Spike Kohlbecker runs towards his goal of competing in the Indianapolis 500
Not long ago Spike kohlbecker thought going to 30mph was fast. His first racing car – a go-kart his grandfather gave him when he was 4 years old – only had a very small engine, but it was his exposure to a hobby inducing the adrenaline which quickly became his passion. Initially, instead of a crew at the pit, Kohlbecker had his parents, who stuffed his fun-sized racing car in the back of their SUV and took him to one of the tracks dotting the Saint-Louis area. . Now at 18, the Kirkwood native is doing around 90mph on the track and he has professional assistance. He is pursuing a career on the IndyCar circuit through Ignite Autosport, a local program that helps promising young drivers train to become champions. This year, Kohlbecker is driving the USF2000 Series, the first rung of the ladder to ever compete in an IndyCar – and the Indianapolis 500.
Has your family always been as excited about running as you are? My grandfather and grandmother spent their honeymoon at Elkhart Lake, a very famous trail here in the United States. Eventually, when my mom was born, their family vacation had to go to racetracks. That’s what they did, so it was Grandpa who got me in the race.
How did you get the name Spike? When I was in kindergarten, I did my hair. I came back from the break and my friends started calling me Spike, or Mohawk, or whatever. He eventually evolved into Spike and got stuck. Not only has it stayed true to my name, it stays on people’s minds as well. There aren’t a lot of people called Spike.
What is your training like between races? There are two different parts; on and off piste. It is almost more important to train off-piste than on-piste. When I’m not on the right track, I work with a company called the Central Institute for Human Performance in Kirkwood. They base their workouts around my body but also help me improve my brain so they make me juggle and read when I’m not in the facility working with them.
And when are you on the track? These are the things that come naturally with everything we do. We have test dates that allow us to familiarize ourselves with the cars, the new tires and the different configurations. It is about being in the present moment. You try to feel the car and what it’s doing and get rid of everything else. It all comes just from practice and concentration. This is what I do off track with juggling and reading. It’s about being in the present.
What kind of force does it take to drive a car at top speed? We’ve got a lot of G-force in there, and something that helps the car feel like a custom molded seat. It keeps me in place, so I don’t have to use the core muscles or the leg muscles as much to slip like you would on a regular streetcar.
What is all this training leading to? My goal not only this year but [also] in the future is to continue to race and win on the IndyCar ladder system and eventually arrive at the IndyCar series.
Are you just running in the Midwest or have you ever helped fill out your passport? I definitely changed my lifestyle with running. I have lived in Canada, New Zealand and the UK. I like to travel. I have been to amazing places.
Which places are at the top of your list? Ireland is one of my favorites. It’s super pretty. I also ran on a track called Anglesey in the UK. The water is right there. You walked over that hill and you couldn’t see the road because it was a blind hill. But from above the hill you could look directly at the Isle of Man.
What are your proudest accomplishments to date? One of my proudest accomplishments was the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand last year. I was competing with some of the best riders in the world and at the end of the season I got the Most Improved Rider award. It was absolutely awesome. I don’t think I ever smiled as big as I did that night at the awards show.