Kumpen Sees Dream Come True
Euro NASCAR Champion Reflects On First Title, Looks Forward To 2015
There is a flow of emotions in the voice of Anthony Kumpen, the 2014 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Champion, as he speaks about the journey that brought him to the top of the official NASCAR Series in Europe.
“It feels a little bit unreal to be a NASCAR Champion, because I would have never imagined it could be possible. We didn’t even have a NASCAR Series in Europe until a few year ago,” he said. “It’s a dream come true. The opposition was incredibly strong. I didn’t expect the field to be so competitive and that make it even more special!”
The 36-year-old Belgian driver built an outstanding resumé in GT racing across the World in his eclectic career, winning 10 Belgian GT Championships, a record six 24 Hours of Zolder and one 24 Hours of Spa before getting to know the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series in 2013 and having the occasion to realize one of his dreams. As an avid NASCAR fan, Kumpen always looked at NASCAR with great interest and with his enthusiasm he involved in a new challenge his long time friend and racing partner Bert Longin and all the PK Carsport team.
The journey started right from a chassis and a lot of boxes full of parts and pieces of a Euro NASCAR stock-car and ended on the top step of the podium at Le Mans, where Kumpen received the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series trophy after celebrating in victory lane with his wife Griet Vanhees and all his team, including crew-chief Franck Steukers.
“I’ve always been a NASCAR fan – it is no coincidence that I choose the number 24 – and as soon as I knew of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, in my mind I wanted to race in it, but a team is made of a lot of people, so during a winter team-building meeting I put a lot of effort in convincing everybody to do it, because I believe that NASCAR is the future of racing in Europe,” said the first driver to succeed Ander Vilarino in the history books of the European NASCAR Series. “Even though somebody had some doubts, everybody now is really happy, from the mechanics to the sponsors. I think this Series has a bright future, and the fact that everybody at PK Carsport is happy means that we took the right decision. We hope to be there for a long time”.
The season for the Hasselt native started on the right foot in Valencia: he and Bert Longin dueled all race long for the win in the Saturday Race but had to surrender the lead in the final stages of the race. The performances were there anyway, and from the second event in Brands Hatch, where Kumpen conquered the second step of the podium in the Sunday Race, the future champion put together a string of impressive finishes, collecting a total of ten top-5s in twelve races. He was on the podium again in the Semi-Finals at Magione, Italy, and won his first race of the season in the Le Mans Finals, delivering a clutch performance that culminated in a perfect overtaking maneuver on Vilarino in the last race of the season. The move granted him the title by just one point on the Spaniard.
“It was a fantastic season and I honestly didn’t expect to win the championship.”, said Kumpen, who was one of the six different drivers to win at least one race in 2014. “The really positive thing is that the Series is growing in the right direction and in the right way. I think it is important that I help this growth, by trying to be a good ambassador for the sport. The main goal is to grow the championship and make it one of the most important in Europe.”
Becoming a NASCAR champion drew attention on Kumpen so much that on November 18 he received a public acknowledgement from the Belgian Minister of Work, Economy, Innovation and Sports, testifying the growing relevance of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series in Europe.
“It was really special, because in Belgium there are other sports, like soccer and cycling, which are very popular and very present on the mass media. Never before a Belgian race car driver received this kind of recognition,” said Kumpen. “I’m the first and I never had this opportunity in my entire career. I feel honoured and it also means that the NASCAR concept is very appealing for the general sports market in Belgium.”
In few days for Kumpen it will time to celebrate his achievements in Charlotte, but in the meantime he already announced that he will defend his title in 2015 and expand his program with races in the United States with the help of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series organization.
“While this year I kept racing also in the Belgian GT Championship, for 2015 I will completely switch to stock-car racing,” said the Belgian. “I will try to go back-to-back in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series and I also want to put together a program in the US consisting of five to ten races, to gain more experience and continue to grow as a NASCAR driver. We are working very hard with all the parties involved to be ready with a good program”.
Kumpen will receive the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Champion Ring on December 13, during the NASCAR Night Of Champions Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center in NASCAR Hall of Fame complex, in Charlotte, North Carolina.