While most high school seniors were readying for graduation and parties a couple of weeks ago, Buena High's Cory Kruseman was racing stock cars and three-quarter midgets at Ventura Raceway, Ascot and Oildale, a track near Bakersfield.
Kruseman, 18, a former junior varsity quarterback, decided to forgo football and the normal teen-age life to pursue his burning desire to be behind the wheel of a powerful racing machine--any kind of powerful racing machine.
Kruseman has actually been racing since age 11, starting on the Go-Kart and motocross circuits around the Southland. He has been around race tracks from the time he began to walk.
Kruseman's introduction to racing came on the three-quarter midget circuit through his father, the late Ron "Krazy" Kruseman, who was killed during a 1984 TQ (three-quarter midget) race at El Centro.
"I've hung around TQs all my life. I was the little guy always hanging around, helping out and getting tools and things for anyone, but I lost interest for about a year after my dad was killed," Cory Kruseman said.
"I got motivated again because racing is where my friends are, and I can do what I want to do."
Kruseman always wanted to pursue his father's dream in a TQ car. He began chasing the goal for real in January--saving money, trying to sell his 1969 El Camino, and borrowing $6,500 from his mother, Renee Kruseman.
That gave him just enough money to purchase a used TQ from Bill Floyd of Oxnard, who no longer races in the division but is still active racing Mini-Stocks at Ventura. Floyd and Kruseman now go head-to-head in that division, thanks to Don Adams of the Auto Dienst, a car-service center in Oxnard.
"I've known his mom for several years and I have seen him drive Go-Karts a lot and I think he has a lot of natural talent," Adams said. "I prepared a stock car this year and I needed a driver, so I asked him if he would like to drive a stock car."
The youthful Kruseman thought he was getting only a one- or two-week tryout until Adams found a permanent driver. But Adams told him after the third week that the No. 73 red-and-white Pinto 2000 Mini-Stock was his for the season.
"This was something I always wanted, to set a goal and try to conquer it," Kruseman said. "I'm trying to form my ladder to the Indy 500, and I hope my racing doesn't just become a step stool."
Comments from some interested observers indicate that Kruseman could very well be climbing that ladder.
"All young drivers create excitement, but he's not intimidated by the old guys and he's got a lot of energy that makes him a good little racer," Ventura Raceway promoter Jim Naylor said.
Said Adams: "He made an impression in his first TQ race at Oildale in June. The drivers and track officials were impressed by his abilities and they told me the rookie flag won't be staying on his car for very long."
Kruseman has been improving weekly at Ventura. Currently 12th in the Ventura Mini-Stock standings with 420 points, Kruseman registered the first main-event victory of his career two weeks ago. He won his first trophy dash the same night and added his second main-event win last Friday night.
"I kinda lucked into the win," Kruseman said of the first victory. "I usually don't run in the figure 8 race, but I was having some car trouble and we ran in the figure 8 to see if the bugs were out of it and I ended up getting the win."
While the dream moves closer and closer to reality every time Kruseman steers onto the dirt and asphalt ovals, he credits the desire and encouragement to succeed to his mother.
"It kind of bugs my mom at times and she has to be by herself when I'm racing," Kruseman said. "It's hard for her, especially since one of our best friends, Jeff Bagley, was killed in a Sprint car at Ascot last month. It has bothered her a lot, but at the same time she accepts my racing and she supports me 100%."
Also lending support to Kruseman is his mother's boyfriend and Sprint car driver, Harlan Willis of Ventura. Kruseman said Willis is teaching him how to set up the cars for different tracks and is working with him on his racing psychology.
"I've got a lot of experience in TQs and Sprints and I try to help him have the right attitudes on the track," Willis said. "I try to keep him from being overly aggressive and from driving over his head."
The one-fifth-mile dirt oval at Ventura has opened the door for Kruseman and he has a soft spot in his heart for the track.
"A lot of people don't know it, but Ventura is a real nice track," Kruseman said. "I remember when it was a little mudhole, but it turned into a great track and hopefully it can be better than Ascot someday. It's a fast track, so I hope they might run more TQs here in the future.
"But I'll drive anything on this track in a race."