Port Royal to honor Mifflintown’s Kauffman as he prepares to retire

MIFFLINTOWN – After a storied sprint car career that began in 1970, Keith Kauffman will hang up his helmet at the end of the season.

“The Man from Mifflintown” amassed more than 300 career sprint car wins and since 2004 has been a member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa.

He’s one of the best to ever strap into a sprint car.

And Port Royal Speedway is where Kauffman had his most success with 129 career sprint car feature wins and 13 track championships in the sprint cars. He’s won twice in a late model, too.

Port Royal will honor its 13-time champion with a tribute race on Saturday night. The 33-lap feature for 410 sprint cars will pay $5,000 to win. The 33 is significant because it’s one of Kauffman’s early car numbers.

Kauffman, who turned 63 on June 9, has been racing the Heckman Family No. 8H for the past few seasons and finished second last week at Port Royal. He scored a Pennsylvania Speedweek win in the car last season at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years now,” Kauffman said of his retirement. “I just picked this year out and decided that would be it. Something tells you it’s time.”

He will be missed – and he will miss the sport, too.

“The competition and the people are a big part of it, too,” Kauffman said. “You see so many people. When you’ve been doing it for so many years you have a lot of friends that go to the races every Saturday night. It will be a real big change for me.

“I probably will go. I live real close to the racetrack. I can walk outside and hear the cars. It will be hard to stay away. I never really got to watch a lot of races.”

His love for sprint car racing began at a young age and it was something he always wanted to do.

“When I was a little kid, I sold tickets and worked at the track before I started racing,” he said. “I was a farm boy and my dad owned a farm and he was on the fair board. He’d go to the races and they’d put me to work. I got to see a lot of how things worked before I started racing. Years ago, when they had the covered grandstands, I used to rent seat cushions to people for 10 cents apiece.”

Kauffman has seen a lot of good changes at Port Royal the past three seasons.

“All of the stuff they are doing is good,” he said. “It’s a real good group of people that are working together and they’ve made a lot of good changes and a lot of improvements to the racetrack. The drivers like it, the car owners like it and the people seem to like it. You can see what they are doing and the results show.”

Kauffman did some quarter-midget racing and go karts and made the jump right into sprint cars from there.

The legendary Mitch Smith was one of his favorite drivers, along with Indy car legends A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti.

Kauffman spent a lot of his career on the road, which wasn’t always easy with his wife, Kathy, and their two children, Becky and Chase.

“When my kids were smaller, we had a motor home and took everybody along,” he said. “When they got older and had to go to school, Kathy would have to come home and make sure they went to school and I would stay out on the road. It was a different lifestyle.

“Living this far east in the United States, when you run all over the country – it’s a lot of traveling,” he explained. “We enjoyed it and had a lot of fun. We got to see a lot of the country. It was neat to do it. The kids enjoyed it, too, and have memories for a lifetime.”

Finding a good sponsor, especially when he was on his own, wasn’t always easy.

“It was tough and it’s the same way today,” he said. “I owned my own car the first 10 years and it was pretty hard. You had to do a lot of talking and begging to get somebody to help you with anything – buying some fuel or tires or anything at all. It’s hard to get people interested. You have to find the right kind of people that enjoy the racing.”

Kauffman, who works for the state as an equipment operator, never had much time for other hobbies, although he does enjoy deer hunting. He used to enjoy ocean fishing trips with his friend Barry Camp as well.

“There wasn’t a lot when we raced all the time because I didn’t have time to do anything else,” he said.

Some national media outlets have called the safety of sprint cars into question this season after the death of NASCAR driver Jason Leffler in June and the death of Pennsylvania legend Kramer Williamson two weeks ago at Lincoln.

“It has been a tough summer for sprint car people,” he said. “Despite all that’s happened, sprint car racing is pretty safe compared to what it used to be. The cars are much safer and they’ve made improvements to the seats, the head gear, the HANS device. The helmets are better.

“You still run that risk that something could happen anytime. That’s the sad part of it. The cars are safer and the parts and pieces are better. Sometimes, the racetracks get so fast that when you have a wreck, anything can happen.”