Student Standouts: Spike Kohlbecker
Most 16-year-olds can’t wait to pass a driver’s test so they can get behind the wheel of the family sedan. Kirkwood High School junior Spike Kohlbecker takes that dream a few laps further by racing open-wheel cars competitively.
Spike first got interested in the sport with encouragement from his father and grandfather. When he was little, his dad drew a racetrack with chalk on the driveway for the budding racer’s electric go-kart. Now, Spike pilots Formula Ford 1600 racecars and says the combined physical and mental challenge is a real rush. “These cars don’t have the downforce that others have to help keep them on the ground,” he explains. “You really have to concentrate on keeping your car on the track. It’s mentally demanding—kind of like a long chess match going on inside your head. You’re constantly figuring out when to make a move.”
The young driver has some impressive wins under his helmet, including the BRSCC National Formula Ford 1600 race in England this past summer. He also was named a finalist in the prestigious Team USA scholarship program. Spike often is out of town at national and international competitions, so he completes his schoolwork through the Launch program, an online study system. “My passport has a lot of stamps in it,” he says. “I really enjoy traveling. The coolest place I’ve been so far is New Zealand. I had a month in between races there, so I did a ton of sightseeing.”
He says that while auto racing produces a lot of great champions, he tends not to model himself after any of them. “Everyone goes down a different path, so you can’t be exactly like anyone else,” he notes. “You have to do it your own way so others will look up to you.” He adds that racing challenges him in other ways as well, like finding corporate sponsors and learning about the business and operational sides of the sport.
Spike got his nickname several years ago after seeing a kid with spiky purple hair. “I did the same to mine, and the name stuck,” he jokes. He says he enjoys being a leader in his sport and is looking forward to moving up in the pecking order. “You have to go through different levels to get to the professional Indy car racing system,” he says. “I’m currently at the bottom, but I think it’s going to be fun and challenging getting to the top. I plan to build my brand as ‘the St. Louis boy,’ kind of a hometown hero. I would love to represent my city in the Indy 500 someday. I’m lucky to have a family that has been very supportive.” When he’s not on the racetrack, he spends as much of his time with them as possible. “It’s especially good to see my family when I’ve been gone for a long time,” he says.
He advises other kids who are interested in the sport to visit World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. “Try the rental go-karts and go to some Indy car events,” he says. “If you decide you like it, there are lots of people there who will help you. Racing is an expensive sport, and it takes a lot of time and practice to become good. It’s best to start when you are young!”
As part of its sponsorship, Sport Court has made a donation to Easter Seals on behalf of Spike.
Photos: Andrea Pritchard