t know, maybe it’s just less stress I put on myself because I’m already champion, so I feel like I don’t have as much to prove as I did last year but everything seems to be going a little bit better than it did last year… Things just seem to go better when everything is just less stressful.”
Even with all the success he’s seen in 16 years, Soper still has more he’d like to accomplish at Riverhead. First, he’d like to win a tour race at the track, the last big race he hasn’t won.
“To check that off would be unbelievable,” he said.
Second, he’s gunning for the track’s single-season wins record of 10. With four races left, he admits it would be difficult, but not impossible.
“If I could tie that or break it that would be a huge thing,” he said. “Might be kind of hard but I’m up for it.”
NASCAR racing will return to Riverhead Raceway on Saturday with Tour-Type Modifieds, Blunderbust, Super Pro Truck, INEX Legends, Street Stocks, Vintage All-Stars, and Truck Enduro.