It’s painful anytime our tight-knit drag racing community loses one of its own but the plain truth is that some losses hurt more than others and today, it’s hard to imagine anything more painful than having to say goodbye to Kyle Seipel, who lost his long battle with cancer on June 21. It’s also hard to ignore the irony of losing one of the sport’s most versatile and well-liked personalities on June 21 since that is the summer solstice, the one day of the year that features the most daylight and conversely, the least amount of darkness. Maybe it’s fitting because as a racer, crew chief, track operator, promoter, and all-around good guy, Kyle’s light shone brightly for the four-plus decades he spent immersed in the sport he loved.
Many years ago, my boss, National Dragster Editor Phil Burgess wrote the following: “The more we widen our circle of friends, the more painful these losses become.” Phil wrote those words in a tribute to National Dragster photo editor Les Lovett, who left us 25 years ago next month, but they apply equally to Kyle, whose circle of friends included just about everyone in the sport including pro and sportsman racers, track operators and race officials, and of course, the big money bracket racing community, which might well be where he had his biggest impact.
The son of Super Gas pioneer Ted Seipel and Sonoma Raceway (then Sears Point) track manager Georgia, Kyle first rose to prominence in the 1980s when he terrorized local bracket races around his Northern California home. He pretty much owned the winner’s circle at the E.T. Finals and then, for more than a decade, he had a reserved table at the Pacific Division awards banquet, winning an amazing 10 championships in Super Comp, Super Gas, and Super Street between 1990 and 2000. He displayed his versatility by winning 12 NHRA national events in five different classes. From Super Street to Top Dragster, there was no discipline that Kyle couldn’t master.
Seipel’s nickname was “Big Nasty” but in reality, he wasn’t either of those things. Maybe he was “Big” in the way he projected a larger-than-life persona that made people gravitate towards him. In that manner, he was much like the late Jim Harrington, another unselfish sportsman racer who gave far more to the sport than he took, and one who also left us far too soon. And Kyle certainly wasn’t nasty unless you just happened to line up next to him on race day.
For all his success in the driver’s seat, Seipel’s real talents came as a crew chief. More specifically, when it came to dialing-in a sportsman car, there was simply no one better. Watching him calculate the effects of wind and weather and track conditions on a race car was akin to watching Rain Man count cards on a blackjack table. There are many stories of Kyle sitting in his living room, monitoring an event via NHRA.TV and the internet, and telling his friends exactly what to dial and where to set the throttle stop timer. He hit the bullseye far too often for it to be a coincidence.
More importantly, Seipel wasn’t the least bit hesitant to share his wealth of knowledge with his fellow racers. World champs including Peter Biondo, Anthony Bertozzi, Bo Butner, and Justin Lamb as well as rising stars like Marko Perivolaris all benefitted from his expertise. Had he kept that knowledge to himself, Seipel almost certainly would have won more events than he did, but that simply wasn’t a part of his nature. He got far more enjoyment out of helping his friends succeed than he did winning himself.
Seipel followed in his mother’s path as the manager of Sonoma Raceway and he took an already great track to new heights but his lasting legacy is almost certain to be the big money Spring and Fall Fling races that he co-promoted with Biondo, his longtime best friend. Peter was raised in New York while Kyle was a native Californian so their upbringings could not have been more different. Yet, when it came to business, they shared a common vision. Growing up in racing families, Peter and Kyle each saw the sport through a wide-angle lens and when they decided to promote their first event in 2010, they knew exactly what they wanted to accomplish and how they wanted to get there.
Using customer satisfaction as the foundation of their business, the Fling events held in Las Vegas, Benson, N.C. (GALOT), Columbus, and Bristol, have been known to sell out within minutes and they remain some of the most popular E.T. events in the country. There will undoubtedly be tough days ahead for Biondo and the rest of the Fling staff, but they will carry on, perhaps now with a daily reminder to continue to do things the way Kyle would want them to be done.
Life isn’t fair. You don’t always get what you deserve and there are many things that none of us will ever understand including how someone who gave so much to so many others could be taken so soon. I do think I knew Kyle well enough to know that he’d be okay if you shed a few tears today, but he’d ultimately want each of us to smile whenever we think of him and remember all the good times we shared.
Rest easy, Big Nasty