Not everyone who is a professional racing driver had their diaper changed inside a go-kart seat. Although the majority of pro drivers do have their roots in go-karts from a very young age, there are still some who picked up the sport later in life. Drake Kemper is one of those characters. Speaking of characters, the reason Drake didn’t earn a go-kart championship in grade school, is because he spent his formative years acting in television shows like Hannah Montana, iCarly and Disney movies like Earth to Echo. According to Drake, “Basically, I was cast as the bully or stoner in most Disney productions from 2004 through 2014.”
Drake’s first interest in cars came from his next door neighbor, a Hollywood director, who had a track-prepped Porsche sitting in his driveway. “He had a Porsche Boxster in Gulf livery,” said Drake. “I thought that car was so cool. When I turned sixteen, I tried to rent one to take it to the track. The people who rented racecars said it would be cheaper just to buy one. So, I picked up a Porsche Boxster Spec and started competing with the Porsche Owner’s Club.”
Drake ended up smashing numerous track records and winning tons of races with the Porsche Owner’s Club. But he was still very new to motorsports. He didn’t know you could go to a racing school like Skip Barber and earn your competition license in a week. He also didn’t know about all of the different types of sanctioned road-racing opportunities. Before he learned of the legitimate ways to race he found himself entering numerous, not so sanctioned races. Events like Bullrun Rally and Targa Trophy. Events on public roads.
In 2010, Drake entered his actual non-street-legal racecar, the Porsche Boxster Spec, with bucket seats, no air-conditioning, slick tires, and no license place into the “public roads” cross country Bull Run rally. “On the first day I got three speeding tickets in ten minutes,” said Drake. “I was paying tickets online with my phone in front of cops as they were writing me a new speeding ticket.” Drake and his co-driver endured miserable conditions as they drove through Arizona in 114 degree heat with no roof and no air-conditioning.
Total fines for his 2010 Bull Run adventure? Over $1,000. But Drake learned his lesson. A real racecar was no way to compete in a road rally. So, for the 2011 Bull Run — Vegas to Miami — Drake showed up with an M3 BMW fitted with a 38 gallon fuel cell and radar jammers. On the first night leg, he hit 156 miles per hour in a 55 zone. “I was leading the field when I was stopped,” said Drake. “It was a good thing I stopped too, because there was a road block ahead of us. When I was pulled over I was wearing a t-shirt that said: Hello Officer.” Drake was placed in handcuffs by none other than actual Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “He wrote me up for only 119 and let me go. If he wrote me for the full 156, I was going to have to spend the night in jail. Honestly, that kind of speed, it was really dumb.”
“Things got crazy on those rallys,” said Drake. “Robby Gordon passed me on the shoulder while he was driving an SRT 8 Jeep. He passed me while driving in the grass!” Drake said that during those events, every day 10 people would get arrested. “One time I was going 176, and that was using the cruise control while wearing a bear costume.”
Eventually, Drake realized the liability involved with road rallys and began to concentrate on sanctioned road-racing events. He won just about everything possible with Porsche Owner’s Club and then sold his green and black #38 Porsche Boxter to the Van Halen family. According to Drake, “I think Alex Van Halen’s son is driving that car now.”
At a Porsche Owner’s Club event, someone from Skip Barber Racing School saw Drake’s raw talent and offered him a job as a driving instructor at their school. From 2012 through 2016, Drake worked for Skip Barbing teaching at tracks all over the country like Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Road Atlanta. Skip Barber was using the Mazda MX-5 as a teaching platform, and it was there that Drake heard about the MX-5 Cup MazdaSpeed Pro Challenge. It was a racing series where the winner earned $75,000 to go pro racing with Mazda.
During his first season in 2013 in the MX-5 Cup, Drake earned only one victory. However, not to be discouraged he came back with a vengeance, and in 2014 won 5 out of 12 races and capturing the MazdaSpeed Pro Challenge Championship. That netted him the $75,000 scholarship to go pro racing as well as entry fees for each race and one set of tires per event. Not too shabby. That championship was the catalyst to get him into “The Bigs.” His racing schedule would become so packed he had to give up his acting gig full-time.
With Hollywood in his rearview mirror, Drake headed to Florida for the first race of the season at Sebring. Drake showed the professional racing world what he was made of when he won the first race of the 2015 Battery Tender MX-5 Cup season. “I showed up for that first race in shape. I had lost 50 pounds. I won the first race and was on my way to winning the Battery Tender Championship.” He had a good car and clearly had the speed. Things were looking good. However, winning at a Porsche Owner’s Club event and beating amateurs is one thing, but beating other pro drivers, race after race, is a different challenge. The season wouldn’t be an easy one for Drake.
“That season had a lot of shenanigans,” said Drake. “I won the first race of the year, then during the second race I lost my entire exhaust on the first lap. I was leading the championship points going into Road America (the last race of the season) and then was hit by another competitor, which pushed me from second place to last place. I fought my way back through the pack and drilled another driver. I ended up finishing fourth for the season. I lost the championship.” Drake suffered some tough racing luck during his 2015 debut pro season. Some racing luck that unfortunately seemed to follow him around.
Drake said he fought some pretty ugly depression after losing the championship. “I was lost. I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to leave my house,” said Drake. “Finally, I started just working on my wellness. I hit the gym and began really watching what I ate. I was in the gym two-and-a-half hours a day and ate less than 1,500 calories daily.” Drake decided to come back to the Mazda MX-5 series, but the next season’s costs would be coming out of his own pocket (or whatever sponsors he could locate). The Mazda scholarship was all gone. He joined the Sick Sideways team again and entered the 2016 Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup Series. This was the first year of the new Mazda MX-5 Global Cup car.
Early in the season, Drake was a real contender in the series. There was no question he was fast. And again, going into the last race of the season he was right in the top of the championship points. He earned a podium during the first race of the weekend and things were looking good. During the last race of the season, he was sitting in third place when he blew an engine on the last lap. He did everything he could to coast to the finish line. He saw a train of cars coming up behind him, so he turned on his hazard lights to warn the competitors he didn’t have any engine power. The train was coming and there was nothing Drake could do. The end result was an eight car accident. To add insult to injury, the SCCA fined him 40 championship points for using his hazards. He ended up finishing fourth in the championship points — again — and now he had a damaged racecar and a blown motor. It was not the result he was looking for.
Drake gave up his Miata racing days and went back to a familiar package — Porsche. He moved up to the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge pro series driving a blue and black Porsche Cayman with team Body Motion in the ST class. He was wicked fast in the Porsche, but some ugly racing luck came up again.
“We had blistering pace and the fastest laps of the ST class in the Roar before the 24 at Daytona,” said Drake. “But while in third place, we blew a right rear shock.” That sort of luck followed the team all season. The team would lead a race, then have a mechanical problem. They cracked a sub-frame at one event. During practice at the Circuit Of The Americas (COTA), the car burned to the ground. During the last lap at VIR, the engine blew. He was fast, but couldn’t catch a break.
For the 2018 season, Drake has an entirely new approach to racing. Instead of spending a ton of money on racecars that have a tendency to break at some very inopportune moments, he has decided to go into business running his own driving academy. He calls it Apex Sports Car Academy, and it will be stationed at The Thermal Club near Palm Springs.
Drake’s Apex Sports Car Academy will launch in 2018 and prepare amateur drivers to make it in the professional ranks.“I like to refer to it as the club-racer-into-a-pro-racer boot camp,” says Drake. “I’m going to prep people for Daytona.” The business plan is to take four students at a time and put them through a five day hell week, which is part Disneyland and “part hard ass work.” The curriculum is being put together by an Indy car coach. Pro drivers will be flown in to be instructors. The class will include nutrition, media training, and of course, lots of driving in a multitude of track cars. All of this will be conducted at one of the finest motorsports facilities on earth, The Thermal Club, where catering includes filet mignon. Drake says there will be vegan choices as well (of course, he’s from Hollywood).
When Drake isn’t winning races or acting in Disney television shows, he spends his time in the gym, doing professional-driving coaching, and driving for different events. Drake recently was brought on to help with Horsepower Wars as a race driver. His lap times at Buttonwillow in both cars clearly showed his talent behind the wheel of a car.
His goals for the future are to get Apex Sports Car Academy off the ground by the end of this year and then eventually own a three car IMSA team. According to Drake, “One car is fine, two cars is better, but three cars is what pays the bills for a professional racing team.” Look out for Drake Kemper on a track near you. Chances are, he’ll be out front.