off road racer concrete portraits thompson

Chasing Down Kevin Thompson

Concrete Motorsports owner and racer Kevin Thompson has spent the last several years quietly becoming a top contender in off-road desert racing. Along with his teammate Harley Letner they are closing out the year with Best in The Desert Points Championship. We talk to Kevin about his climb to the front of the pack, finding the right co-driver, teaming up with Harley, building his race team, and why he needs to race.

Matt Martelli:

How did you get into off-road racing?

Kevin Thompson:

I did it when I was young, from 17 to about 21, then got back into it. Bought a car from a team in 2011, I believe, and just got back into it from there.

Matt Martelli:

It pretty rapidly turned into not just racing, but competing for the overall?

Kevin Thompson:

Yes, absolutely.

mint e araiza time trials

Matt Martelli:

Before you got back into off-road racing, you’d spent quite some years racing NASCAR right?

Kevin Thompson:

Yes, about 15 or 16 years, something like that.

Matt Martelli:

One of the things that you mentioned is the pace of NASCAR, of how many races a year were you doing?

Kevin Thompson:

Actual races? Between 18 to 25 a year.

Matt Martelli:

Do you think that skillset transfers over to off-roading?

Kevin Thompson:

Absolutely.

Matt Martelli:

We were talking about one particular race this year, where you put some time on Luke McMillin. Talk about that section, and why you think you were fast there. That was Silver State, right?

Kevin Thompson:

Yes, Silver State. But it’s the technical sections I like. Either tight, or real long, speedy, graded road. With the motor that we have, that’s where I think I shine.

off road racer concrete portraits thompson letner
Concrete Motorsports Drivers – Kevin Thompson and Harley Letner

Matt Martelli:

Definitely. What do you think it is about off-road racing that attracted you back to it?

Kevin Thompson:

Everything, of course the driving. But just the whole experience. Everything from camping with great people and hanging out with your friends and family all the way to the extreme competitive nature of the racers. It’s the thrill of doing 150 plus miles an hour in the desert, or jumping 150 feet. There is just something you can’t explain.

Matt Martelli:

You talked earlier about the fact that when you come back into something like off-road racing, you don’t have all the answers. You have to get paired with the right people to help you, to bring their knowledge base and bring you up to speed. Tell us a little bit about where you are at now sharing driving duties with Harley, you have a relatively new crew chief. How much has your racing program changed?

Kevin Thompson:

I got back into it nine years ago, it’s been so many years being out of it. You just gradually learn, and every year you learn a little bit more, every race you learn a little bit more. Go through co-drivers and how you work with each other. Pre-running is huge, when you can pre-run. And racing as often as possible, like we were saying. Just being in that truck as much as possible, is just extremely important. Getting your seat time. And getting your seat time with your co-driver. You get those notes, you’re on such a ragged edge to be competitive these days, your notes have to be precise or you can be in trouble. Learning all those things takes quite a while. It took us a few years. Pairing up with Harley has just been incredible. And Henry Bergdahl with him tuning on the truck and shocks, it just took us to the next level. Along with Brent Bauman, my co-driver, same thing. It’s just taken our whole program to where we’re at, the champions.

Matt Martelli:

What does it mean for you? I mean obviously, you’ve been back, you’ve had some pretty good results, you know? But the big win has eluded you. You’re walking away with a pretty huge championship win. You beat a lot of the top guys. What’s that mean for you?

Kevin Thompson:

It’s everything. It’s what we’re here for. We’re going to win races, we’re going to win a lot more. But you always after that championship plate, it’s what we’re here for. That’s our main goal. But we want to win all the big races that is the ultimate goal to achieve.

BITD Parker

Matt Martelli:

Do you think it gets you some of the respect that you feel like you deserve?

Kevin Thompson:

I don’t think I deserve any respect. I’m just me, I’m a racer.

Matt Martelli:

But a lot of guys, I think, sleep on you. Like we were talking before about Luke McMillin learned this year that you’re a guy that he’s got to worry about, right?

Kevin Thompson:

Maybe. Call it respect, but I don’t know. I’m out there to have fun and go the fastest, and the safest possible. If guys worry about that, that’s on them. I don’t.

Matt Martelli:

Harley you started racing trucks a couple years ago, made the transition over from class one. I think everybody was looking forward to seeing what would happen. You had some mixed results. But now you’re in a program that you have the best equipment, you have some of the best resources. Obviously, this is also a big win for you. What does this win mean for you?

off raod racer concrete portraits letner
Off-Road Champion Harley Letner

Harley Letner:

The win is huge. The championship’s always the biggest, you know? I like to win races, to make that happen. But getting that championship plate, number one, is the highest you can get. Since I was a little kid I wanted to become a trophy truck driver like my grandpa, and then be a champion. Now teaming up with Kevin, we finally pulled it off this year. Coming from the buggy into the truck, the first couple years, was definitely off. There was an expectation from people for me to be better ina trophy truck and I really didn’t for a while. It was frustrating.  Then I got teamed up with Kevin and the Concrete Team, we started aligning everything and it’s just come together now.

Harley Letner:

Now I think I can drive the truck like I used to drive a dune buggy. I think I forgot how to drive my buggy. But I’m happy in the truck, that’s, like I said, the ultimate goal.

Matt Martelli:

Yeah. One of the things a lot of people don’t know about you is you actually prep the vehicle, right? Do you think that prepping the vehicle gives you a distinct advantage?

Harley Letner:

Yeah, for sure. When I started racing at 15 with my grandfather, we worked on the cars. I think knowing the car is huge. You know everything about it. If something does happen out on the field, there’s two guys in there that can work on it and everything. Sometimes it’s a disadvantage, because you know what’s going to happen to it if you hit it, it’ll pull the wrong way or something. What could damage it. I think all in all, prepping the vehicle, and doing all the maintenance is a huge advantage at the end of the day.

BITD Parker

Matt Martelli:

Obviously this is a big win for both of you. But what are your next goals? What are the races that you want to knock down?

Harley Letner:

Next, for me, my bucket list is overall the Baja 1,000. I think that’s huge to me. I gotta do it years ago, in the class one car. But to win in a trophy truck, overall is huge, you know? I want to win every single race and then get the championship that way as well. And next year, we’re going to go out, we’re going to overall the Mint 400, too. That one’s eluded me and my family. Between my family, I think we had about 11 second place finishes, until my cousin and I finally broke the streak. We’ve racked up a couple wins at the Mint now. But never got that elusive overall yet. That’s definitely another one on the list.

Harley Letner:

Those are the main ones on the list, but I want to win them all.

Matt Martelli:

What about Kevin, for you? Are there any? Obviously you just won a big championship. The other thing I’d add, too, is that winning a race now, as opposed to 10 years ago, the field is much deeper, right? People all have equipment, really good equipment. I think arguably, it means more now than it did even 10 years ago. Are there any specific races that for you, you must win?

Kevin Thompson:

No, to me you just want to win them all. That’s all we’re here for, just to win. You want to say you want to win one over the other? Yes, you can say Mint, Vegas Reno, Baja 1,000. I’m not going to put one over the other. I mean, I just want to win. I’m not going to say there’s one that I want more than the other. Just, I want to win them all. We’re in that shape to do it now.

Matt Martelli:

Yeah. Let’s talk about the technology curve, too. Because you bought a Herbst Truck, which is a championship level vehicle. There’s a group of guys that have raced these things, some successfully, some unsuccessfully. But you also pioneered this new engine platform, right? Talk a little bit about the engine platform that you guys are using.

Kevin Thompson:

Coming from NASCAR, you’re out of the seat for a month, you’re back, you’re not going to win. When a 15 year old trophy truck is competitive, that’s a little strange to me. You’ve seen now the past three years, with the four wheel drives coming, the Joe Gibbs motors, and all these other big motors coming in, it is progressing. And it’s getting a lot more difficult. So that’s when it’s more fun,  when it’s the hardest. That’s when it’s really, really just the ultra competitive. With this Joe Gibbs motor, it’s taken our team to the next level again. We keep on digging. We’re talking constantly, and we have to. Everybody has to, as well to do better.

Matt Martelli:

You were talking, you mentioned before the idea of seat time and how much … You were able to pull off 10 races this year, even under COVID.

mint e araiza time trials

Kevin Thompson:

That’s our plan. Because right now, we just finished BITD. We got the Baja 1,000, then we go to Rage at The River.  So I think it’s 10. It’s a lot of work. Especially on the team guys. It’s all about seat time you know? And testing, in the middle of that, that’s why we have two trucks. Next year hopefully we’ll have up to four, because it’s just seat, seat, seat, drive, drive, drive.

Matt Martelli:

So for you, I’ve talked to Harley about this, Harley grew up in this culture. I don’t think he could do anything else, right? It’s one of those things, if both your legs were broken, and both of your arms were broken, you’d still be sitting there going, who’s in front? Right? But for you, Kevin, what’s your favorite thing about doing this? You touch on a little bit earlier, but drives you to invest your time and money into this sport and this culture?

Kevin Thompson:

Just being a racer from three years old. I’ll race anything. I’ve raced many, many different things. Of course asphalt, stock car. I’ve done some round dirt single track. Motocross, when I was young. Motocross, or bikes in the desert. I’ve done many forms of racing. So it’s anything I can get in. I mean, I’d love to race rally but I am not going to fit in a car. People ask me a lot what I like better, off-road or stock car. It’s two different worlds, I can’t compare one to the other. Maybe some other guy like Lofton, he might be able to tell you, I don’t know. As long as I’m putting on a helmet and gloves and strapping up in the seat, I don’t care if it’s for 50 mile an hour or 150 mile an hour. Just, I want to race.

Matt Martelli:

Do you think, is that something that you need?

Kevin Thompson:

Absolutely. I mean, I need it. I’ll be grumpy as hell if I can’t race. I don’t even like watching it on TV very much, because I can’t stand not being there, doing it. That’s just me. 

Follow Concrete Motorsports Here:

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/concrete_motorsports/?hl=en

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/concretemotorsports

Matt Martelli

Founder of Mad Media, a multidisciplinary creative and marketing firm and CEO of Off Road Racer and The Mint 400 Matt is one of the biggest influences in Off-Road Racing