I ended up in a 410-sprint car very early in my career. I first raced a sprint car in 1996. My family and I went straight to ASCS because it was somewhat local at that point and we could race more. In 1997, we did the full ASCS National Tour which was still pretty much a Southern tour at that point. Nineteen-Ninety-Eight was the first year I drove a 410. We only had one and we had planned on running 10-12 races that year.
My first big break came in 1998 when Lance Blevins got taken out of his car by his father. I can still remember Joe Ray Blevins called my dad and we were at the start of ASCS Speedweek at Creek County. He called and asked if I could fill in the following week for Lance at Oklahoma City. At that point he wasn’t sure how long he wanted me in the car but it ended up being about six weeks. The last race that I ran for them was the Kings Royal. I had been to Eldora one time prior to the ‘Royal.’ So, we went there and I was absolutely terrible the first night, as I probably should have been, given that I had never been there in a 410.
When I got in Lance’s car at Oklahoma City I probably had only ran five or six 410 races ever. I’d run some Tulsa Speedway weekly shows and I think I may have gone to Devil’s Bowl for the spring Outlaws show.
The second night of the Kings Royal they still did that messed up format where they inverted like 36 and I think we ended up qualifying like 33rd or 34th. We started on the pole of my heat and we won our heat race. The car was really good and I finally got myself up on the right part of the race track. Somehow or another I think we ended up on the pole of the dash and I believe I won the dash or at least ran well.
I believe that particular heat race was what got me the job in Gil Sonner’s 47 car. If I remember right, Johnny Herrera was in the 47 car at the time and he started next to me. At that point no one knew who I was or had ever heard of me.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_single_image image=”4517″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_column_text]I really thought I was actually going to end up in the Blevins’ car to start the next year. I had finished the season in their car. Joe Ray had expressed that he was going to field the car next season and I thought I had a really good chance of getting in that car but they ended up hiring Jimmy Carr to drive it.
Luckily a few months later, it was quite a while actually, I want to say it was the first of the year, I got hired to drive the 47 car. I went from very little 410 experience, maybe by the end of that year, I had maybe 30 races under my belt, to running the full 1999 season in the 47 car.
I-55 and the Kings Royal were probably my only good runs that I can remember in that car. I mean, I was terrible. The Kings Royal actually went well. I won my heat and I won the Dash. I was fast. At that point, though, I was still just out of my league. I ran out of talent long before my car gave up. We led probably the first 7-10 laps. I remember watching it after because it was televised and our speeds were really good and once I got passed by Sammy (Swindell) I just fell apart.
To be honest, I wasn’t used to passing cars, the really good cars.
I-55 was great because we didn’t start up front. I remember we had radios back then. We started pretty deep and we started passing cars. To be honest, I wasn’t used to passing cars, the really good cars. I remember passing Mark Kinser and Steve (Kinser) and all of these guys and we were just driving right through the middle of the track. We were trucking. I knew I was up towards the front and I kind of lost track of where and I actually remember asking on the radio if I was leading? They told me yes.
So there was a yellow that came out, fairly late in the race, maybe with 10 to go. We were leading and Haud (Jac Haudenschild) was second. He ended up getting by me and we ended up finishing 2nd. That was the best run that I believe we had. It might have been my only top-five, if you want to know the truth.
I should have been fired about 30 times that year from that car but Gilly and Donnie Sonner were great and kept me in it. It was a great learning experience for me, but I was really nowhere near ready to be on the World of Outlaws tour. I think getting in a 410 and getting the opportunity to do a full season that early in my career on somebody else’s dime was great for me.
You get labelled as someone who’s not interested in a ride because your parents have helped you out and I really couldn’t do that so to just get that break, even as bad as we were that year was huge. I gained a lot of valuable experience that I needed and really just woke me up to me being nowhere near ready. I think at the time I was maybe 20 years old and I think that anyone that is that age thinks they are ready to go on the tour is in for a rude awakening when they realize how long it is and how hard it is. It takes a while to be ready for the Outlaws.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_single_image image=”4521″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_raw_html el_class=”subheading-story”]JTNDaDMlM0VFeHBlcmllbmNlJUUyJTgwJTk0YSUyMG11c3QlM0MlMkZoMyUzRQ==[/vc_raw_html][vc_column_text]I’m a huge believer that it takes until your thirties and even your mid-thirties to be ready for this. You just don’t see guys come out here and be successful early in their career or early in age. Those guys just can’t put it all together. The problem is there is some talent out there right now that can. It’s actually kind of proving what I’m saying wrong.
There is no doubt that if Kyle Larson decided to do this full-time he could do it. I think it would take him a few years honestly to win a championship but he would win a lot of races and he could do it faster than anybody. He’s proven it across the board. Guys like Christopher Bell, guys like Rico (Abreu), if this is what they committed to they could kind of prove my theory wrong to some degree but for the most part if you look through history Tyler Walker was the first kid that came along and probably had a chance at a really young age to do it. He was really starting to run well, win a lot of races and contend, but then it all fell apart. He was the first that came along probably that really had the talent to do it at a young age.
It takes a long time to figure all of this out. I think to get your head around the sport over the course of a full year is hard.
The rest of us like Paul McMahan, Joey Saldana, and Donny Schatz even, have taken a lot longer time. I think I saw the other day that Donny’s racing his 20th year out here. He spent those first 10 years developing.
It takes a long time to figure all of this out. I think to get your head around the sport over the course of a full year is hard. This is a mental sport for sure. Your first few years you hate some tracks and like some tracks and I think as you get older you don’t even think about it. Everybody used to hate going to tracks in New York. Now I don’t really mind them, I actually really like them. You always have to remember, you still have to go there, it still pays $10,000 to win and you better figure it out if you ever plan on winning a championship.
You can’t just take a night off because you know you’re not good at a certain track. You have gotta figure it out and it takes a lot of years I think to do that and mentally get yourself ready to go there whether or not you are good or bad there. You have to find a way to perform or you are never going to be that successful and you’re going to be looking for a job.
So, I ran the full 1999 season in the 47 car before Kenny Woodruff and myself teamed up to do my own team again. The (No.) 11 car I started in was basically my family’s team and I drove them. The (No.) 3 car was basically mine but with a lot of help from my parents. I teamed up with Woodruff who had a lot of connections that made it really financially possible.
The whole team was basically mine. I borrowed a lot of money. We decided if we were gonna do it we were going to try and do it on our own and try to get sponsors and we were able to get some, enough to get by. At the end of the day, though, I borrowed a lot of money to go race, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. It can really stress you out when you’re racing on borrowed money and racing equipment that can just vanish and disappear in no time.
We were able to do that for two years and I basically just had to call it quits. The first year we ran the full Outlaws tour and the second year we won the Gumout Series championship. The Gumout Series was really good for me and it still allowed me to run a lot of races with the Outlaws.
At the end of that second year I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. My debt was only getting higher and had passed what we had said we were going to stop at. I was done. I wasn’t ready to quit racing, but I was done driving my own car. I just couldn’t do it. Luckily we were at a point where we could still sell everything we had and at least get out of debt.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_single_image image=”4519″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_raw_html el_class=”subheading-story”]JTNDaDMlM0VOZXclMjBPcHBvcnR1bml0eSUzQyUyRmgzJTNF[/vc_raw_html][vc_column_text]From there I basically sort of shamed a guy into taking me to Australia to race that winter. I’d sold everything and had no plans at all. I went over there to race for a guy named John Weatherall. I knew that 21 team that Danny Wood had been driving for on the Outlaw tour was changing. I believe Danny had actually left the deal to go run the Casey’s (No.) 6 car.
I had never met Donnie Woodburn but I called him and talked to him over the phone. I talked to him a couple of times after that and he was still debating on what he was going to do. As luck would have it he told me I could race the car on the Outlaw tour while I was over racing in Australia. I was ecstatic.
Unfortunately it was January and really late to be putting an Outlaws deal together. I was over in Australia organizing people to pick the equipment up and start working on it. We based it out of my dad’s house which is also where we ran our (No.) 3 car. I came back over and started racing for him and we actually won the second night out.
We went to Hanford (California) to start the season and ran pretty well and then went to Perris (Auto Speedway) the very next night and won. We went on to have a great year that year, we actually won the second most races of anyone on the tour that year.
Unfortunately, within a few weeks of winning at Perris, I wrecked at Hollywood Hills and ended up breaking my back and I was out for six weeks. We missed somewhere between 11-13 Outlaws shows that season, and admittedly they were down on cars that year but we still came back to run fourth in points. We came back and beat a lot of teams that had run the full season.
That was the year I feel like I’d arrived as a driver.
That was my first year with Glenno Inglis from Australia. I felt like I had a good team and good guys with me and felt like we were getting to the point where I could consistently contend and win races. That year was huge for my confidence and luckily we ran well enough that Donnie decided to keep racing.
I didn’t really know Donnie when the deal started and I was probably racing for him before I had ever even met him! Everything we did was over the phone and I hadn’t sat face to face with the guy for quite some time. We are still great friends today and he goes to a lot of races. I feel fortunate to say that I was able to race for him and we are still very close to this day.
That was the year I feel like I’d arrived as a driver.
We won the Historical Big One in 2003. My second year with Donnie Woodburn. It was also the last Historical Big One. I really didn’t even think I had a chance to win it. We had struggled a little bit that year. We won some races though, I think we ended up winning five that season. I just don’t remember us having a lot of confidence going into Eldora.
Luckily for my sake they used a different format for the Historical Big One. It wasn’t quite the same as The Kings Royal but it was different and it allowed us to start up front and fortunately we were good enough to stay up there. I think Steve Kinser actually ended up finishing second. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about the race. I remember victory lane, but I don’t remember a lot about the night.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_video link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EsaPf1bMcw&feature=youtu.be”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_column_text]At the time I only drove for 30% (of the winnings) but that was one of the reasons that Donnie was able to afford to race. It was either go work for my dad at his auto salvage business or race for someone on the Outlaws tour for a lot less money. I was 21-years-old, though, and had just made $30,000 and it was huge to me. It was a big break for all of us to be honest with you.
I can remember being really excited to go to the office and meet Earl (Baltes). I was also really excited about getting an oversized $100,000 check and $100,000 cash. I got up there and was like ‘Where’s my box of cash?’ Earl said they only pay cash at The Kings Royal. Sure enough, five years later I won the Kings Royal and I went up there to get all excited to get my $50,000 cash. It was the first year of Tony (Stewart) owning the place and they said that Tony doesn’t pay cash and they handed me a check so I never got the box of cash.
I’ve been very fortunate in my career. It seems like quite often I’ve been in the right place at the right time. Whether it was catching Gil Sonner’s eye in that heat race at Eldora or Joe Ray hiring me at the right time it seems like it’s always worked out.
So here I was in Australia racing this guy’s car for a few races after I’d shamed that guy, and Reeve Kruck was there with his car and they had just brought his car off the World Series because he was mad at his son. He was in the stands at one of my races watching. I’d never heard of the guy, he’d never heard of me as far as I knew, but I won the race that night. Glenno walked up to me after the race and introduced himself. He explained that he worked for Reeve Kruck who owned the Titan car and asked me if I’d ever heard of it. He asked if I’d be willing to stick around after I was supposed to go home and race their car? At the time I had nothing to go home to so I agreed to. I raced for them for about three or four races in Australia that year and I ran really well. He hired me to drive the full World Series the next winter. So our relationship started there.
Halfway through my last year with Donnie Woodburn I had the feeling that the team was pretty close to done at the end of the season so Reeve stepped in and we started organizing to start Titan Racing USA.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_single_image image=”4289″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_raw_html el_class=”subheading-story”]JTNDaDMlM0VCZWNvbWluZyUyMGElMjBUaXRhbiUzQyUyRmgzJTNF[/vc_raw_html][vc_column_text]Sprint car racing was changing at that point and Danny Lasoski and TSR were just dominating. They were winning a lot of races and Mark Kinser was obviously still really good. Reeve kind of came into racing in the U.S. with an attitude that he kind of wanted to do it a certain way and I was at the point where I wanted to do it a certain way also and luckily our visions aligned. We had really good stuff and it was presented really well.
I had a great relationship with Reeve. Between my Australian and U.S. years with him, I drove for Reeve for almost eight years which is an eternity in this sport. It didn’t end on the best of terms, but he gave me a lot of great years and a lot of great opportunities to race and make a living driving a sprint car and I’m forever grateful for that. I think we’ve both pretty much moved on from our differences in how we split and are okay now.
Glenno was there with me the entire time at Titan. Glenno is ‘Salt of the Earth,’ just a great guy. He’ll do anything for you and fight to the end for you. We had a lot of success together and we struggled a lot together. Truthfully, probably at the end of the day, one thing that hurt me in that ride and that probably got me fired was that I was unwilling to make a change with Glenno, and I think at the time it was probably time for one of us to do something different.
We kind of hit a bit of a stale point, we weren’t running as good and weren’t progressing like we probably should have with that team and what we had to work with we should have had more success. Glenno had been so good to me and I just couldn’t let him go and that was probably the downfall of that whole team.
I also had Bingo Jenkins with me. He had worked for us on the Woodburn car, left for a year and then came back to work with us again on the Titan car. He still works for Reeve Kruck today over in Australia. Together Glenno and Bingo were a good balance. Glenno was laid back and methodical and Bingo was just a workaholic that would just get after it.
I always tried to do the Outlaw tour with two guys. It seemed like whenever I would try three guys one of them would never seem to quite mesh. We always hired a third person in the summer time just to get by for that month when we absolutely had to have them but I’ve always based my teams off of two people.
As a result I was fairly hands on. I could probably skip out if we had a normal day of maintenance but if we wrecked or anything I was very hands on as far as setup and engines while also dealing with all of the shipping and purchasing of parts so those guys didn’t have to deal with any of that.
To be honest I feel like I had average years with the Titan guys. They weren’t great but they weren’t bad. Our stats were really good, the first year we won five races, the second year I won seven, the 3rd year I think we won six and I think in our last year we won five. None of those years were spectacular, I never won double-digit features until I came to Kasey Kahne Racing.
We won the Kings Royal in 2008, our last season together and our worst season. At that time we weren’t improving and as a team we were pretty stale. It was hands down our worst season in terms of our points finish and average race finish.
To be honest I feel like I had average years with the Titan guys. They weren’t great but they weren’t bad.
I can’t really explained why it happened. At that time Donny was starting to get really tough and Joey Saldana was extremely successful. We just couldn’t keep up. I don’t know it was me, or setup. We just weren’t competing with those guys on a day in, day out basis. We could win our fair share of races but we just weren’t on that level. A lot of that still easily could have been me just not figuring it out at certain places.
I think that’s the hardest part. You want a perfect car every night and it’s just not going to happen. It’s what you do with your nights that you’re not very good. You can’t just struggle around in 10th. You’ve gotta figure out a way to make a 10th place car run up to a third to fifth place finish and that’s what the guys who are successful these days do.
I was devastated when I realized I was going to have to stop racing on the Outlaws tour. I was maybe embarrassed too. When you race for a living you know that the Outlaws are your best chance to make money and to make a living so to know that I was going to have to go race weekly in Pennsylvania presented some difficulties.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_single_image image=”4533″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_raw_html el_class=”subheading-story”]JTNDaDMlM0VQaWVjaW5nJTIwaXQlMjB0b2dldGhlciUzQyUyRmgzJTNF[/vc_raw_html][vc_column_text]I got let go basically two weeks before Volusia in 2009. In my head I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll go to Pennsylvania for the year and then I’ll find a ride the following year.’ It didn’t happen.
I came to Florida with Pete Postupack and stayed with him until about May before leaving there to race the Keen (No.) 17 car. I was in the 17 for right around a year before Tyler Walker and I swapped rides and I ended up with Mike Heffner.
I never complained about racing in Pennsylvania, but I wanted to race with the Outlaws. I felt very fortunate that I had rides to race there but I think they all knew that I didn’t move there. I was staying in my motorhome and they could see I wasn’t making plans to race there forever.
Financially, racing there just didn’t work for me. I was trying to get more experience and keep my name out there and keep on getting better until something came along.
I definitely enjoyed my time in PA but I’m much happier to be back out on the road. I think it was a really good experience for me and it was really eye-opening and made me appreciate the opportunities that I had prior to coming off the road. I enjoyed the racing in Pennsylvania, I could never move there, but I really like racing there. I like a lot of the race tracks there and the competition level that is there and how tough it is to be successful there.
The reality was that my best years there were for Heffner and some of them were very successful but it was still very hard to make ends meet
We made great friends there. Tommy and Steph Rider have become some of my best friends and we spend a lot of time up there and I got to drive for some really good car owners that were honestly fun to driver for, that were really good to us and made that time enjoyable.
The reality was that my best years there were for Heffner and some of them were very successful but it was still very hard to make ends meet with the way that we were choosing to live as far as having a house in Indiana and having a motorhome to travel. It would have been one thing if we lived in Pennsylvania and were at home all of the time but I was still trying to leave my options open so that if I ever went back out on the tour that my life wouldn’t change.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_single_image image=”4534″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_raw_html el_class=”subheading-story”]JTNDaDMlM0VUaW1lJTIwZm9yJTIwYSUyMGNoYW5nZSUzQyUyRmgzJTNF[/vc_raw_html][vc_column_text]I quit racing for Jesse Keen on a Saturday morning and we had just missed qualifying for a local show at Williams Grove. I mean we were just terrible. I’d been there a year and I had my motorhome outside the shop and I couldn’t sleep all night long. I was in there by myself, my family wasn’t with me.
It finally hit me that I’d been there a year. When you are with a team and you’re struggling you keep telling yourself that you’re going to get there, that you’re going to figure it out. I woke up and finally realized, I’ve been here a year. If we hadn’t gotten there after a year we just weren’t going to get there. I didn’t have any ill-will towards the crew chief, he was working actually really hard and I got along with him personally okay but we just weren’t working. The results showed it, it wasn’t happening.
I went in that morning before we raced a local show at Port Royal and explained to Jesse that I had to do something different. I couldn’t keep coming there every week and not making local races at Williams Grove. I had nothing lined up whatsoever and I couldn’t believe I did that. I felt like it was one of the more irresponsible things I’ve ever done and that I should have lined up a ride.
I walked out to my motorhome and the first call I made was to Bernie (Stuebgen) at Indy Race Parts. He and Tom Buch were running a car part-time that year and they agreed to let me run it.
The following weekend was supposed to be an Outlaws show at Eldora, and he explained that Tyler Walker was supposed to drive it there, but after that the ride was mine. We kind of worked out a schedule real quick over the phone to run about 15-20 races and all of the big races, so I was happy I had something to race for the big shows and I knew his car was pretty good.
I felt like it was one of the more irresponsible things I’ve ever done and that I should have lined up a ride.
Luckily, a few hours after that, things started to shake around, because I had quit the Keen ride. Within an hour they were back on the phone to me telling me Eldora was now an option because Tyler was supposed to drive for them but he’d quit to drive the Keen car. Walker going to the Keen car opened up some more races in the (No.) 13 car and opened up the door to the (No.) 27.
I knew nothing about the 27 team other than that they had really good equipment. They ran Rider Engines which was perfect because I was friends with Tommy and he gave me Mike’s (Heffner) number. Mike thought about it for a few days before he hired me and we just instantly had success.
Mike is a great guy. His job is interesting (www.lelands.com). The collections he has and the stuff that he gets to see and gets his hands on is really neat. He was a lot of fun and very understanding. It took me a while to understand his personality. He’s very quiet and he doesn’t really come to a lot of races. He’s one of the best car owners I ever drove for, he never hesitated about engines or tires or anything, he did what it took to win. Mike is a competitor and once he started to win it seemed like he became addicted to it and whatever it took to win, he wanted us to do it. Luckily I had two-and-a-half great years with him and won a lot of races. We won probably almost 35 races in those two-and-a-half years.
So I split the year with the (No.) 13 and (No.) 27 and Mike was okay with it at first but once we started having success in the 27 he didn’t like me leaving and going to drive other people’s cars. So we finished out the year doing a split-car schedule which was great because it gave me the leverage to tell Mike that I could run his car, but only if we travel.
We sat down and came up with a good compromise. It’s not like I said we had to go run the whole Outlaws tour, we were still primarily a PA-based team but I could still go run all of the crown jewel races and the stuff that made sense. We did the Knoxville Nationals, the Kings Royal, Charlotte and those kinds of races which were the kind of races he wouldn’t normally do but that allowed me to make a better living driving his car. It worked out really well and I felt like we had a really good balance as far as what we agreed to race and not race.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_single_image image=”4522″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_raw_html el_class=”subheading-story”]JTNDaDMlM0VLbm94dmlsbGUlMjBtdXNpbmdzJTNDJTJGaDMlM0U=[/vc_raw_html][vc_column_text]It was with Mike that I had my best chance to win the Knoxville Nationals. My car was good enough. I’m not very good at Knoxville and it’s a place where I need a car to be that good more often to figure out what I’m doing wrong there. It was really one of the few times I’ve had a car good enough to do that at Knoxville.
I got the lead around the halfway point and sort of panicked to be honest with you. We had drove by Donny (Schatz) for the lead. I don’t know if I actually got credit for leading the lap because we were side by side at the line. Goodyear’s were really temperamental at that point, you couldn’t slide them. I slide them through the middle way too many times and killed them.
I actually made a big mistake off turn-two and plugged it into the backstretch fence once and lost my momentum and that lost me two spots just off that one mistake. The car was still good enough at the end even though I had fallen back to fifth. I think that was Mike’s first Knoxville Nationals and it ran fifth and led for a brief second.
That was definitely my best Knoxville Nationals run and out of everything I’ve accomplished between winning the Historical Big One, Kings Royal and Gold Cup and the World of Outlaws championship, I still need find a way to run better at that race.
I have so many 11th-place finishes at the Nationals it’s embarrassing.
I tend to find that Saturday’s race track at the Knoxville Nationals typically seems to be a little bit more wet than what we’re used to because there’s less racing and they try to wait until the sun’s almost gone down. It seems like the B-main guys are always bitching that it’s too wet and you can’t come from very far back to get in. I have so many 11th-place finishes at the Nationals it’s embarrassing. I wish I knew the answer. It’s a track that as a driver I struggle knowing what my car needs. As a result my feedback is not very good to help my team. We’ve had some really good cars there with the (No.) 9. The first time I came there with them in 2013 we ran top-five in every race that we ran and went into the Nationals with huge confidence.
We qualified well in 2013 but didn’t make it out of our heat race and had to come out of the B and we started in the back and ran fourth or fifth on our prelim night. I went into Saturday’s A Main believing we had a chance to win and I got together with Steve on lap 1 and knocked the front end out. We got that fixed and then we just struggled after that. We didn’t have any damage, we just weren’t as good as we thought we’d be. I don’t know, I mean I say I need more experience there but I’ve got plenty. It’s not an excuse. I’ve raced there long enough and I need to figure it out. It’s something that I’m not proud of and I need to do a better job there. I think I need to do a better job of figuring out the track, figuring out what I need to do and not make mistakes.
You can’t make any mistakes there. Every mistake you make at Knoxville you pay for so badly, more than any track we go to all year. Not only do you pay for the mistake at the time, but you still pay for it a lap later because you’re not back up to the speed you were at. I’ve just got to do a better job of figuring it all out so that I can relay the information that I feel in the car so that we can get a better car consistently.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_single_image image=”4527″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_raw_html el_class=”subheading-story”]JTNDaDMlM0VHb2xkZW4lMjBvcHBvcnR1bml0eSUzQyUyRmgzJTNF[/vc_raw_html][vc_column_text]It was scary to leave the Heffner ride for Kasey Kahne Racing, because I had become comfortable there. I hadn’t planned on being in Pennsylvania racing, I only planned on being there a year. One year turned into four and the next thing I knew it was starting to become comfortable. When you are comfortable it’s hard to make a change and when you’re successful it’s hard to make a change. I’d had a lot of control over that team and we had a lot of things going for us. We were a threat to win wherever we went.
I knew the pressure that would exist at KKR, I mean Joey had won 75 races in the (No.) 9 car. I think it was a shock that I got hired and I was more shocked that Joey got let go. I was surprised that I was the one picked to replace him and I knew that as successful as he was here, I would be expected to be as successful if not, more or I was going to be out. I was still really excited about it though. At the time I kept asking myself, why are you worried because as much pressure as there is I still put way more pressure on myself to perform.
My time with KKR has been great ever since. Last year didn’t go how I planned and I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself because I don’t care what I’ve done in the past, your past isn’t going to keep you a ride forever. I had better contend for another championship this year or I better win another 15 races this year or in my opinion I expect to get fired. I think as a driver you have got to have that attitude if you plan on being successful or if you are planning on keeping the ride that you’ve got because if you don’t, someone else is promising that they can.
I honestly don’t think it set in that I could win the championship for KKR in 2013 until about the National Open or about a month before we actually did it. I honestly tried not to think a lot about it because I knew I could be successful here and I knew I could win a lot of races here, but I honestly that it would take us a little while to get to where we could contend for a championship.
Our cars were just so fast that year. They were superior I think and I was just lucky enough to get to drive them at that time.
I knew we were going to be successful the very first night. We won the opening WoO show at Volusia and our car was so fast. It was wet, heavy and rough, everything that I’m not good at and I felt like Tim Kaeding out there and felt like I was really good at this. That wasn’t me, my car was just that good. I was running above the cushion in turns one and two and my car was just that good that I was comfortable. I was shocked. The conditions were 100% what I’m not good at and they made me look that good. That was a big win for us. That whole week we were solid. I actually had a chance to win the second night but we finished second.
I honestly still feel like I should have won that race. I still get annoyed because the flag man never threw the white flag and I didn’t know the race was about to be over. I was close enough to Terry McCarl for the lead that I would have tried a flyer in one and two on him. The track was really tricky so if you missed a slide job or you got into the curb you were in trouble. It was probably the biggest curb I’ve ever seen at Volusia. So I was telling myself to time it right and not to try the slider too early and they never threw the white. I felt really stupid after the race. I felt like fans would have been sitting in the stands and asking themselves “Why didn’t he try?” I felt like I was the guy that didn’t try and I didn’t like that.
On the final night at Volusia we were really struggling. We were running like 11th with three laps to go when there was an open red flag. We were terrible, we were so tight I couldn’t turn. So we restarted 11th and we finished fifth. That was hugely eye-opening for me. I realized that not only do we have a fast car but I realized that my crew chief Kale Kahne was really, really good at seeing things and listening to me to the point that under a red flag we can go from a car that basically sucked and end up with a fifth place finish out of it. Kale just did a really great job that night.
I refuse to give Donny or any driver any sort of power over my team when it comes to winning a championship.
I think Kale was ready for a fresh start and I was excited about the opportunity to be at KKR and we’ve been successful since. After last season I think we’re both extremely hungry and ready to prove to ourselves again that 2013 wasn’t a fluke. To be honest I think we backed that up in 2014. We had a better season in 2014 we just didn’t win the championship. We won 14 or 15 races that year and statistically we ran better than we did in 2013 but Donny was just better.
I refuse to give Donny or any driver any sort of power over my team when it comes to winning a championship. I try to focus on just making our car better. If we get our car where it needs to be I can race with anybody. There’s nights that you feel like your car’s really, really good and you still get beat and those nights can be a little frustrating but for the most part I don’t worry about who’s winning or who is successful. At the end of the day you just have to focus on what you can control and your team. I know if we can get our car to where it needs to be then that is all I can ask for.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_raw_html el_class=”subheading-story”]JTNDaDMlM0VUb3RhbCUyMHRlYW0lMjBlZmZvcnQlM0MlMkZoMyUzRQ==[/vc_raw_html][vc_column_text]In 2013 I tried not to pay attention to points but I did. I looked at it and I’d see where I was at. I can tell you though that I never once spoke of the point standings. From the very first race until November I can promise you that my wife and I never once said the words “Points Championship” to each other. We just ignored it. There were times we were both thinking about it in the same room but we just didn’t or refused to talk about it.
I think the biggest thing for me, when I realized that I had a real shot at holding on to the title was that I just felt like I owed it to my team to win it. I felt like I was still the same guy that was in Pennsylvania racing the year before that couldn’t beg a team to give me a chance to come back on the Outlaws tour and I felt like I was by far the weakest link on the team. I felt like the team had done everything that they could do to win a championship and it was my job to finish it off.
I think the biggest thing for me, when I realized that I had a real shot at holding on to the title was that I just felt like I owed it to my team to win it.
At the end of the day, the driver is still the driver and still has to buck up and do things that you don’t want to do on a race track and get the job done. It’s still in the driver’s hands and as devastated as I would have been to lose it, I think I would have been just sick over stealing it from my team because I felt like they had put out a championship effort. If we didn’t win it wasn’t them, it was me. I think that was my main motivation. I owed it to everyone at Kasey Kahne Racing and I’m proud that we got it done and I’m proud of everything we have done together.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_video link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_IwqZM4pU0&feature=youtu.be”][/vc_column][/vc_row]
The Drivers Project is a media collective devoted to North American open-wheel racing.