The only thing standing between Kole Raz and his super late model at Tucson Speedway is a 2-and-a-half hour plane ride through the Rocky Mountains, and another hour-and-a-half car ride from Phoenix across the state of Arizona.
Raz travels from his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon to race at Tucson Speedway as a member of Tucson Motorsports Inc. This is his second season racing at the NASCAR-sanctioned 0.38-mile paved oval in Tucson, Arizona.
Raz’s older brother, Gracin, raced in the K&N Series when he met Dustin Ash. At the time, the younger Raz was just getting out of racing quarter-midgets himself when Ash said he had a legends car team in Las Vegas. Raz raced for Ash there for two years.
The second year in Vegas was when he got connected with TMI, which had an opening for a truck race at Tucson. Raz did that, which grew to a full season in trucks.
"Then they wanted to do super late models and I was like, ‘Yea, let’s go for it.’"
A typical race weekend for Raz involves flying down to the Arizona on either Thursday night or Friday morning, practicing Friday night, racing on Saturday, cleaning up the car and doing maintenance on Sundays, and flying back home either Sunday night or Monday morning. He usually makes the trip about once a month.
"It’s nice right now because it’s once a month so it hasn’t gotten too crazy with two or three times a month like some other tracks have their season laid out," he said. "But last year we would run doubleheaders so it was almost once every other month. It’s a little more hectic this year I guess."
The travel was a bit more constant in the beginning of the season before Tucson was forced to shut down just before July 4 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The track will return to racing this Saturday for the Roasted Rattler, featuring Super Late Models, Modifieds, Hornets, and Hobby Stocks.
Even if the travel can be hectic, Raz is enjoying getting to see different parts of the country to race.
"We have connection flights sometimes through Salt Lake City in Utah and that’s honestly probably my favorite part we’ve flown into so far. Just seeing all the mountains and the snow on top, it’s so beautiful," he said.
Raz’s love of racing started with his brother, who saw a quarter-midget track outside of a baseball game when he was a little kid.
"Gracin wandered off and saw the quarter-midgets coming around and kind of just got hooked from there," Raz said. "I was about 3 days old when he did his first test session."
As the brothers’ racing careers grew, it brought the family closer together.
"It originally started out as, ‘O.K., we’ll get one car, something he’ll do as a kid.’ And then it just continued to grow, car after car, eventually getting bigger and bigger. I don’t think my mom or dad really saw this getting this big but here we are now.
"Without racing, I don’t know how close our family would be without it. It takes such a family effort, whether it’s all of us flying down there (to Tucson), or maybe it’s just my dad and I, or sometimes just my brother. It can take a toll on us but at the end of the day it brings us all together."
Back home in Oregon, Raz has been getting ready for his senior year of high school. He’s spent the time away from the racetrack preparing for his last season of varsity basketball, and just got his first job as a barista at Dutch Bros Coffee.
"It’s a lot of fun getting to meet a lot of new people and work on my communication skills and in a way help out in the community because in the short amount of time you have with them you can really make a difference in their day or week," he said. "That’s been a really fun part for me with that."
Raz currently has four wins in seven starts this seaon, and a 54 point lead in the super late model division at Tucson Speedway over his teammate Paul Banghart. Fellow TMI driver Brandon Farrington is in third. Raz finished second to Farrington, the defending track champion, in the Roasted Rattler on Aug. 1.
Besides trying to run for a championship, Raz is also hopeful he can get some races in closer to his home later this year, but said it depends how much progress is made in regards to the coronavirus.
Right now, he said, racing at Tucson has been the smartest decision for him and a great opportunity. Not to mention a place he’s found success.
No matter where he has to go to race, Raz takes the love of the sport with him.
"I just love it so much, it’s like second-nature to me. I don’t know what I’d do without it," he said.