Archives: Tom Kipp’s Home Track Breakthrough
Going into the 1994 season it didn’t look good for seven-year AMA Pro Road Racing veteran Tom Kipp. Then a bold decision turned things around for the friendly and fast Ohioan. Uninvited, he somehow got into the pre-season tire tests at Daytona and started making his case to team managers there. Afterall, he had been perhaps one of the hottest riders in AMA road racing before crashing and suffering bad injuries early in ’93. Maybe some had written him off, but Yoshimura’s Suehiro “Nabe” Watanabe saw Kipps hunger. Before the test was over Kipp had a verbal agreement with Yoshimura Suzuki to join them as a Supersport only rider. That later morphed into a full-scale Superbike and Supersport program.
Archives: Tom Kipp’s Home Track Breakthrough
Kipp signing with Yoshimura Suzuki proved to be a perfect match for both parties. Kipp went on a mid-season tear and won the AMA 750cc Supersport Championship in a close battle with teammate Britt Turkington. Along the way Kipp finally earned a very important victory for him personally, after years of coming oh so close, Kipp finally scored a national win at his home track, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It had to be one of the most memorable wins of his career for his friends and family, who came every year to Mid-Ohio cheer him on. The Ohio racing fans loved it too. Home state hero Kipp was always a favorite to the large crowds that came to Mid-Ohio in those days.
Kipp, hailed from the Cleveland suburb of Mentor, Ohio. Lexington, Ohio’s Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is just an hour-and-a-half away and Kipp always considered Mid-Ohio his home track. Kipp’s history at Mid-Ohio dated back to 1986. During his novice days of road racing, when he was just 17 years old, Kipp won a CCS Yamaha RZ350 Cup race there, beating the experts too, on a wet track by finding unique lines.
“I realized on some of the corners they didn’t have sealer on the far outside line, maybe a line six-feet wide” Kipp recalls. “So, I started riding out there, which is normally a ridiculous line, but I was passing guys left and right. In some ways that win meant even more than my first national win at Mid-Ohio, because I was a novice and beat all the experts.”
So began his long tenure at Mid-Ohio and once he turned pro it would be a longtime before he could claim his second victory there.
Three years after his novice success, Kipp came close to winning at Mid-Ohio in 1989, when he took a very close second to Scott Zampach in the 600cc Supersport National. Kipp led major portions of the race, but Zampach, who would go on to win the series title that year, got him with a couple of laps to go and held off Kipp by 2-10ths of a second at the flag.
The one that really got away for Kipp though, was the AMA Superbike race at Mid-Ohio in 1991. Kipp was racing for Wiseco Yamaha and he’d qualified well on the second row.
“A lot of people thought that Wiseco program was a big-budget deal,” Kipp said. “But the reality was that team was on a shoestring budget. My dad was the president of Wiseco and he was finagling the best he could to put a little budget aside for me to race. We were sitting there on the grid at Mid-Ohio. It was me, my dad and my good buddy Dave Fussner, who worked for Wiseco and built the engine. We had a full-size generator sitting there charging the battery. We had one battery and it wasn’t in the greatest of shape. I remember some of the factory crew chiefs were looking at us like, ‘What are these guys doing?’ Here we were up against all the factories and we’re sitting there with the big orange extension cord running across the pits onto the grid to hook up to this battery charger. They must have thought we were a bunch of yo-yos.”
Kipp got a great launch and came up from the second row to lead the race. Amazingly, the privateer began pulling away from all the factory riders. His lead went to a full second, then two, then four! The partisan Mid-Ohio crowd of 50,000 were going nuts, standing and waving each lap as Kipp came around. Their underdog hero was going to win the race!
But then Thomas Stevens and Miguel Duhamel began charging. Kipp meanwhile was playing it conservative in traffic. He’d just crashed earlier while leading the 600 Supersport race and a week before that he’d crashed at the Suzuka 8 Hour, ruining a great run. So, even though he was leading a Superbike race at his home track, the last thing he wanted to do was crash again by pushing too hard.
“I led 23 out of out of 25 laps before I ran out of steam and Miguel and Thomas both got me,” Kipp remembers. “It was still a great race and I was on the podium and we beat a lot of factory teams that day.”
In 1992 Kipp won his first AMA National victory and title, in the 600cc Supersport Championship riding for Camel Honda. Yet for all his success, including three wins, he did not get a victory at Mid-Ohio.
Then came the fateful ’93 season where he missed nearly the entire year after crashing into the wall going onto the oval at Charlotte and shattered his leg. That’s when he lost his ride with Honda and was left on the outside, looking in before going to Daytona and somehow getting a deal done with Yoshimura.
The 750 Supersport Series was mainly where Suzuki hoped Kipp could be a contender, but the ’94 season didn’t start great. His teammate Britt Turkington, who’d won the title the year before, was winning races, while Kipp was struggling and finishing mainly outside the top-five.
“I was still trying to come back from my leg injury and it was taking some time,” Kipp said.
But then he won at Laguna Seca and his confidence came back. At that point he kept on winning – next at Elkhart Lake and Loudon before coming to Mid-Ohio.
There he finally broke through to win a national at his home track. He ran second to Turkington much of the race in in the closing laps got around and pulled away to a five-second victory, much to the delight of the crowd. It also drew Kipp nearly even with his teammate in the championship. In the end the two came into the finale that year at Road Atlanta tied on points. Kipp won the race, while the transmission on Turkington’s bike failed. Kipp was series champ.
Appropriately, seven years later, Kipp’s final AMA National win came at Mid-Ohio in 2001, in the Formula Xtreme class onboard the Attack Racing Suzuki. He won the race with a foot so badly broken that he had to have a local cobbler retrofit his racing boot with shoestrings, just so his swollen foot would fit inside.
“I called it my home track,” Kipp says of Mid-Ohio. “But I didn’t have an advantage on anyone there. It wasn’t like I raced there a bunch of times, since we only had the one event there a year. But there was something special about winning there with everyone there watching. And I could always feel the love from the fans. That made winning at Mid-Ohio extra special.”