Travis Kvapil relishes in his sons Carson and Caden winning late model championships 20 years after his Truck Series title

For the longest time, Nov. 14, 2003 was the happiest day of Travis Kvapil’s motorsports career.

That afternoon, he battled Brendan Gaughan, Ted Musgrave and Dennis Setzer for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Entering the day fourth in points, Kvapil took advantage of misfortunes that befell the other contenders to earn his lone NASCAR national series championship.

Nearly two decades on from that milestone, Kvapil on Nov. 4 enjoyed a championship celebration once again, this time as a father to his sons Carson and Caden. The brothers secured the CARS Late Model Stock and Pro Late Model titles, respectively, at North Carolina’s Caraway Speedway.

Seeing Carson and Caden share the championship stage was a rewarding moment for Travis after several years of tireless work from the family to excel at the short-track level.

“For me, there’s an overwhelming sense of pride in what [the] boys have accomplished,” Travis said. “We all started with that as the goal, but never gave it much thought until six weeks ago when we realized this could be really special with both these boys winning championships.”

From the moment his sons first expressed an interest in racing, Travis took it upon himself to pass down the qualities that made him a champion.

Competing in the newly formed NASCAR Midwest Series in the early days of his career against drivers like Steve Carlson and Brian Hoppe taught Travis lessons about finding success in motorsports. The most paramount was emphasizing hard work above everything else.

Nothing came easy for Travis during his progression into the NASCAR Cup Series. He won twice in the Midwest Series, and his 2003 championship campaign in the Truck Series saw him visit Victory Lane once (Bristol Motor Speedway).

Travis Kvapil had to fend off Ted Musgrave, Dennis Setzer and Brendan Gaughan to earn his lone NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title in 2003. (Photo: NASCAR)

When Carson climbed into his first car at age 10, he was frequently reminded by Travis of the grind he had to endure as a driver, adding that both wins and consistent results would be difficult to obtain.

Those struggles were apparent as Carson charted his own path through the developmental ladder. With every bad race, Carson took in constructive criticism from his father as the two figured out how to make their own program better.

“I totally remember our first year running Supers when we would get lapped and not even finish the race,” Carson said. “We were horrible, but we put 100 percent effort into it to try and get to a point where we could have a winning car.”

It would not take long for Carson and Travis to start seeing progress in full-bodied stock cars.

In 2020, Carson tallied numerous wins in a Pro Late Model along with a victory in the Super Late Model feature of the North-South Shootout. By the end of the 2021 season, he was a champion in the CARS Super Late Model Tour with triumphs at tracks such as Hickory Motor Speedway and Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

“When we won the 2021 championship in the Super Late Model, I knew special things were ahead for us,” Travis said. “I thought I was holding [Carson] back by running the family car, which was literally me and the boys working on our Super and Pro Late Models out of our own shop. I know [Carson] has a bright future ahead, and it’s all going to work out.”

Consistency in Pro and Super Late Models helped Carson Kvapil earn an opportunity to drive for JR Motorsports. (Photo: Ryan M. Kelly/NASCAR)

As Carson dealt with the positives and negatives associated with short-track racing in the southeast, Caden passively observed his older brother and father, taking in as much information as possible before his first venture into stock-car competition.

Caden recalls how everything came naturally to him once he started regularly competing in Pro Late Models, which he admitted would not have been possible without leaning on Carson and Travis as they gradually built a race-winning program.

“I was just there learning the most I could from what Carson was talking about in the car,” Caden said. “Once I got in the car for the first time, I already knew what I was supposed to be doing instead of just getting up to speed. It’s been a lot easier for me than it was for Carson.”

Carson echoed the sentiments Caden has on his own development. He said Caden always being around the conversations with him and Travis naturally gave his younger brother a head start when it came to understanding what the family-owned No. 35 needed to be efficient.

The roles were reversed for Carson when he earned an opportunity to compete for one of the best Late Model Stock organizations in the southeast: JR Motorsports.

“[Caden] jumping into the Late Models after we refined them down was a lot like when I came to drive [for JR Motorsports] that first season [in 2022],” Carson said. “I knew the stuff was good, and Josh [Berry] was obviously super talented. Him and Brian [Shaffer] had this stuff right, so it’s a lot easier jumping into something that’s already worked on.”

With Carson replacing Josh Berry in the No. 8 at JR Motorsports and Caden embarking on a full CARS PLM Tour season in the No. 35, Travis was eager to see how his sons would perform during the 2022 season.

The results were almost instantaneous. Caden took home a checkered flag in the season-opening Old North State Nationals at Caraway, which was followed by Carson scoring a $30,000 race-winning paycheck in just his second CARS LMSC Tour event with JR Motorsports.

Carson used the momentum from that night to score eight more CARS LMSC Tour victories and win consecutive championships in the series.

“Starting that 2022 season, I was super nervous,” Carson said. “To win [the Old North State Nationals] and go on to win three more that year and the championship was really good. Coming into this year, my goals were to win as many or more races as I did last year. We did that by winning five of them.”

For Caden, the path to the CARS PLM Tour title saw him move on from the No. 35 he had enjoyed so much success with early in his career to drive the No. 96 for Highlands Motorsports, who had won the championship the previous season with Luke Fenhaus.

Despite having Travis by his side as a crew member, Caden found himself struggling to find consistency at the start of 2023. In the first six races, Caden only amassed two top-five finishes, which initially hindered his chances of potentially joining Carson as a CARS Tour champion.

Once Highlands Motorsports elected to pull out their backup car starting with the seventh race of the year at Caraway, Caden hit his stride. He proceeded to lead all but three laps at Caraway that night and finished outside the top five once the rest of the year, enabling Caden to cruise to the CARS PLM Tour championship.

Caden Kvapil tallied three wins to close out the 2023 CARS Pro Late Model Tour title, all of which came during the second half of the season. (Photo: Ted Malinowski/CARS Tour)

There were plenty of adverse moments for Caden during the final championship push, but he embodied his father’s advice to stay composed and provide constant feedback to ensure his car could stay competitive.

“You have to be calm no matter what,” Caden said. “If you get in an accident with someone, you can’t go back out there, drive over your head and wreck people. We got into an incident at Tri-County, but we got back up to third and then the leaders wrecked each other. I stayed calm in the car and didn’t mess up.”

For Travis, the ability of both Carson and Caden to avoid trouble was the main catalyst behind their respective titles. Carson finished every CARS LMSC Tour race on the lead lap and only placed outside the top 10 once, while Caden completed all but four laps.

“You have to finish these races and be there at the end,” Travis said. “Dick Trickle used to say that you must finish to finish first. For [these] guys to complete all the laps and not tear up the equipment, it allows the teams to bring the cars back every week and make them a little faster instead of sending them over to the chassis shop to get rebuilt.”

Carson and Caden celebrating two hard fought CARS Tour titles showed Travis just how much they have grown since their first starts.

There were times when Travis was unsure if everything he was teaching would even translate into something sustainable for his sons. Travis has seen plenty of talented drivers be unable to make into the top ranks of NASCAR, but he now feels more assured about Carson and Caden’s outlook following their stellar 2023 seasons.

While there are plenty of differences between the two Kvapil generations, Carson sees similarities with his father when it comes to being actively involved with preparing setups. As he continues to move through the ranks, Carson does not plan to deviate from the blue-collar mindset that has followed the family long before Travis’ 2003 Truck Series title.

“Our season was definitely not as stressful at the end as [my dad’s] would have been,” Carson said. “He was really fortunate with the people that helped [him] get to where he is now, and it’s kind of the same for me. After winning the Super Late Model championship and getting the call to fill in for JR Motorsports, it was such a big opportunity.

“I’m sure there’s going to be more people along the way, but I can’t thank the handful of people in my head that have gotten me here.”

With Carson and Caden’s CARS Tour championships, all three members of the Kvapil family have score a major title in their careers. (Photo: Ted Malinowski/CARS Tour)

The Truck Series title is still fresh in Travis’ mind over two decades after the intense finale at Homestead-Miami. At the time, Travis never imagined he would get to experience such an emotional moment with a five-month-old Carson or Caden, who was still three years away from being born.

Travis knows how demanding motorsports can be, but he wants Carson and Caden to remember where they came from no matter how their careers turn out.

“We definitely don’t have the resources or knowledge of the bigger teams,” Travis said. “One thing we do have, which I tried to instill into [Carson and Caden] from day one was our work ethic. My background from racing Late Models in Wisconsin was similar, which was to work, fight and claw your way to every opportunity.

“If [these] guys go down a different path in life by working hard, being reliable, showing up on time and putting in the work, [they’re] going to be successful in anything at life.”

With the future now brighter than ever for his sons, Travis is confident Carson and Caden are going to bolster the family’s racing legacy with more championships over the next several years.