Jake Kruger has seen his fair share of success as a race car driver, having won a modified championship at Houston Motorsports Park in the past.
But the desire to get behind the wheel and drive again gets less and less these days. He’s found watching other people win in cars he builds more enjoyable.
Kruger has been able to see his team’s truck in Victory Lane plenty in recent years. Driver Jake Wright leads Houston Motorsports Park’s Pro Truck Series points standings and has two wins so far this season.
Kruger and Wright raced alongside each other when they were both kids driving quarter midgets in the late 90s and early 2000s. The two’s families have remained good friends for more than 20 years.
Kruger grew up at the race track. His mom tells stories about how he was at a race the week after he was born. He progressed his way up to late models and modifieds, but stepped away from driving as much in recent years.
"I still want to get in the car every once in a while but my want is less and less nowadays," he said. "I get more enjoyment out of seeing my cars win races nowadays."
After Wright began racing in the Pro Truck Series at Houston Motorsports Park – a NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series sanctioned 3/8-mile banked asphalt oval track in Houston, Texas – the team struggled early. A few years in, Kruger joined to help the Wright family out.
"Eventually one day, I can’t remember if I went to him or he went to me," Kruger said. "We redid the whole thing and improved their whole thing. That was about six years ago. Ever since then I’ve been doing all of his stuff on his old truck and we built this new truck and finished about a year and a half ago."
Once Kruger came aboard, the success followed quickly.
"We actually got pretty fortunate that as soon as it rolled out of the shop, that brand new truck, it was fast right off the trailer," Kruger said. "I actually don’t think that we’ve changed much of anything since we showed up to the track the first time. Jake won the second race he ran it. He probably had an opportunity to win every race he ran with it."
Not only has Kruger been a huge part of Wright’s team with the truck, he’s also been a mentor for the young driver. Wright called Kruger "an absolute guru" when it comes to setup and giving advice.
"He’s definitely always been very good about giving me advice," Wright said. "Stuff that maybe happened to him in previous years he’s always relayed that to me. Just different tips and tricks and stuff like that. He’s been like a brother to me throughout all these years. He’s always had my back. I’ve always looked up to him as a mentor and just a really good teacher."
The No. 48 truck at HMP is sponsored and partnered with Siddons-Martin Emergency Group, Moore Law Firm, Robbie White Race Engines, Spring Carburetors, Buzzy Racing, and Ernest Performance.
It’s not just Wright’s driving and Kruger’s skills in the shop that has led to success at the HMP. Kruger said the team – with Travis Adams, Joey Cherry, Wright’s dad, Bruce, and Ellen Fink also in the fray – does so well because everybody works hard together and knows their role.
Wright said it’s also easier because no one takes things too serious and they keep the work fun.
"I think that helps being able to optimize your position and your role," Kruger said. "You can do less things better if you keep it to a minimum… When we share roles it goes a lot easier, a lot smoother and a lot less hectic. Everybody just kind of has a good time with it."
"We all have such a good chemistry together. We joke around, we cut loose," Wright said. "We take it seriously but we do it in a fashion that’s just relaxed. The focus is there along with the goofy side. You’ve got to have fun when you’re doing this kind of stuff. We like to have fun. We just really enjoy going to the track together and working together."
Wright said much of the success comes from not getting too worked up or letting any good or bad race get to their heads.
HMP will host one of its biggest races of the season this weekend with the Inaugural Texas Truck Challenge $10,000 to Win. Even though Wright acknowledged it’s another big race, he refuses to get too worked up about it.
"Just think of it as another regular race," he said. "There’s going to be a whole bunch of people coming in from all over the country and it’s going to be exciting to see where I stack up against all those people. It’ll be fun."
Wright will also be going for his first track championship in a truck at HMP, something Kruger said he’s excited to help him achieve. He himself would also like to get another title as a crew member.
No matter what happens this weekend or the rest of the season at HMP, both Kruger and Wright are happy with how well the team has progressed, and their roles in making it happen.
"When I first started helping Jake, he was maybe a seventh or eighth place car," Kruger said. "Just seeing how happy he was once we finally went through his car and he was running in the top-3 consistently. I can be happier at the end of the night when I can bring enjoyment to everyone else’s night.
"You can definitely see a lot different attitude in him nowadays now that he’s somebody everybody talks about. I feel like a lot of times when my cars show up it’s nice to know that everybody else has their eye on them and says, ‘That’s somebody that we’re going to have to race.’ I get enjoyment out of it that way."
HMP will host the Inaugural Texas Truck Challenge $10,000 to win on Saturday night. Gates will open at 6 p.m.