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A Tribute to Matt Kempe

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In the early hours of February 26, 2000, member Matt Kempe lost his life in a traffic accident while making his way down to L.A. He was coming down to help out his fellow SE-R enthusiasts at the first-ever Ultimate Streetcar Challenge 2000 in which Mike Kojima's car was entered. Team decided to dedicate their effort to Matt and ended up winning the competition, the first time an SE-R has ever won a National Import Event.

This Tribute to Matt is to celebrate his life. And it is what you, the people who knew him, make it. So if you have any stories or experiences you'd like to share, or you just want to express your thoughts or feelings, please do so. If you have pictures of Matt that you'd like added to this page, please e-mail Mike Mager.


Jay Hassinger's Tribute to Matt

I saved this story that Matt Kempe sent to the SE-R Mailing List on October 5, 1999.

Matt and I had extensive talks regarding road racing and other "topics". I am in tears. It was this very story that inspired me to look more into road racing. Matt will be remembered by me as a sunny person who loved life, and loved motorsports.

Oh man, what a fantastic weekend! We were running the big track (3.0 miles) in reverse, so it was exactly the opposite of what we were running at the convention in June. The first day, I was on my street tires (Michelin MXV4 185/60-14). I think that the inherent lack of grip my car had the first day turned out to be a big advantage for me. I was forced to use every inch of the track, which is just what my instructor told me I needed to do more of in June (this was my second track event ever). I was not passing very many cars on day one. I just could not hang with anybody in the corners, save for a 914 and a few others.

On day two, Toyo was there offering a few sets of Proxes RA1 DOT race tires for people to "sample". They had a set mounted on NX wheels, so I quickly signed up to use them for the entire day. Woohoo!!!

The first of four sessions I was just trying to get used to the extra grip. I was not a whole lot faster during the first session than I had been during the last session of day one. During session two, I began to probe the limits of the RA1s, but really came nowhere near them. An RX-7 owner (and Toyo rep) let me ride with him during his run group, so I let him ride with me. He gave me a few pointers to improve my speed exiting turns, which turned out to make all of the difference in the world.

At the beginning of the third session, there was a Civic hybrid w/ a GSR motor, '99 Mustang GT, and a Firebird WS6 Ram-Air in front of me. The Civic hybrid was quickly disposed of before the end of the first lap. The Mustang bowed down and let me by on lap two. I soon caught the Firebird, but he did not let me by right away, and I was not able to pull him on any of the straights. I stayed glued to his bumper for the entire next lap and he reluctantly let me by at the end of the lap, two turns before the front straight. He was not able to gain a single car length on me for the rest of the session; I just kept pulling away. There was a Viper GTS a good half-mile ahead of me, but I felt like I was slowly catching him. The session ended before I could find out for sure, but the Firebird owner came over and congratulated me. He knew about the SE-R, but was still shocked that I was able to run away from him. This gave me a ton of confidence for the final session of the weekend. I had improved my lines considerably, the car was running very strong, and I had become more consistent pushing the tires to their limits.

Upon lining up for the final session, I noticed some familiar cars in front of me. Directly in front of me was a Camaro SS Z28 on race tires. Next was the Firebird Ram-Air (with race tires out back and street tires up front surrounding Baer brakes). Then, there was the Viper GTS. This was going to be fun. The grin that formed on my face as I looked over the competition is still on my face now.

The three Domestics in front of me each screached the tires as they were released onto the track, one after the other. I was let loose on the track next, and the pursuit was on. I entered the track and flew through the esses, gaining significant ground on the Camaro. Coming off of Talledega, I was already just a few car lengths away from Mr. SS Z28. I stayed glued to his bumper, and when his rear tires kicked loose exiting the left-hander onto a short straight where passing is allowed, I was just a few feet off his bumper, so he waved me by. The Firebird and Viper had pulled away from the Camaro during the first lap, so I made the decision to go 110% starting right then, just before the end of the first lap. The Camaro was not able to gain any noticable ground on the front straight, but he was trying. I was pushing the car harder than I had all weekend and it showed. Coming over Magic Mountain, I watched in my rear-view mirror as the Camaro spun in a desparate attempt to keep up with me. One down, two to go. I was able to catch the Firebird before the first passing zone, and he waved me by right away this time. I wish somebody could have seen the grin on my face. Two down, one to go.

The Viper had pulled away by about half of the front straight, but I was on a mission. I *wanted* to pass that Viper.

I quickly realized that he could pull *many* car lengths on me on the front straight. My top speed was about 96-97 on the front straight, whereas he was probably at around 125. I would have to earn this one. I was not able to gain too much ground through the esses, except under braking. I was braking harder and later, getting better exit speeds, and pushing harder than I had all weekend. I was actually reeling in the metallic blue trophy I was chasing. I was able to gain significant ground on him through talledega and the bus stop, as he was very hesitant to push his expensive car through the back portion of the course. At the end of the back "straight" there is a 60mph left-hander that leads to another left which crests a hill. By the time I let my foot off of the brakes for the first left hander, I was within three car lengths of the Viper. I secured myself to his rear bumper with a large SR20DE magnet until the front straight, which he quickly pulled 1/3 the length of on me. This time, however, I was able to catch him exiting magic mountain. Unfortunately, passing is not allowed on the back section of the course. I would have to wait until the first passing zone to make a move. Mr. Viper had other plans. Rather than wave me by, he used his 300hp advantage to keep me in check. I was not about to give up. I pushed harder, but so did he.

My brakes were beginning to fade, but that didn't stop me from pushing them harder. At that left-hander that ends the back straight, I found that my tires were turning to mush. I entered the turn just as before, still glued to the Viper bumper, but this time began sliding sideways. The rear end was tyring to come around, but I would have none of it. I floored the throttle and dialed in opposite lock, producing a too-fun drift to the edge of the track. I had not lost any ground to the Viper, but he still did not let me by.

At the end of the front straight, I realized that my brakes only had about 3-4 inches of travel after engagement. Uh Oh. I pitched the car sideways in a desparate attempt to scrub off speed, and it worked. Rather than give up, I continued my pursuit. I once again caught the Viper on the back section, but my tires and brakes were now both worthless. At the end of the back side, I also found that my temp gauge was approaching the big 'H'. With tires, brakes, and motor overheating, I finally backed off. I ran one lap shifting at 5500 rpm, and my brakes and tires regained some of their composure. I entered the front straight redlining each gear again, but then I saw the checkered flag. My pursuit was over.

There was a corner worker at the end of the back section, perched atop the hill right after the left hander I slid sideways thorugh a few times. He had been watching me the entire session. The Viper drove by him and he gave the driver a thumbs up. Then, he pointed at me, gave me two thumbs up, and began clapping his hands, nodding his head in approval the whole time.

In my eyes, I had conquered the world. I was King for a day.

I parked my car in the paddock and began packing up. I heard somebody call out "Hey, who was driving that Sentra?" "Mine" I said, as I looked up and saw a guy walking towards me with a huge smile and an outstreched arm to shake my hand. He just kept congratulating me on an outstanding drive. He walked around the car, looking at it in amazement. As it turns out, he had bought the car the day before and decided to bring that instead of his race-prepped M3. He was a nice guy, and apologized for not letting me by.

Do yourselves a favor, and go to the track for a chance to be King for a day. I will never forget what happened on that beautiful Sunday afternoon. Ever.

Happy Motoring,
Matt Kempe
'91 se-r w/ HS Header, JWT POP and ECU, Courtesy STB, Porterfield R4S front pads.

Matt I hope you catch your Viper...Happy motoring.

Your friend,

Jay Hassinger