It’s said it takes a village to raise a child. The same could be said for raising an elite race-car driver.
Between car owner, crew members and sponsors, there’s more to getting across the finish line than just the driver.
Fortunately for Bennington’s Matt Kimball, 17, he has such a village.
Kimball, who graduated from ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough last Saturday, grew up in a racing family. His father, Bill Kimball Jr., was a five-time Monadnock Speedway Modified champion and a three-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series N.H. champion.
But while Bill Kimball has been Matt’s main sponsor, mentor and car owner, he’s far from the only one pitching in. The young racer draws support from his mother, Theresa, his brother, David Elliott, his grandfather, Bill Sr., several aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, and many local businesses.
Now, Matt is beginning to etch his own name into the local racing history books, having won last year’s Monadnock Speedway Mini Stock championship.
When asked what made him fall in love with the sport, Matt said: “I wouldn’t really say it’s the racing itself, I would say the family around it. I mean, me and my dad talk about it all the time and my brother helps me work on it, and if we ever have issues on the track, someone’s always right there to help us.”
Bill Jr. grew up riding four-wheelers, but didn’t start racing competitively until the age of 24, with only his father to help him. He was going into the sport blind, and the only way for him to improve was trial by fire.
“Where I started, I didn’t know anything about it,” Bill Jr. said. “We just went into it kind of head-first and learned as we went.
“You learn from your mistakes and try not to do it twice.”
It took some time, but he worked his way up to his first championship 11 years into his career, and the rest is history. He still races from time to time, but he hasn’t raced full-time in about three years.
Matt got a much earlier introduction to the world of racing, starting out by driving go-karts at age six.
He raced at the go-kart track every Sunday, but it was not a sustainable routine, with his father racing most Saturdays. So, in 2013, Matt moved his way up from go-karts to bigger tracks.
He got his start in the Monadnock Speedway Young Guns division for competitors ages 12 to 15, but Matt was allowed to enter at age 11.
Matt raced with the Young Guns for two years, winning four races and making important first steps in his career. Advice from his father and grandfather was vital to his growth, too, he said.
“Just to realize when to be aggressive. Sometimes you’ve just got to wait a couple laps to make your move,” Bill Jr. said. “Just different racing scenarios that I can teach him and different ways to pass cars, because there is a little art to it. You can’t just say, ‘Ok, I’m gonna go by you now’; you’ve got to do a couple things in the race car.”
After those two years in the Young Guns, Bill Jr. bought Matt his first mini-stock car and the young racer moved up to the that division at Monadnock Speedway. Matt just stuck with racing for points at Monadnock for the next two years, but everything changed when his brother came home.
David Elliott served 12 years in the Navy, returning home in 2017.
David, 33, also grew up in a racing culture in the Kimball family, but he didn’t get the chance to race as much as Matt did because the family didn’t have the funds then. But even as he lived in Virginia during his tour of duty, he would still travel north to go racing with his family on weekends. And, he followed Matt’s racing and wrestling career online.
Matt became a co-captain on ConVal’s wrestling team his senior year, and earned back-to-back top-three finishes in the Division II Championships for back-to-back trips to the Meet of Champions, which combines the best wrestlers from all divisions.
But as much as David tried to stay connected to his family during his service, there was still a degree of separation that he was intent on making up when he returned home.
“You can easily see, many folks that are in the military, regardless if they’re in for four years or 12 years or 20 years, every year that you’re away is a year that you don’t really get back with your family,” David said. “So, all you can do is do what you can to try to make up for lost time.”
The way David chose to make up for that time with Matt was by getting directly involved with his brother’s racing career.
David bought Matt’s mini-stock car from their father — who still owned Matt’s modified car, since he started racing in the modified division the year before Bill Jr. stopped racing full-time. David not only became one of Matt’s car owners, but also a key member of his crew and another mentor in his growing story.
Modifieds are open-wheel cars and popular with fans for their speed and close-quarters competition.
“I also drive my brother to do the best he can no matter what and I’m not afraid to be honest with him,” David said. “If he messed up in a race, even if he finished second or won the race, if he messed up he needs to know his errors, and that’s how he gets better.”
Among Matt’s other crew members are his cousin, Johnny Voorhees, his friend Brandon Graham, Brandon’s brother William and the Robinson brothers, Kyle and Kody. These are guys who, according to David, make it to Matt’s races almost every week, despite having to foot their own bill to travel to dozens of races a season across New England.
Matt’s mother, Theresa, isn’t a car owner or a crew member, but she plays an important role. She video records all of Matt’s races, and is always on hand to drive out to a nearby auto shop and pick up a spare part while the crew is working on the car at the track.
Bill Sr. also makes it out to Matt’s races as a supportive spectator when he can, as do many of Matt’s other family members.
“Usually we have 20 of our family members sometimes go to the races, sometimes less,” Matt said. “They just enjoy going to the track, and I love enjoying what I do and it makes them love it so it’s just a win-win.”
Winning is something Matt has been getting used to on the race track. Last year — 2018 — was a career year for him; he won nine races, including seven at Monadnock Speedway — which is 50 minutes from his hometown — to claim his first championship.
“My dad told me after I won to act like I’d been there before,” Matt said. “It felt pretty good because we definitely were the car to beat all year.
“It was definitely a great feeling because I know the team deserved it, not just me. It takes a whole crew, it doesn’t take just the driver. I’m so thankful, and I think at the end of the year we all deserved that track championship.”
Among Matt’s other accolades: he took second in points in the modified division two years ago and fifth last year, and he finished in the top six in the ranks for the Whelen series Youth Achievement Award each of the past two years.
Matt describes his racing style as aggressive, but also smooth and respectful. He tries to get to the front of the pack as quickly as possible, but without taking any unnecessary risks.
David said Matt’s best skill is his ability to learn a track’s benefits and drawbacks quickly.
He won a mini-stock race May 18 at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine — a track he had never turned a green-flag lap on after experiencing mechanical issues his previous two trips there. Earlier in the season, he traveled to Virginia for a national mini-stock race at the famous Richmond Raceway, and took second out of 41 drivers from across the country.
“That’s a huge strength to be able to do that,” David said. “It’s gonna take multiple seasons for some people to pick up the different attributes of each track. One track, you may have to run the bottom in one corner and the top in another corner, another track there might be certain bumps that either hurt you or are an advantage to you, so there’s different stuff with all types of tracks.”
This year, according to David, Matt will be aiming for some different accomplishments.
He’ll be racing full-time in the North East Mini Stock Tour, or NEMS Tour — a 10-race circuit featuring tracks from all over New England. His win at Oxford was his first victory in that series.
He’ll also be aiming for another track mini-stock title, this time at Hudson Speedway.
Lastly, he’ll be competing in the Battle of the Belt, another mini-stock tour taking place at the five tracks of Southern N.H.: Monadnock, Star, Claremont, Lee and Hudson (the latter being raced twice).
In addition to the mini-stock competition, he’ll also compete part-time in the modified division. David said that, in addition to bringing home some titles, Matt hopes to finish high in the ranks of the Division IV NASCAR standings as well.
“It’s a lot of goals, and at the end of the year, you’ve got to aim high,” David said. “Where we end up is where we end up, but if you’re not setting high goals then you’re shorting yourself when it comes the end of the year.”
So far, Matt has won two races on the NEMS tour — his win at Oxford, and one at White Mountains Motorsports Park in Woodstock — and has already won twice at Hudson. In the modified division, he has finished second once and fifth twice at Claremont Speedway, and third at Monadnock Speedway.
With his high school days behind him, Matt said he’s not quite sure what he plans to do next, but he knows he’s planning to continue racing.
As good as he is, or might become, money drives this pursuit.
And more drivers than not compete at a loss financially.
A winning purse can fetch up to $3,000 in some events, but a few hundred dollars is more on par the winner’s sum.
In that regard, Matt has been fortunate, too.
Among his sponsors are his father’s business, William Kimball Trucking, Land Clearing and Firewood in Bennington — which Matt also works for part-time — his aunt’s business, Trends of Fashion salon in Antrim, and his uncle’s business, Peterboro Tool Company in Peterborough. Other local sponsors include Tyler’s Small Engine and Edmunds Ace Hardware, both of Antrim, and T&J Waste Management and American Legion Young and Richard Post 59, both of Hillsborough.
Also among Matt’s top supporters are Chucky’s Fight — a nonprofit organization that aims to combat substance abuse — and KRJ Handcrafted Jewelry & More — his biggest sponsor this season.
The family race team also relies on fundraisers and selling
“He can go as far as money takes him, really,” Bill Jr. said. “You go as far as what you can afford. Everything beyond that, somebody would have to recognize him and say he’s a good driver and they want him to drive their equipment in a higher division.
“There’s a lot of good drivers out there that don’t get to see how good they are just because they don’t have the financing to go that far.”
In other words, it’s going to take a village.