Multi-time off-road champion Kyle Leduc is an example of hard work and determination paying off. Son of off-road hall of famer Curt Leduc, Kyle started from humble beginnings and has climbed his way up to the top position in short course off-road racing through constant work and reinvestment into his program. Now a racer, team owner and father, Kyle is currently in the chase for the overall points championship in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series. We met up with Kyle when he was testing for this weekend’s Wild West Motorsports Park race to talk about his success as well as his challenges in racing.
So Kyle, what are you up to today?
We’re testing the truck! It’s midway through the season and we’re about to race to Glen Helen. We haven’t done a lot of testing this year, so we’re going to throw some dirt and burn some miles in this truck.
What do you look for when you are shaking down a Pro 4?
I try to focus on a lot of things when testing. You can either test for a track or just do an overall shakedown of the truck. For us, it needs to be specific. I either want to test at a specific track, burn laps and get my lap times down or I just shake down the truck and make sure my components and temps are good. You know, just shake the truck down so I can go murder it the week after. Really, it’s just about getting in the truck and getting comfortable at speed. I’m used to driving the street truck all day. I come to the racetrack and I’ve got to be a superstar, so I try to just be comfortable in the seat like I’ve been in it for a month.
Tell us about your truck “Steelo” and what makes it so special. Who built it?
Our Pro 4 nicknamed “Steelo” just has style and swagger. It’s just a sick race car. It’s one that I built over about a year, year and a half. It wasn’t something that had a strict deadline on and it was just something that I wanted to create that was drastically different from what I had before with the same feeling so it was comfortable to drive. As soon as we got in that truck, it was lightning fast. We were winning races after its first race. It set a big standard. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but we won the most races ever in that first season the truck hit dirt. It was a good accomplishment.
I’m just a punk kid building race cars. It’s what I do. It’s what I grew up loving and living and now I get paid to race trucks and build them. I believe in how I drive and what I do on a race course, as well as in the shop. That’s what it’s all about. It’s a good feeling to know that I’ve got big companies pushing me to create trucks like this and have them be successful. It’s good. It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s a great feeling.
You have three championships in Pro 4 and you broke Huseman’s record of back to back wins. There’s a big target on your back. Everybody’s coming for you. They’re trying to make their cars similar to your car and they’re trying to mimic your driving style. Do you feel a lot of pressure?
I don’t know. I think pressure in our sport is inevitable. It’s always there. As soon as I get a green flag, all those dudes know their job is to go get a checkered flag and be the first one to the finish. The pressure’s always there, especially when you set the bar high. The year before in our old truck, we won eight or nine races in a row. This year, I’m like, “There’s no way we’re going to do that.” Thirteen races into it, I’m like, “Dude. What happened? How did we get from last year to this with a brand new truck and no testing and limited access to stuff?”
All I do is put my head down and keep doing what I’m doing. There’s going to be parts that fail and there’s going to be stuff that makes me faster or separate from the competition but there’s always that thought in the back of my mind – just do what you do. Just do what you’re born to do. Get on the racetrack and have fun.
I have fun when I’m racing. It looks like full kill mode when we’re thrashing. I’m laughing. It’s fun. I think that’s what makes it different. I go out there and enjoy it. I know it’s a job and I’ve got to perform, so I take it very seriously but at the same time, I’m having the time of my life getting to race a race car. And have it be successful, pay my bills and help me raise a family, a shop and a team from it? I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Knowing that it’s all ours, it’s all stuff we built and we went out there and set records with it is the best feeling I hope those records last forever, but they’ve also set the bar super high for me. If I have a bad year and I lose three races, everybody’s like, “What happened?” I’m like, “Life happened, bro. I don’t know what to tell you. Last year was just ridiculous.” I try to look at the pros and cons of it. Some good, some bad, but all in all, I can say 2015, we killed it. We murdered it. We had a ton of wins and this year, we’re doing well, we’re having great success. I can always look back on the great years and just try to break more records.
How much of a struggle has it been getting to where you’re at? What does it feel like now?
It’s hard to say. It’s been ten to twelve years from when I first touched dirt in short course truck but it’s been twenty years or so since I’ve been interested in them. It’s just been a culmination of me being nosey and sticking my nose in my dad’s truck and asking, “Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we try that?”
Getting into Pro Lite was access to do those kind of things because we were limited on some rules but other stuff we weren’t. I would get creative with different things. It made myself and my truck stand out a little bit because the West Coast guys like myself and Huseman would go back there with different equipment than what they had in the Midwest. We looked weird, like outcast California boys. I grew on that. My dad let me work on his trucks in the shop and let me experiment with stuff, so it opened the gates of trying anything. I morphed the idea of why not? Who says I can’t do it like that? Why can’t I at least try it?
Moving into the Pro 4 class, I knew I had to here. Yes, Pro Lite was great and fun but I knew in order to make a living and to be the big dog, I had to move into Pro 4. Three Pro 4 championships and seventy-six Pro 4 wins later, it’s ridiculous! Those numbers don’t seem real to me.. I’ve got boxes and boxes of number one trophies at home. I keep them all. Someday, I’m going to line them up down my driveway and knock them over like dominoes but until then, I need to get more.
It’s crazy to think about coming from a little kid building Pro Lites, to now being one of the top guys in the the sport. It’s cool to show up on race weekend, set the fastest lap time and know nobody in that whole place did a lap faster than you. For me, that’s a great feeling. I love those fastest lap trophies because it just tells me that I’m the fastest guy in the planet. All this money, all these people, all this effort, and you’re the fastest dude.
Speaking about your dad for a second – Your dad Curt Leduc brought a lot of people into this sport. He had an amazing work ethic and would never really give up, especially when he was faced with teams with huge amounts of money and resources. Is that something that drives you? To prove to everybody that Kyle LeDuc can be the champion against all these other teams with vast financial resources?
I think that’s always in the back of my mind. I always want to be the best. I love people that don’t have endless budgets but do whatever it takes to win races. I feel like I do that but rely more on myself than my equipment. You can give me a sketchy Pro 4 that might not do what it’s supposed to do but I’m going to wheel it the best I can to get it to the top. If not, I’m going to end up on fire backwards flipped over in the fence. I think it’s that effort. I think you can give a guy a Ferrari but if he drives it like a Fiat, he’s only driving a Fiat. I feel like since I’m driving my equipment, if I suck in it then my truck sucks. Like that’s just Kyle’s junk box. I want my truck to do well. I want myself to do well and then reap the benefits of that on the business side. The sponsorship, the family, the friends, everybody.
Growing up, doing it with my dad was always good. He was always a bad ass and he brought a lot of guys in, including myself. I feel like there was just always a little bit more there between him and I. I used to spot him. He and I would always argue. “Dad, you need to try and do this. You need to fight and drive and smash into these guys or lean on that.” He would do it sometimes, but then I would have to keep yelling at him because we spotted for each other and he would yell at me. Once I got behind the wheel, I was like, “Alright, this is a little more gnarly than I thought.”
Over time, I was able to start winning races. It was good to have him set the mark. He’s done a million more things than I have. I’m just beginning compared to what he’s done. I’ve got a lot more work to do but in the Pro 4 world, I think we’ve got it covered. I haven’t won The Mint 400. I haven’t won the 1000. I haven’t won 500, so I’ve got a lot of work to do.
The idea that you had no budget, no time, no support, and you had to basically show up and win races to make it to the next race always impressed me. I think a lot of people look up to your family because of that. It embodies the work ethic of off-road culture.
I think what sets the LeDuc name apart, maybe not from everyone, but for most of the people in our sport, we build our own cars. I was raised working with my dad and working on the truck. We raced mountain bikes on the side but my job and passion was to work with my dad on race cars. Me, my brother and my sister just wanted to do it. We weren’t a heavily wealthy family, we were just a racing family. My dad made money off of racing but it wasn’t enough to build us race cars or trophy trucks. He said, “Hey look, let’s start in the smallest class of Pro Lite.” Back in 2002, it wasn’t very expensive to do it. You could do it on junkyard parts and smaller stuff and we did it. We did it with a decent set of parts and this and that. I failed miserably the first year, year and a half.
Then it came to a point to where I wasn’t making any money and I wasn’t doing anything with it. It was a turning point where I needed to either haul ass or stop. I wanted to do it, we all want to do it, it’s just a matter of hanging it out and getting to that next level. Making that happen was a big step for me. I built a Pro 4 before I even had a dime to do it. My dad left to go race Crandon and I started building a Pro 4 before he even knew it existed, before it was even in my contract to race Pro 4. He came home, I had a Pro 4 on the table. He’s like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “I got to do it. Now I just got to go get the money. Here’s some tubing, I can afford to buy all that stuff, but I need somebody to commit.” I had sponsors at the time that believed in me, then it was like, “Oh no, I really need to do this for real. I’m playing with the big dogs.” You just gotta man up and start handling that truck and working on it making it perform good.
I don’t think I have the most advanced truck, I just think I have the best combo. Between me, the truck, the components, I think it’s just a lethal combo that I feel super confident in. Like, somebody getting in their car and driving to work, that’s what I feel like on a racetrack. Like, you’re just chilling in the truck, hanging on, having a blast. I think there’s more advanced cars than I have, but I think they’re doing it backwards. I think they’re using those as band-aids versus what I’ve done. Just mechanical, flat out simplicity. Here’s my truck, there’s my tranny, here’s my seat, there’s the freakin gas pedal.
I think it’s different because I have to do it. I have to earn my money. I don’t go home rich if I lose. It’s simple. I feel like what I do on the racetrack influences my life. If I want a new car or if I want to buy a house, I can’t suck on the racetrack. I’ve got to go faster and get it. When I’m paid $2,000 more to go beat Bryce Menzies or Rob Mac in a corner from a couple of my sponsors, I’m going to make that two grand whether I make the spot or end up on fire backwards. I think there’s a little bit of difference there and there’s more appreciation for me when I get across that podium and I know I’ve earned my extra $10,000 bonus beating those guys. It makes me feel really, really good.
Let’s talk about where we’re at in the season.
Right now, the 2016 season is about halfway over so we’ve really got to pick up what we’ve dropped in the beginning of the season. We had some mechanical issues and we tried some things that we shouldn’t have in the beginning of the year. It bit us. Now, we’ve got to scoop up that debris and turn it into a trophy. It’s a lot of work. I think we’re back on track. We’ve already won some races and set crazy fast lap times. I think we’re back to where we want to be, it’s just a matter of staying out of trouble and getting to the track where we know we can dominate and just deliver. Now we’re going to a bull ring like Glen Helen, and man, you can have some squid come across the corner and take you out after a perfect day. Even going through lap traffic, you never know on a small track like this. It’s tricky. Do you have a game plan? Absolutely not. You can’t. You have to live by split second decisions and hopefully when you make them, they’re the right ones.
A lot of guys have proven they make the wrong ones in that situation. It makes for great TV and great action, but terrible for running your team and paying your bills. It’s a happy medium of how hard you go and how hard you can go getting away with murder. It’s a points race. We’re all in it for points. I’m down on points. Those guys just have to roll around in happy medium but for me, if they’re going to tenderfoot it, I’m going into full murder mode. Sorry. Let me do that again. When they’re trying to save a championship and trying to stay up front, and I’m the guy trying to come up from the bottom, they go a little tender in the corners and I go a little easy, you know.
When you have the points leaders out there trying to maintain a championship and I’m the underdog coming from the back, I go into full kill mode. They have that limp mode of, let’s just maintain points. It’s okay if we lose a couple, two or three. For me, I need to gain as much as I can. I need to qualify first, I need to lead halfway and I need to win the thing. Hopefully, they have bad days or I can rough them up along the way to where they have issues and I can gain ten points. It’s kind of worked that way, lately. The races that I’ve won, racers have had issues. The splits are dropping incredibly. The first two weekends, we were dead last in points, now we’re fourth. We’re coming. We’re playing. They know it. They know we’re in full tilt mode. It’s on. For me, it’s on. We’ve got a couple rounds to do it. Every point counts, so I’ve got nothing to lose. All I need to do is win that championship. Right now, nobody’s won three Pro 4 championships in a row, only two. If I can do it this year, I set the standard and nobody’s ever done it. Full kill mode.
No secret. Full kill mode.
Obviously, you’ve come up through the ranks so you’ve had a lot of seat time in Pro Lite before moving up to Pro 4. You drive extremely aggressively. In fact, I think that, I don’t know if it’s on purpose, definitely intimidates the field, right? You’re setting up the back end of the corners. You’re committing before guys are even turning. Do you think that that gives you a psychological advantage. Like when guys look over and they see that you’re already sideways and they haven’t begun starting the turn?
Yeah, I think driving style is a huge influence. You look at Moto, those guys all have a certain style. You watch Bubba Stewart and he’s squirrelly as hell but he’s fast. You watch Dungey – perfect, perfect, perfect, perfect. Those two can balance out. For me, I’ve learned to drive a certain way on each track. Over the years of getting into a manual and watching how Huseman used to drive and how a couple different guys drive, I’ve morphed my own style. Is it aggressive? Yeah, I think so. Is it hard on equipment? I feel like I’m the nicest on equipment, but I break everything. It’s weird. I’m driving with a lot of care and a lot of thought, but at the same time, I’m just killing my race car. All I’ve got to do is keep it alive for fifteen minutes and then we can work on it all night long.
For me, it’s intimidating. I’ve passed and nerfed guys with my rear bumper in a corner, if that makes any sense, versus my front bumper. It’s me getting aggresive, them running the standard lines and just getting it in underneath them. If you’re going through a corner and somebody comes in backwards at twenty miles an hour, your instinct is to lift and give them room. I’ll take that room. Sometimes we hit, sometimes you have bad contact, but for the most part, my job is to make you flinch. If that’s something that works for me, then I try to do it every time. For me, it’s not a “work on somebody for two or three laps” kind of a pass. It’s a go now when they least expect it kind of pass. I’ve passed guys on the bottom of the tracks, which is kind of what people are used to. I’ve gone into corners where I’m on the outside and I know what the spotters tell drivers. I’ve spotted before. I know how it works. “Kyle’s on your outside, Kyle’s on your outside.” My job is to switch to the inside before your spotter can even push his button. He’s guarding and protecting an outside line and all of a sudden I’m doing him from the inside. He’s like, “Who the hell? Where did this happen?”
At that point, you’re kicked in the nuts. You can’t even react. You’re down. You’re out. For me, that’s the best way to do it, the surprise mode. I’ve got to be able to go here, and then I got to switch and go over there, or go that way and just do whatever I can to make a pass. That’s, for me, a set up. I really don’t change my truck from one track to another just because I want to know what it’s going to do every time. If I set up for a Glen Helen, it’s not going to work like it does in Reno. I need all that stuff to intermingle because I’m the one guy. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it. I’ve seen it on TV. I’m the one guy to go down the straightaway and swerve left and right trying to find a path and still make it work to where, the other guys will either be points racing or just not as aggressive and just fall in line and hope for a podium or hope for a lean-on and hope for a decent outrun.
To me, I’ll try to create something out of nothing. There’s just dirt, so find your fastest way around. Sometimes, I don’t always be the fastest, but it’s just the influence. It’s the pump fake. It’s the reaction of them to get out of your way and take that spot, and it’s worked. I feel like I use that for my advantage and if they try to use it on me, I laugh. I’m in my truck going, “I know exactly what you’re doing. Let’s go. It’s just me and you, bro.” It’s fun for me to race a race car and if you can pass guys that try to outsmart you, it’s fuel for the fire. I’m in my car, people are watching it on TV, in the grandstands, I’m in my car laughing and I’m in a different world than anybody thinks it is. It’s pure fun for me, man.
Would you describe yourself as fully committed?
Yes. That’s the biggest thing in Pro 4. In Pro 4, a 100% is commitment. Whether it’s cornering, aggression, speed, we’re not crazy faster than a Pro 2 but the way you have to drive them is fully committed. Dude. I’m fully committed all the time. No hesitation. If you hesitate, it’s over. You lose a spot, you lose track space, or you crash your car. It’s all got to be instantaneous. It’s all got to be just pure reaction and full commitment. No hesitation.
How do you determine where that edge is at?
I don’t ever want to say you want to drive it until you crash it and then you learn your boundaries. That’s not how it works. I can feel what’s fast or what’s slow. I can go around a racetrack two seconds slower and make it sound like I’m going a million miles an hour faster but it’s slower. Maybe everybody else doesn’t think that way. I don’t know. Maybe their job is to just go back and tell the guys, “This truck sucks. We’re getting beat.” so they have to give them a better car. To me, it’s like, give me the truck, I’ll go handle the rest. The commitment is there. The need to win, the desire to win, and the ability to catch Carl and Bryce and all these dudes in front of you with their million dollars worth of machinery and pass them is unbelievably good feeling. It’s a good day. People say I come off cocky or whatever, but it’s more the fact that I know my equipment, I know myself, I know what I am capable of.