Sexy, sporty, elegant imports, such as BMWs, Porsches, and Mazdas, proliferate the field at American Endurance Racing (AER) events. Then, there’s the “Krabby Kraut” car, a 2001 Volkswagen Jetta, which has been a mainstay of AER since the last race of its inaugural season in 2014.
The Jetta is the kind of car you say . . . has a nice personality. Sexy? Sporty? Elegant? Those words don’t come to mind when talking about the incredibly homely fourth-generation Jetta. In fact, reviews of the car use such thrilling words as “adequate” and “acceptable” to describe it.
While the world may lack enthusiasm about this grocery-getter, a quartet of drivers — Cody Ace, Jay Counterman, Trevor Dawe, and Alex Rubenstein — love their ugly (err . . . krabby?) duckling.
We’re the outliers. We’re self-funded — we don’t come from a lot of money. We’re scrappy. We do it the old-school way. But, the hard way always seems to win. — Cody Ace
Their passion for the ride comes with merit. It performs. It wins. Regularly. Not only in its class but the overall race. Yet, even more impressively, it endures. While a Jetta struggles to stay alive on the street, this car racked up the most all-time laps in the series —11,000-plus laps after the season opener at Road Atlanta. Nearly 10,000 of those laps came on the original engine, which overheated when a wreck pushed the radiator in and knocked a hose off.
“It’s like one of these freaks of nature,” said Rubenstein, 46, of Byram, New Jersey. “We’ve tried to kill it by crashing it, driving it off track, mud bogging, cold, hot, overheating, rain, snow, everything — we can’t seem to kill this car.
“From a driving perspective, as terrible as it might look, or as crazy as you might think it is to have a Jetta on a racetrack, the car is actually easy to drive — very controllable, very fast. And, if we’re in the rain, look out, there’s no stopping us.”
The Krabby Kraut Volkswagen Jetta dates back to 2014. Dawe came across a Jetta and built it for a 24 Hours of Lemons race at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Dawe, Counterman, Ace, and a few others drove the vehicle at the event. Since Lemons required a theme for the team, they used Counterman’s nickname as Mr. Krabs as inspiration. While some team members intended to call it the Krusty Krab car, Counterman used Krusty Kraut when he registered — and it stuck.
After that, they wished to venture to Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut, for its AER race. Rubenstein came across the Krusty Kraut VW in Counterman’s fabrication shop when Counterman was putting a cage into Rubenstein’s Miata.
“I said, ‘That’s something I wanted to always do,’” Rubenstein said, eyeing the VW. “[Counterman] was like, ‘Sure you do. You stay over there. We don’t want you too close to this race car.’”
Counterman later warmed up to Rubenstein, and the Wednesday before Lime Rock, he invited him to drive the car after another driver backed out.
“Two days [before the race and] I didn’t even have a fire suit or anything like that,” Rubenstein said. “I bought everything I needed that Wednesday afternoon. They probably didn’t know my first real race was that first race at Lime Rock.”
Since then, Rubenstein has been a solid part of the long journey the Krabby Kraut Volkswagen has taken. The team said it puts in a lot of work to make the Krabby go the distance.
“We go over the car really good,” said Dawe, 42, of Blooming Grove, Pennsylvania. “We make sure everything is good and tight; everything is where it’s supposed to be.”
This includes a thorough nut-and-bolt check, changing all fluids, bleeding brakes and the clutch, replacing wheel studs, and making necessary repairs of worn-out and damaged parts before every race. The team also instituted many improvements to boost the durability of the vehicle, as seen in the photos accompanying this piece. Fortunately, AER’s rulebook allows teams to find creative solutions to issues found when racing cars intended solely to be used for the road.
“You’re not limited to running X part or Y part,” Dawe said. “So, you can improve things, which I like to do.”
Dawe earns a living by improving race cars. He builds engines at his family-owned shop, Dawe’s Motorsports, which primarily services Porsches. He applies his engine and setup expertise to the Krabby Kraut VW. His background complements his teammates’.
Counterman owns JPC Fabrication, renowned in road racing circles for its rollcage work. He applies his fabrication skills to the Volkswagen in the form of its cage, bracketry, and exhaust, among other components.
Ace works at his family’s Ace Trucking. Mechanically savvy, he does the bulk of the maintenance on the car and uses his logistical mind to maintain the necessary parts inventory and manage expenses.
Rubenstein dabbles in a variety of ventures, including as a data center consultant, part-owner of AER, and mayor of his hometown, Byram, New Jersey. While his background differs from his blue-collar teammates, he serves as a counterbalance, which helps his teammates see things from another perspective.
“I bring a calming force and a little bit of motivation,” said Rubenstein. “Oftentimes, these guys are throwing out crazy ideas to do to the car. I say, ‘What is the exact problem we are fixing here? Are we really having this issue?’
“I also kick the guys in the ass, like, ‘Hey, we need to register for this race, or what work needs to be done, or what parts need to be ordered?’”
While all four work exceptionally well together, they also match each other closely on the track, with little difference in lap times from one to another.
Ultimately, what makes the Krabby Kraut Volkswagen Jetta so successful doesn’t boil down to one particular area. It takes everything as a package to make the unique ride win races, all of which are driven by the incredible people behind the wheel and the wrenches of the car.
“[We] continue to beat better cars, with a lesser car,” said Ace, 35, of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. “We shouldn’t be in the same realm as E36 BMWs. Yet, we’re beating stock-ish ones.
“We’re the outliers. We’re self-funded — we don’t come from a lot of money. We’re scrappy. We do it the old-school way. But, the hard way always seems to win.”