Thursday, May 7th, 2009
Kemenah racing strong for own team
By Mike Ernst
World of Outlaw sprint car racing is a tough business.
A season traveling coast to coast to race against the best sprint car drivers and teams in the country is filled with highs and lows.
Findlay's Chad Kemenah experienced the emotional rollercoaster the series can provide in a 72-hour window earlier this year. Now the 2006 World of Outlaw Rookie of the Year is trying to resurrect not just his season but his promising career.
In late March, Kemenah led all 30 laps and won the final outlaw race to ever be run at the legendary Manzanita Speedway in Arizona in convincing style. It was the third career victory for Kemenah but the first for his car owner Jon Kantor.
"That win was really awesome," Kemenah said. "I had been out there a bunch of times as a kid with my dad when he owned cars, and to win the last outlaw race there was really special and I felt like it was going to give us some momentum and really get us going and we were going to have an awesome year."
After the race Kemenah and crew chief Dean "Banzai" Bruns began the long haul back to Ohio, but like he always did when the series was out west, he stopped in Tulsa, Oklahoma to have breakfast with Kantor, who lives in the city.
"We had finished eating breakfast and he told me there was something he needed to talk to me about," Kemenah said. "He said because of 'financial reasons' he was going to have to shut the team down."
Kemenah was stunned and still can't believe it.
"Just a week earlier he was talking about going to a wind tunnel to do some testing," Kemenah said. "I told him that was really expensive but he assured me we had plenty of funding for the season. Then a week or so later he pulls the plug on the whole thing. It is just really weird."
Kemenah returned home and pondered what to do next. With a lack of available established rides Kemenah decided to start his own team.
"Something a lot of people do not realize about our sport is very few drivers operate with a contract. You basically have a handshake agreement with the owner," Kemenah said. "I decided I wanted to control my future and not take the chance of ending up right back in the same place."
Kemenah, who is a four-time champion of the All-Star sprint series, bought some cars from owner Ron Hammonds and is in the process of having an engine built by his father-in-law, long-time sprint car owner Bob Hampshire.
"Bob is really busy right now," Kemenah said. "He only builds engines for a couple of guys but I know once he can get us one we will have plenty of power. But for now people are lending us engines so we can get out and race."
If the early results are any indication, Kemenah's new team is on a fast track toward victory lane. He returned to the outlaw circuit in mid-April at Paducah, Kentucky and charged from 16th starting position to a fifth-place finish. He followed that up a weekend later with a runner-up finish in a weekly show at Attica Raceway Park and a third-place run at Fremont Speedway the next night.
Kemenah returning to the tracks he grew up on was a thrill for the northwest Ohio racing fans but the car he was driving was an even bigger thrill. His new car is a white number 63, identical to the one Hampshire owned for nearly 25 years and was brought to prominence with the legendary Jack Hewitt behind the wheel.
"The car got a lot of response the first couple of nights out," Kemenah said. "It looks just like it did when Hewitt drove it all those years. We just need to put a sponsor on it."
Kemenah's new team returns to the track this weekend when the World of Outlaws hit the high-banks of Eldora Speedway for the first time this year with a doubleheader weekend at the high-banked, one-half mile oval. The series will contest a full race program both Friday (with the Eldora Stock Cars) and Saturday night (with the UMP DirtCar Modifieds).
Kemenah is a four-time Eldora sprint car track champion, has won three All-Star sprint series races at Eldora and has been knocking on the door for an outlaw win at track. He has two third-place finishes at Eldora with the outlaws including one in last year's $50,000 to-win Kings Royal.
He knows he will not get a lot of attention when he pulls into the pit area this weekend and he also knows he is now a big underdog to the mega-buck outlaw teams. But there is no place Kemanah would rather go to race than Eldora.
"I may be the only driver in the pit area who has a trailer that will fit through the drive-through window at Wendy's," Kemenah laughed. "But I think I can go down to Eldora and win or at least be really competitive. I really like racing there and I know we will have a good motor, which is really important at Eldora."
Action both nights begins with hot laps and qualifying at 6:00 p.m. and with the first race at 7:30 p.m.