When Jay Pape started racing cars at Duke City Raceway in 1993, he was known as “Tortuga” or “Turtle Man” to his friends. That’s because when a friend came to watch Pape make the rounds at DCR one day, he said that Pape looked like a turtle going around the track.

Pape still keeps a stuffed toy turtle in his car, under the windshield, to remind him of his early days. But nobody in the Street Stock division this year would call Pape a turtle, since the Bosque Farms driver is leading in the points race.

Pape (pronounced like poppy) is no stranger to leading the pack in points. In 1995, he won the Hobby Stock division at DCR. He won the Street Stock division in 1999 and came in second in 1998, after having to leave the circuit for a short while because of a family emergency, and in 1997, he placed third overall.

And now Pape may be on his way to another season championship if his luck holds out.

“I don’t want to be to flippant about this, but I just really haven’t had any bad luck yet this season,” Pape said.

When Pape began racing at the age of 27, the number on his car, he was running in the Modified division. But, after a trip to Grants, and a taste of Street Stock action, he got hooked.

“It was pretty scary at first,” Pape said of his first experience racing cars. “To me, it’s like a roller coaster. Without that big scary dip at the beginning, it’s not as much fun.”

Like many racers, Jay Pape’s interest in auto racing started at a young age, when he was just a child in Nebraska spending time on his grandfather’s farm. There was a race track close enough to the farm that he could hear the engines’ roar from the front steps.

Those cars doing hot laps got him interested, “So my dad got me a go-cart, and I rode it hard around the farm,” he said.

Pape, who has a masters degree in Engineering Mechanics with an emphasis on Energetic Materials (that’s “explosives” in layman’s terms) from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, said he applies his knowledge and engineering mind-set to his racing.

“I maybe think about things differently than some of the other racers,” Pape said. “Engineering maybe gets me to the answers quicker.”

Pape said another reason for his success is a very supportive wife, Katheryn, and father, Roger, who are also very interested in the sport.

“I took some time off of racing to go back to school to get my master’s degree, and my wife told me one day that she missed me racing,” Pape said. “If I had a wife who told me ‘no way,’ I probably wouldn’t be racing, and I certainly wouldn’t be leading.”

Another factor Pape gives for his success this year is the change in the track surface. Track owner/operator Chuck Jackson re-worked the surface with new clay.

“Since the track is different, I think that we just got a hold of the way the track is quicker than most,” Pape said. “We have a lot of experience adjusting to different tracks.”

His experience comes partially from the fact that he has raced on a number of different tracks, including a stint on the asphalt track at Sandia Raceway, and partially from driving sub-par cars, he said.

“We didn’t have really good cars initially,” Pape recalled. “We kind of have a history of working on something and making it what we want it to be.”

Pape said he has also had a lot of help from his pit crew and sponsors. Eddie Gomez and Don Goss help Pape out in the pits. Empire Engines and J&E Salvage have been with him since the “Turtle Man” days, and New Mexico Clutch and Gear and Visual Noise also support him in his racing endeavors.

Pape will be racing his Street Stock car this Saturday night at DCR. Also on the slate are the Hobby Stocks, Late Models and Sprint Cars. Racing starts at 6:30 p.m.

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Tony McClary