At age 69, Kemper won the SCCA Formula Mazda national championship, stepping onto the Runoffs podium for the first time
Melvin David Kemper Jr. has been racing for nearly half a century, but it wasn’t until this year, at the young age of 69 that this year’s Formula Mazda Champion scored his first podium at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs.
It’s not his first title – he started racing in 1970 in a Sunbeam Tiger in the International Conference of Northwest Sports Car Clubs, winning his first championship in 1971. He has won several championships with that group in a variety of classes, and won the SCCA Northern Pacific Division Formula Mazda title seven times. But in six attempts at the Runoffs, at four different tracks, his best finish was fourth. He figured if he was going to hit the podium – and Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the place he wanted to do it – he better put his work in.
“To race at Indy is a lifelong dream for someone like me,” says Kemper, whose father took him to watch the Indianapolis 500 on a big screen presentation at Portland Coliseum in 1964, years before the race would be televised live. “I’ve been watching that race for a long time, so to race at that facility was a lifelong dream. If I was going to do it, I wanted to do my best, so I really did focus for a year-and-a-half. I’m an engineer, so I tried to apply all the features of being an engineer toward that. My goal was to be on the podium.”