Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Lendzion and Fastest Street Car Staff
Kyle Salminen was six years old when he started going to the track with his family to watch his father, Matt Salminen, race.
He enjoyed everything about it, from the sound of the engines to the scent of the exhaust, and that didn’t diminish as the years went on.
The day his father handed him a tool so that he could help him work on his race car was as memorable as it was momentous, as it made Kyle realize he wanted to continue watching race cars and working on race cars, and to climb into the cockpit of one.
As it turned out, that day came a few years ago when Kyle raced his 2013 Camaro ZL1 in NMCA TorqStorm Superchargers True Street for the first time, and that prompted him to ask his father, repeatedly, if he could race his 1969 Camaro in NMCA ARP Nitrous Pro Street.
When his father was sure that he was ready, Kyle buckled into the beautiful blue car for some test passes last December, and pulled off the Heavy Street win at the U.S. Street Nationals last January at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida. He then made his NMCA ARP Nitrous Pro Street debut at the 18th Annual NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem presented by Holbrook Racing Engines in early March at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida, has hauled to 4.50s, followed by 4.40s and 4.30s and is currently in the second spot in points.
All of that means that he can handle the heat in the car powered by a 632 cubic-inch Chevrolet engine by Nelson Competition, two Quick Fuel Technology carburetors, a nitrous system by Induction Solutions and a Turbo 400 by M&M Transmission.
When he’s not racing, Kyle works with his father at their company, Matt’s Electric, and wheels his 2016 Z06 Corvette around town. He also is athletic, and recently won a sprint triathlon he took part in.
Read on for more about Kyle, who, in addition to his father, Matt, has steadfast support in his racing from his mother, Natalie, and Martti Roberts, among others.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU REMEMBER ABOUT WATCHING YOUR FATHER, MATT, RACE WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
I was about six years old when I started going to the track to watch him race, and it was mainly at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida and other tracks in Florida. I can remember starting a collection of Hot Wheels cars that vendors at the tracks were selling, and playing with kids my age at the tracks. I loved going and hearing the sounds of the cars. My dad had a 1984 S10 pickup truck before he had the 1968 Camaro and the 1969 Camaro, and I grew up watching him race in Brackets, Heavy Street, Outlaw 632, Outlaw 10.5 and ARP Nitrous Pro Street. He also had a 1969 Yenko Camaro with twin turbos that he drove on the street.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST CAR YOU EVER DROVE?
It was actually dad’s 1969 Yenko Camaro with the twin turbos. I was 11 or 12, and because I was already into muscle cars by then, my dad pretty much told me I could get into the driver’s seat. I remember the day I took it for a drive in the neighborhood for the first time. It was awesome, but it was also scary. It was great having all of those cars in the driveway of the house when I was growing up.
DID YOU HELP YOUR FATHER WORK ON ANY OF HIS CARS THROUGH THE YEARS?
Yes, I did. When I was younger, he was always showing me how to do something, and it would come with an explanation of why we were doing it this way or that way, and that helped me understand the mechanics side of things. One of the things that really stands out for some reason is when we were working on the transmission under his S10 pickup truck. He was busy with work, so whenever we got to spend time together working on the car, I always appreciated that and enjoyed that. It definitely made me want to work on cars and race. It was always on my mind.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST CAR YOU WENT ON TO RACE?
My daily driver, a 2013 ZL1 Camaro was the first car I ever took down track. It was in 2016, and the car had an LS3 engine with an aftermarket cam, some head work and some nitrous, and I made a few test passes and then entered True Street at the NMCA event at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida. The car ran mid 11s, but we were aiming for the 12-second index, so I didn’t do well, but I went on to race in True Street at NMCA events three more times. In 2017, we changed the motor to an LS9 with a Magnuson supercharger, but we kept the nitrous, and I managed to get the win in the 11.00 index in 2018. We also took the car to a few other races at Bradenton Motorsports Park.
DO YOU STILL HAVE THE CAR?
Actually, I just recently gave it to my brother, Jared, as his first car. I bought a 2016 Z06 Corvette with a stock LT4 engine and a supercharger. It makes 650 horsepower to the crank. I’m pretty happy about giving the 2013 ZL1 Camaro to my brother. Now I can see what it looks like when it’s being driven on the road, and he’s having a blast with it. He gets a lot of time behind the wheel. He’ll probably end up taking the car to the track.
YOU MOVED FROM YOUR 2013 ZL1 STREET CAMARO TO YOUR DAD’S 1969 STRIP CAMARO. HOW DID THAT COME TO BE?
When dad got the car and I went to the races with him, I was learning about the car as he was tuning it and driving it. I was helping him with whatever I could help him with, and after a while, we started talking about me eventually getting behind the wheel of the car while he tuned it. I’ll admit that I was getting on him about it a little bit because I really wanted to drive it and I was itching to drive it, but at the same time, I knew it had a lot of power, and I respected that.
WHAT COMPELLED YOU TO WANT TO RACE YOUR FATHER’S 1969 CAMARO RATHER THAN YOUR 2013 ZL1 CAMARO?
It was the 4-second elapsed-time that his car did in the eighth-mile. It was much faster than my car, and it would give me more of an adrenaline rush. I used to play hockey competitively, but unfortunately, I was badly injured and couldn’t play as competitively anymore, so I needed something to get my blood pumping again, and this is it.
WE’RE VERY SORRY TO HEAR YOU WERE INJURED. HOW DID YOUR VERY FIRST DAY BEHIND THE WHEEL OF YOUR FATHER’S 1969 CAMARO GO?
We went to the Snowbird Outlaw Nationals at Bradenton Motorsports Park last December to make some test passes and some licensing pass, and that was the first time I had ever driven dad’s car. I was very comfortable in the car, but still nervous, if that makes sense. We started off with no nitrous, and then we would add a little nitrous, and we were only running to the 330 mark and shutting it down early.
IT WASN’T LONG BEFORE YOU MOVED TO THE NEXT LEVEL, AS YOU RACED TO A 4.44 AND THE WIN IN HEAVY STREET AT THE U.S. STREET NATIONALS AT BRADENTON MOTORSPORTS PARK IN JANUARY. HOW DID THAT FEEL?
It’s hard to believe that was just my second time in the car, and that it was just a month after the first time I was in the car. The car had definitely been on my mind a lot in that month. I was going through things in my head, mentally and visually, to prepare myself as much as I could. It felt so great to win, especially because I hadn’t really done anything competitively since my hockey injury, and it really gave me a boost. Dad was ecstatic, too.
DO YOU FEEL THAT WORKING ON THE CAR BEFORE YOU BEGAN RACING IT PREPARED YOU TO HANDLE THE HIGH HORSEPOWER CAR AS PROFICIENTLY AS YOU DO?
It definitely did, because I knew everything about the car before I got into it, instead of not knowing anything about the car before I got into it. I had experience working on the engine, tuning the combination and seeing and hearing about how dad handled the car at the hit and down track, and what to do it if got loose. When I first started driving it, I took it slow. I wasn’t aggressive. If I felt like I needed to get off the throttle, I did.
YOU MADE YOUR ARP NITROUS PRO STREET DEBUT AT THE 18TH ANNUAL NMCA MUSCLE CAR MAYHEM PRESENTED BY HOLBROOK RACING ENGINES IN MARCH AT BRADENTON MOTORSPORTS PARK, AND YOU ARE SEVERAL EVENTS IN AND IN SECOND PLACE IN POINTS AT THE TIME OF THIS INTERVIEW. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON COMPETING IN THE CATEGORY SO FAR?
We’ve had just a couple of gremlins with the car that we’re trying to work out, but we’re making progress. There are a ton of things to do to get the car to be exactly where it wants to be, but it’s going great, and I’m enjoying the process of working on the car and setting up the car for competition. The NMCA event in Georgia was cool because that’s the first time I had ever been out of state to race, and it was a blast. I have found out that there’s nothing like getting behind the wheel and going 168 mph. It’s even better than I imagined it would be, and I’m loving it.
YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU PLAYED HOCKEY COMPETITIVE PRIOR TO AN INJURY. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT?
Here in Florida, there are separate rinks that have organizations that have tournaments, and when I was playing for the United States Premier Hockey League, I was traveling all over the United States. I had started playing roller hockey when I was 5, and then ice hockey when I was 8. I had offers from colleges, but then I got hurt when I was a junior in high school. I tore my ACL and meniscus in my knee, and I was out for nine months, and when I came back, I wasn’t up to my full potential. I’m healed and I’m strong, and I still play a little, but I also still feel the pain a little, especially when I’m on the ice, and when that happens, I just go spend time with my hockey buddies rather than play hockey.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE RACING SEASON?
I plan to drive dad’s car in Nitrous Pro Street for the rest of the year, and we might try to get another car at some point and go from there. There are also some Heavy Street and Outlaw 632 races at Bradenton Motorsports Park and Orlando Speed World Dragway that we might try to run, too. I’m just really grateful and thankful for this opportunity. Not many people get to do this. It’s an honor to be able to go out there and get behind the wheel.
(Interview from the November issue of Fastest Street Car)