During the last 100 laps of the Southern 500 last weekend, Kasey Kahne’s body had already been pushed beyond its limit.
A rapid, extreme dehydration issue he’d been dealing with over the last year had returned in a big way, and Kahne found himself struggling to even keep his eyes open.
His heart rate was high and out of control. Kahne could barely drive or focus; his few thoughts were about trying to lay back in the corners and just make laps, hoping his body would respond.
Kahne finished the race — he still managed to get 24th place — then got out of the car and lay down on the pit wall as medical personnel arrived. But his heart rate was still so sky high, the doctor couldn’t get a measurement on his pulse.
He threw up all the way to the infield care center — right in front of fans. Once there, his arms, chest and neck were so cramped, Kahne indicated he had to be held down to get IVs in both arms.
“It was just a complete mess,” he said.
So if you’re wondering why Kahne won’t be racing this weekend at the Brickyard 400, that’s a sample of the reason. The fact it could happen again means there’s a chance he might not be in a Cup race again anytime soon — depending on what doctors can figure out.
It’s not as if Kahne is an out-of-shape person or hadn’t been getting enough fluids prior to the race. He’s actually in peak physical condition and spent four days hydrating and eating cleanly prior to Darlington — particularly conscious of what could happen.
That’s because this isn’t a new problem. Fans saw a flash of it last year after Kahne won at the Brickyard, but the extreme dehydration has only gotten worse since then. He struggled at Kentucky and Bristol this season as well, and Darlington was the worst yet.
Essentially, Kahne said his body sweats so much that he can’t keep the fluids in. With his slender frame, it’s different from an NFL offensive lineman with a lot of body fat. Ultimately, Kahne can’t keep up with the hydration fast enough and after a couple hours can’t even drink any more fluids without throwing up.
From that point on, his body starts to shut down — particularly on hot days with a high dew point.
Kahne is now working with doctors to try and “find a way to put together a full race and not hurt my body internally at end of these races,” he said.
What puzzles him is he’s had the same body type for all of his time in NASCAR, but the dehydration issue has only started to creep in over the last two seasons. He can only figure it’s age, since nothing else has changed.
“I can’t control the temperature of my body and my heart rate,” he said. “Once it gets to that point, there’s nothing I can do until I can get out of the car.”
It’s different with sprint car races or shorter races, because the dehydration effects don’t begin until Kahne has been sitting in a hot car with little air flow for a couple hours straight. He can do a five-mile run or 15-mile bike ride with no problems and feel great.
But a three- or four-hour Cup race? More and more, those are starting to become more dangerous for his health.
Kahne acknowledged the ongoing problem played a factor in his decision to retire from Cup racing after this season.
As for the immediate future, he’s already eyeing a hot forecast in Las Vegas next week. He’s hoping one of the three doctors he saw this week can help him come up with a solution to help keep his body from getting dangerously depleted.
“It definitely worries me,” he said. “But if we can come up with solution to stay hydrated prior to race and feel comfortable with it, I’ll be in Las Vegas.”
One day after Kasey Kahne announced his decision to retire from full-time NASCAR racing, he faced the media at Bristol Motor Speedway to explain why.
Essentially, it came down to this: At 38 years old, Kahne could sense he was tired of devoting his life to racing and knew he wouldn’t be able to commit himself to another full year on the NASCAR grind.
Here are five of Kahne’s comments on the decision, in his own words:
— — On being committed: “When I was young, my dad was all about if you do something, you do it 100 percent. You put everything you have into it. When my parents finally said yes for me to go racing at 14 (years old) like it was 100 percent from that point on and it’s all that I’ve thought about. … Twenty-five years later, it’s just a lot and it will be nice to not have that on my mind full-time.”
— On why he wanted to keep racing after Hendrick: “When we first started talking (to Leavine), it was going to be fresh, new, something different. It was exciting to me, so I wanted to give it one more shot with a different group and a different company and I did that. We have had some success this year, we have also had races where we all wanted them to be better and then we have had some races that weren’t good at all. But the successful days make me happy on Monday and excited to come back for that next race. But I just kind of ran out of that anymore.”
— On the potential for other offers: “There were a few other offers I had received over the last month and just options that we could talk about, things like that. It felt really good to have that, but at the same time it wasn’t necessarily about that anymore. I didn’t feel that I could seriously race all of next year and be completely committed 100 percent and I feel like there are guys out there that can be and that should have those opportunities over me at this point in time.”
— On driving again in NASCAR: “I feel like I can still go out and win races and be competitive. Why be completely done if there is an opportunity to do a couple of races — a Daytona 500, a Brickyard, or whatever it may be? Or maybe never drive another Cup car after Homestead. I’m not sure. But I still love racing. If I can help out at some point, I’d love to get in the car probably and still do some driving.”
— On dirt racing: “I could see myself doing 40 or 50 sprint car races next year. Not a full deal, because that doesn’t do me much good for backing off a bit. But you can do 40 or 50 races in about three months in that deal and still have eight or nine months to do other things.”
Each week, I ask a member of the racing community about their career path and journey to where they are today. Up this week: McKenna Haase, a 21-year-old sprint car driver, team owner and college student. Haase is the first female to win a race at the famed Knoxville Raceway in Iowa. This interview was recorded as a podcast, but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.
I understand you grew up in Iowa. Were you a race fan growing up or anything?
No, I wasn’t. My family was kind of your typical ball sports family. We grew up in Des Moines, but I went to school in a small town called Carlisle. We played like every sport, especially softball was big in my family.
When I was in third grade, we went on vacation to Tennessee and we were walking through a shopping mall (the Opry Mills Mall in Nashville) going to dinner and we ran into Kasey Kahne. But I didn’t know it was Kasey Kahne at the time.
I knew he was famous, because all these girls were around him wanting autographs. Being a third grader, obviously you want to see what’s going on. But we almost didn’t go over there, because it was kind of out of our way to see what was going on. Finally, I reluctantly went over and there was some lady there and she said, “Sorry, this is this is over. Kasey is done.” And so I’m like, “OK. I didn’t come here to see him anyway.”
So we left and we were walking back to our parents and they said, “Turn around.” Well, (Kasey) had followed us, because he thought we didn’t get his autograph.
He starts talking to us and asking us about racing in Iowa and all of this stuff, and it was really awkward because I had no clue what he was talking about. But I was trying to act cool. I was trying to read this sign with his name.
So we left the mall and I was stoked. My parents just thought it was a fad, you know? Like, “Oh, she met some famous guy in this mall. Now she thinks she’s a fan.” I eventually got his T-shirt and I wore it like every day. And I just became obsessed with not just Kasey, but just following racing.
In the meantime, I had a cousin who lives in Arkansas who started racing micro sprint cars. I went on vacation to watch him and I like fell in love with the idea that kids could race. And in between that time period, I went and watched Kasey race.
What kind of race did you see him in?
K&N, actually, at Iowa Speedway in 2008. And at Iowa Speedway, they had a display for Slideways Karting Center in Knoxville (a slick track). These cars looked like my cousin’s and they were sprint car-style go-karts. The guy who was working there was like, “Well, you can drive one.” And I like died, you know?
So we came to Slideways here in Knoxville and they just go like 20 miles per hour and it’s just like a little track. But I took it really seriously and I started going out there every weekend and I’d put in like 200 or 300 laps. Months went by, and there’s about 15 different cars there. So I would memorize all the cars, the way they handled and the different ways they were set up.
I was 11 years old at the time and in the midsummer/fall they had a kids league on Thursday nights. I really wanted to join that, so I begged my dad. We went down on a Thursday and they were like, “We’re sorry, but no other kids showed up for the league.” So I was super disappointed. They said, “But there’s a men’s league and you could do that instead.”
I look at my dad and he’s thinking “No way,” because I’m just this little girl and there were like 30 men here to race these go-karts. But I decided to do it and I ended up doing that every Thursday for two years. I would always get the trophy for youngest participant at nationals and stuff like that. And it was just really fun.
In the meantime, I went to watch my cousin race and died over the fact that kids could race. I was just just mesmerized. This dirt track I watched my cousin at was in Oklahoma. So my parents lied to me and they told me the only dirt track in the world was in Oklahoma. So I could never be a race car driver because it was too far away.
So I became obsessed with this racetrack and the drivers — like I idolized these kids. You would have thought these were NASCAR drivers. I memorized every kid who raced there, their background. I memorized the rulebook. I memorized the prices of all the cars and I tried to come up with this financial plan to go race in Oklahoma. I’m 12, and I re-crunched the numbers like 100 times and there was no way, because micros were $6,000 and the gas to get there, there was no chance.
Like I said, I grew up in a small town. I was going to school there, and there was a local sub shop/ice cream shop that’s really popular. So I start going in there, and lo and behold on the counter was a picture of a sprint car-style go-kart — like what I’d seen my cousin race. But it looked a little bit different from my cousin’s. And so I freak out.
I’m like, “Oh my gosh. Surely there’s a racetrack in Iowa, because this race car is on dirt and this sub shop is in Iowa.” Side note: It was a picture of an Outlaw Kart, but I didn’t know that at the time because my cousin raced micro sprints and this was an Outlaw Kart. All I knew was it looked like a funny looking little sprint car, you know?
This was before like phones and smart phones — for me, anyway. So I would memorize a sponsor a day on the race car. I’d go to the sub shop, look at the picture, memorize the sponsor and go home and Google it to see if it would lead me back to wherever this car was. The name on the car was too small. The name of the driver, so I couldn’t read it.
You would think I would just ask the owner, but he was friends with my dad and my family wanted nothing to do with me being a race car driver. So I was always going behind their back to do this.
So you’re sneaking a peek at this picture without letting on that you’re actually quite interested.
I mean, my parents knew I was obsessed with all this stuff, but they were kind of trying to keep me from it. My parents knew about Knoxville Raceway — they went here in the 80s.
Oh, so they definitely knew.
They knew. They just…lied. (Laughs) So in late 2009 I went to Slideways with my grandparents one day and they were bragging about my cousin racing micros and all this stuff. And the guy working at Slideways goes, “Oh that must be like the cars those kids race at English Creek Speedway.”
I paused and was like, “What did you just say?” He’s like, “Yeah, you know — English Creek Speedway, that go-kart track south of town.” And I freak, because this has been like months and months and months now, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh. This must be the place.”
So I’m memorizing it. Again, I don’t have anything to write it down on or a phone to look it up. I’m like, “English Creek Speedway. English Creek Speedway.” And I go home and I Google “English Creek Speedway” and lo and behold, up pops this car in the sub shop! I’m like, “Oh my gosh.” And so I freak out.
They just didn’t look like sprint cars. They were like funny-looking little cars, because Outlaw Karts weren’t popular at all at the time. I showed it to my dad and my dad was basically like, “Those cars look dumb and we’re not going to watch them.” Finally, I talked him into it and we went and watched. And of course I’m just freaking, because this is just like the track in Oklahoma, and I’m like, “There’s more than one! And it’s right here in Iowa.” Obviously, I come to find out years later there’s thousands of dirt tracks. But at the time I’m thinking, “This is a gem.” And so I took him there as much as I could talk him into it.
So in 2009, I found Knoxville. I came here in May of 2009 for the first time and we came to the 360 Nationals and were walking around town and there’s a shop here that sells Outlaw Karts. So I go in with my mom — not my dad — and I meet the owner of English Creek Speedway in this go-kart shop.
He’s trying to explain Outlaw Kart racing to me, but everything he would start to say, I would finish the sentence. So he’d be like, “The 125 class…” and then I would finish the sentence and say, “This is the age range.” Because I had memorized the rulebook at this point.
He would just kind of look at me funny, like, “Whoa…how do you know all this, kid?” And I was like, “I read it on the Internet,” and he’s like, “That’s crazy. Well here’s my business card. My grandson races box stock. If you ever want to get in his car one night after the races and drive it, you can.” So I’m just freaking out, you know?
And at this point in time, this kart shop where they sell go-karts, it was my dream to buy a firesuit from them. Because I knew I was never going to be a race car driver, so if I can’t be a race car driver, at least I want to own a firesuit.
Just the suit?
Just the suit. And so if you look back at pictures of me racing at Slideways, I had the same outfit I’d wear every week. It’s all-black — long-sleeve black shirt and long black pants and then black wrestling shoes. That was the closest thing I could get. I thought I was a stud walking around in this.
And so I run home with his business card like, “Dad! Dad! This guy gave me a business card and he said I can drive one of these cars after the races.” My dad looks at me and he goes, “McKenna. You’re not doing that. That’s only for kids that might be race car driver someday and you’re never going to be a race car driver, so you’re not doing that.” And I’m crushed.
So I kept his business card forever, and we keep going back to watch. You can read in my diary, I talk about about taking my dad to the races and one of my favorite lines I wrote was, “I think Daddy really likes this deep down, he just doesn’t want to admit it.” And then I wrote, “He said I can’t be a race car driver because only the kids with nice equipment win and only the kids who have parents that know how to work on race cars win.” And my dad doesn’t know how to work on a race car.
So I start saving my money. My parents said, “When you’re 16, you can get an Outlaw Kart. When you can drive yourself there and drive the car there and pay for it yourself.” So I came up with this financial plan on how I was going to have enough money by the time I was 16. An Outlaw Kart is like $3,000.
So I start saving my money. Now I’m 12, and so I have this plan set up for when I’m 16. I have $800 saved, roughly. And finally it’s almost the end of the season at English Creek and my dad agreed to let me get in this kid’s car. It was only because this was my second year at Slideways and I could run like second in the feature — but I was so tiny, I couldn’t beat the guys because like they weighed more, so they went faster. No matter how good I could drive, I could never win. It just got to the point where we were constantly fighting every night coming home; I would just cry and cry, like, “I want to be a race car driver.”
What do you think was his biggest hesitation? Was he worried about safety?
At the time, I just thought he was being a mean dad. Looking back, I think it was because even though my dad didn’t know much about racing, he’s a smart guy in general and he knew enough to know that it was expensive, that it was dangerous and that we knew nothing about it. It was risky and just something he didn’t want to put me through.
He was trying to save you essentially from getting your heart broken or physically hurt or something, right?
Right. And also at the time, we had a couple of family tragedies at this time period, too. So it really wasn’t the best time to be asking, also. It was very risky on my part to be pushing for this so hard at the time.
So you were saying you were about to get in this kid’s car?
Yes. So we bring my helmet and we go to the race and I get in this car and I’m nervous. Because here I’ve been begging now for years and this is my shot. I had no choice but to be fast, because otherwise my dad was going to say, “No, you’re not good at this.”
I remember the kid’s dad pushed me out there and I was like, “OK, what line do you want me to run?” He’s looking at me like, “Just figure it out, kid. You can take it easy. It’s not like the Daytona 500 here.”
I had watched like a million YouTube videos — in-car cameras — and memorized them from inside the cockpit. I was just going to mimic exactly what they did. So they fire the engine up on the straightaway and I just like take off and I was just on the fence — about scraping the wall. The kid later on — the driver — said, “Man, I thought you were going to wreck that thing.” So I went for forever. I kept going and going. Eventually, the car ran out of gas.
I didn’t know this, but my dad was standing in the infield. Apparently, the dad looked at his son and said, “Well, son, it looks like I found myself a new driver.” We’re good friends with his family now.
But yeah, the car runs out of gas and I pull in and I was like, “Did I do it right?” They’re like, “Yeah, you did fine.” At that point, I look at my dad and it’s like, “Well now what?” And a week later, I heard him like on the phone with some people.
I had every single go-kart that was for sale in the nation memorized by heart. I checked every day, all day, the classifieds. Had every price memorized. I still have the ones I wanted saved on file. I have newspaper clippings in my house with highlighted trailers that I was going to buy for sale, little flatbed trailers that I got in a local newspaper.
So I had this all planned out. I gave my dad my documents. Remember, I idolized these kids, and there was a girl who raced there and she had my dream go-kart. And it was for sale for like $2,800 and my dad called them.
I came home from school — I was playing volleyball at the time and hated volleyball, and I’m ticked after practice. My dad was like, “Let’s go get in the car. We’re going to go look at this go-kart.” I was freaking out. So we went and bought it and I gave my dad $800 cash I’d saved and he helped out with the rest. And we went racing.
So there’s those cars at Slideways that I’d memorized all those years, and I’d memorized the setups and the way they drove. The fastest one was the 55. So I picked the number 55 — and to this day carry the 55.
That’s so cool.
Seven years later, I went to Victory Lane at Knoxville on Slideways Karting Center Night and put the big 55 in Victory Lane. So it kind of all came full circle.
Now I have my own driver development team — box stock and Outlaw Karts — and they carry the number 55.
That’s so crazy. So you’re in school now. You’re at Drake. And are you a finance major?
I was finance. Now I’m business studies with a concentration in finance.
So you’re basically learning on the job and at the same time completely turning this into a business for yourself while raising funds to compete. How do you juggle that? What what all goes into that?
I would say that’s probably the number one thing most people don’t know about me in racing is they kind of see me running the race team and they think that comes from what I’ve learned in racing, in a sense. Long before I was into racing — since the time I could talk — I was going door-to-door selling whatever I could find to sell.
I fell in love with the stock market in third grade and was into investing ever since. I fell in love with Warren Buffett around middle school/high school and he became my idol. So when I went to college, I became a finance major on an investment track as an analyst — which really has nothing to do with racing. But learning how to sell and learning numbers and finance did give me the ability to sell sponsorship. I was never into marketing and never really interested in that, but I would sell hand sanitizer at sports complexes when I was a kid for a quarter a squirt and make $70 a weekend.
Wow! That’s amazing.
Yeah, stuff like that. I didn’t really like people that much when I was younger; I didn’t like talking to people. My parents used to say that one of their arguments against me being a race car driver was, “You just want to be a race car driver so you can get down in that little cockpit and shove a helmet on your head and hide from the rest of the world and never talk to anybody.” And then I get into racing and I’m like this bubbly, outgoing, talkative person. I think that’s just because I found my place.
But in terms of selling, I learned how to sell. I went banging doors down trying to get sponsors. I moved from Outlaw Karts to micros, micros to sprint cars. And that’s what allowed me to be able to do that, and to do it ethically is huge for me.
Which means what?
Paying sales tax. Keeping good records. Trying not to backdoor anybody else’s sponsors or hopefully not step on anybody else’s toes and deals. Providing sponsors with the services that I promised. Same thing on the merchandise side — having good customer service. Hopefully giving discounts where deserved. Stuff like that and following through with that.
Behind the scenes in motorsports, the business side of it can be pretty nasty and pretty unethical. So (ethics are) something I try and integrate into my business, and a lot of that stems from Buffett, for me. Buffett was big on that as well.
So what all falls under your umbrella right now? Obviously you’re driving, and that has to be the number one thing.
You’re getting sponsors yourself.
And you’re doing the deals with them yourself. You’re handling the finances and the books of the team. What else are you doing?
Yeah, so THR — Team Haase Racing, LLC — is the sprint car team. I do operate that. Like you said, I do all the sponsor acquisition. I do the accounting. I have an accountant and I have an attorney that I work with, but I do most of that. And the sales tax and stuff like that.
I process all the merchandise. I do all the ordering for the merchandise. I process the orders in my basement and mail those. Obviously, the appearances. Obviously, I drive the car. I used to work on the car lot more than I do now, but now I’ve hired a full-time crew chief. I had to get to the point where I was able to do that.
And then I also own Compass Racing Development LLC, which is my driver development program. So for each kid, I kind of coach/mentor them. I help them with their funding, I do their marketing presentations. I do all the graphic design also, by the way — I forgot that — for the marketing presentations. The website, I keep updated. I run all the social media — nine accounts total on that.
And then I go to college at Drake. I’m the president of the Drake Investment Club. I’m in the American Marketing Association, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and the College of Business Leadership Council, which also entails the service committee.
And then outside of kind of all that, I have a job. I work at a promotional products company. And then outside of that, I do ninja warrior training, as well as I’m a second degree blackbelt in martial arts and Krav Maga. I don’t do all that full-time anymore; I do ninja warrior full time as an athlete.
How do you sleep or do anything, ever?
You know, I get asked that a lot and I don’t want to sometimes I hate sharing how much I’m involved in, because I don’t want to promote the sense I’m higher than anybody type of thing. You know what I’m saying?
I believe in living a life that’s simplified and having quality happiness in life and I think the world is too stretched. I think there’s too much tension. And so I don’t want to try and promote that.
But I think it comes down to what you can handle. For me, it hopefully comes down to not me. Compass is a great example of something that’s not about me and I don’t want that to be about me. I don’t want thanks. I don’t want anything in return. I want that to be me giving back to the sport.
Same thing with the investment club. That’s not really for my benefit. I just hope to share and educate others on investing. Do I really have the time for it? Probably not. But I try and make time for things that involve other people and impact other people.
So with the investing in the stock market, you’ve done well enough to help support yourself with the team and your funding efforts? Is that correct?
Most of the investing has been with my personal money. There is a way to invest in terms of actual stock market with an LLC’s funds. And I’ve been looking into that more going forward. I’m huge on asset allocation and profit maximization — that’s very big for me with this sprint car team. And in motorsports in general, I think that’s the biggest thing I focus on.
Where do you go from here? You’re still so young, but you’ve accomplished a lot. You’re starting to live your dream. You have accomplished more than you probably originally thought you were going to. What’s next?
I got my first win here in Knoxville in 2015. That was in a 305 sprint car (which means it had a 305 cubic inch engine). I won three times in the 305. And then this year, I won in the 360 also and I did that twice.
I mean, no chance was I ever going to be a sprint car driver — let alone win. And so those were big accomplishments for us, and if I died tomorrow, we’d be proud of that. But I don’t feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. And I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished everything I’m supposed to accomplish.
As far as what’s next, you can never be 100 percent sure. I want to race professionally and I want to impact the world in the most significant way possible. I think the race car is just the medium and the platform in order to do that. I’ve always said the goal is NASCAR. That would reach a lot of people, and I’d like to have a larger voice and a larger impact and I think that would give me a medium to do that.
If that’s not in the cards and that’s not part of God’s plan for my life, then maybe it is midgets and sprint cars professionally. But regardless, I want to be behind the wheel. I know I’m involved in a lot of things in life, but being behind the wheel of a race car has always seemed right no matter what.
A couple more follow-ups here. First of all, Kasey Kahne — I’m sure he knows the story by now? Have you talked to him about all this?
Back in 2014 was the first time I’d seen him since. And I gave him my driver resume, and it had the story inside along with a little newspaper article. And I just gave it to him and I’ve never talked to him since.
So it is funny after all these years — I probably say his name every day or every other day in my life because I get asked all the time, “How did you become a race car driver?” I think I’m his personal marketing assistant in that regard because I do talk about it all the time. But the funny thing is is I’ve never talked to him about it.
That’s funny. And second, I assume once you started getting more into it, your parents are fully on board now and happy to see you doing this?
Yep. So my dad and I ended up learning how the cars work. He and I worked on my race cars all through the Outlaw Karts, all through the micros. And then the first year of sprint cars, it was kind of still him and I, but we had some help and some people teach us the ropes.
It wasn’t until last year that I hired a crew chief for the first time. That was the first time my dad wasn’t the head guy. It was really cool to see my dad go from having nothing to do with it to being so knowledgeable about the race cars.
And then my mom, she still really didn’t have a lot to do with it up until my sister graduated and moved to Nashville, and now my mom doesn’t have to spend as much time with her traveling to softball games and stuff. My mom has been a big help with the merchandise and not necessarily the racing, but helping me do other things in life so that I can focus more on racing.
Does my mom like sprint car racing? No. Or at least she doesn’t like me doing it. She likes NASCAR. She likes IndyCar. But she supports me and I think they’re both proud. They’re both still nervous. We do still fight about decisions in racing and my mom still tries to get me to quit.
But deep down, I think they want to see me achieve all my dreams, you know? And they want to see all my hard work pay off, because they’re really the only people who have seen what I’ve truly gone through behind the scenes. When it comes to just the darkest of days and the depressions and the losses and the heartaches, they’ve seen all that. And I think they want to see that pay off.
When you look back at it now, if you had never gone to the mall and gotten hooked on racing, are you the type of person who is going to get so obsessively focused on something and so driven about something where there would be something else to replace that? Or was it racing that brought that out of you?
I think all the stars had to be aligned just right — not just even in the mall, but so many times in my career. I just so happened to be in the right place at the right time. And I truly believe that’s a God thing. I do ask myself a lot: “What would have happened if you wouldn’t have walked over there (to see what the fuss was about with Kahne)?” Because I was standing in the doorway of the restaurant and I left. I’m like, “What if you just walked into a restaurant?”
I think my cousin racing also had a lot to do with it. So I feel like I would have found it either way. But without Kasey, I just don’t know.
I also think my sister, by the way, had a lot to do with it in the sense of I never wanted to do anything like her. She was a softball player and cheerleader and she was really good at all that stuff, and I never wanted to do anything like her. So when I found racing, it was the one thing nobody in my family liked or wanted anything to do with, and I was bound and determined to prove them otherwise. This was going to be my thing and I was going to have something special in my life. Because (sister) Makaila’s softball was really a big thing for my family.
I had a lot of activities I was involved in also. But I think if my parents wouldn’t have been as resistant, I don’t know if I would be where I am today, because I was bound and determined. I was so stubborn and I was going to prove everybody wrong.
In the beginning, even with my friends — nobody in my school raced or knew anything about racing. (They thought) it was lame. And even when I started out, I was 13 or 14 and racing Outlaw Karts against little kids. So it wasn’t cool.
Now people see (the success) today, and it’s hard to take them back to that time and say I kept fighting. I would walk out of school. I did leave school twice at least, just from getting bullied about being a race car driver, wanting to be a race car driver, how lame it was and stupid. I wouldn’t wear race shirts to school.
When I graduated high school, I saw kids wearing my race shirts to school. So to persevere despite all that resistance, I think there’s no doubt today. Sometimes it’s hard (not) to second guess and to doubt and say, “Man, am I really supposed to be doing this?” Like, “Who do you think you are, McKenna?” But then you look back to that, and it’s like, “There was something there.”
Ten years after I met Kasey in the mall, I went down for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity combine. And there was a hurricane in Daytona, so we had to drive in instead of fly in — and we went through Nashville, Tennessee and stopped at the Grand Ole Opry shopping mall, 10 years from the time I met Kasey there.
It’s just little things like that. I feel like I probably still would have found it, but there is definitely something special that happened in that mall that night.
There are roughly 90 drivers entered in this year’s Knoxville Nationals, and the format is similar for 88 of them:
— Score enough points during your prelim night (through qualifying, heat races and the feature races) and you’re locked into the big show on Saturday night.
— If you don’t score enough points, there’s essentially a chance to try again on Friday night before Saturday’s lineups are set.
But two drivers — Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne — don’t have that luxury due to their NASCAR commitments this weekend in Michigan. That meant their chances of making the main event for sprint car racing’s Super Bowl seemed to be resting solely on how they performed in Wednesday night’s prelims.
It went well for Larson, who scored the most points of anyone — even 10-time Knoxville Nationals champ Donny Schatz — but it didn’t go well for Kahne, who found himself in poor position to return Saturday.
“Your prelim night is important for everybody, but it’s really important for me because I can’t come back on Friday,” Larson said. “I knew I had to be locked in to be able to come back Saturday and race. So it would have been very disappointing if I didn’t have a good night tonight and came back to Knoxville and was just watching.”
Points are scored based on single-car qualifying, then how cars do in their heat races (which have an eight-car invert) followed by how they fare in the features.
The night started well for both: Larson qualified 10th — despite drawing the 45th and final pill — and Kahne was ninth.
But then their results went in opposite directions. While Larson went from the last row to finish second place in his heat — thus advancing to the A-Main — Kahne finished eighth in his heat. Then, relegated to the B-Main, Kahne finished seventh (only the top four advanced) while Larson drove from sixth to third in the A.
That left Kahne sitting 22nd in the points with half the field still to run on Thursday. If he can’t figure out a way to get from Michigan to Iowa on Friday night, it’s probably pointless for Kahne to even return on Saturday.
Why? Because Kahne would likely have to start in an E-Main and race his way up the ladder (which is extremely difficult and rare).
“Really bad position,” Kahne said. “I don’t know if I could come back. I don’t know how it would all work.”
Could Kahne possibly return Friday and salvage an attempt? Larson said the NASCAR buddies walked into the Knoxville drivers meeting together on Wednesday and were examining the schedules closely in case they found themselves in that very position.
“We were looking at qualifying, when that starts, when it would finish, how long it takes to get to the airport, the time change, what airport to fly into,” Larson said. “I think he can make it work. It’s just a matter of whether he pulls the trigger and does it.”
Cup cars qualify at Michigan at 5:05 p.m. ET on Friday (4:05 p.m. CT). Kahne would have to qualify, get to the airport, fly to Iowa, get to the track and get in his car by the time hot laps start around 8:15 p.m. ET (7:15 p.m. local).
“I just feel like it would be really hard to make qualifying,” Kahne said. “I’m going to look at it, but I might be done.”
The 12 Questions series of driver interviews continues this week with Kasey Kahne of Leavine Family Racing. Kahne finished fourth last week at Daytona International Speedway. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed below for those who prefer to read.
1. How often do you have dreams about racing?
That’s interesting. I actually never really do about driving the car. I feel like my dreams, when I do have them, it’s like I’m going to miss the race or miss qualifying or miss practice. Like I can’t get my seatbelts buckled — they’re too short. I just can’t get them that last little bit, or for whatever reason I can’t put my glove on. Like just weird stuff but I can’t figure out how to do it. Or you can’t find your helmet. I don’t know why, but those have kind of always been my dreams about racing.
That would freak me out, just trying to think about getting your glove on over and over and the cars are starting.
And then it’s like the race is starting in the dream and you can’t do it because you can’t get your glove on. But that’s not really how it goes. I mean you’ve got tons of time before the race starts (in real life).
2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?
I think it always does. I feel like you might as well get on the same page and talk about it. It’s usually probably not the best idea right after it happens — although sometimes it is if it’s not intentional and you’re pretty sure they understand that. Then that’s a good time just because it’s over with.
But I think the sooner the better — no later than Monday if it’s a Sunday show — just try and get it figured out and talk about it and then you can move on and you know if that person is still mad at you or if it made sense the way you explained it or you did them wrong.
They might eventually get you back. But at least you know, and at least they know where you’re coming from also. I think it’s good to get it out there.
3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?
I always like compliments about a couple things: being a good person, treating a person with respect, treating people the way I want to be treated. And when somebody compliments me on something like that, I feel good about that.
Also, anytime I get a compliment about Tanner, my son, just no matter what it is, like, “You’re a good dad” or “You have a great boy” — just anything to do with him that is a compliment for him or for myself, it makes me feel good.
4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?
Tom Brady. For one, he’s my favorite quarterback. Over the years he’s just so clutch, so perfect when you have to be perfect in that situation. So I just always thought that about him. And to be able to have someone like that at the racetrack and show them around, to me that would be unbelievable no matter what I got to show him, like about the cars or around the racetrack — just different things that NASCAR has going on throughout the weekend. I think that would be pretty awesome.
5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?
No. I wouldn’t.
You like your meat and cheese too much?
For sure, and you can still do really well on other stalls and still eat the way I like eating.
6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2011 Darlington Cup race.
I was in the Red Bull No. 4, we were super fast early in the race and I hit the wall. I might have even been leading; if I wasn’t leading, I was running second. I feel like Carl Edwards was up in the mix. But we were running up front and had a really good car and I hit the wall and ruined our chances of winning. We got the big Darlington stripe. I feel like we finished fourth, but without the damage we would have had a much better shot.
Wow, that’s amazing. You did finish fourth. You led more than 120 laps. That was the race Regan Smith won. Are you always that good at remembering races, or does that one just stick out?
A lot of things that went on in ’11 stick out. That was one of my favorite years in Cup racing for a lot of different reasons. And most races at Darlington stick out. That’s a track I’ve always had on the top of my list to win at. And I have a bunch of poles there and I’ve came close a bunch of different times but never been able to pull those off. So I remember those races really well. If you had asked me something else, I probably wouldn’t know.
7. Who is the best rapper alive?
I actually like rap, but I don’t usually know who’s singing. Or rapping, I guess.
So you like the song, but you’re like, “I don’t know who this is?”
Right. I actually just heard a song recently that I was like, “Man, that’s actually really good. That guy’s good at that.” But I had no clue who it was.
When I was younger, Eminem was my favorite. But that was a long time ago, I’m not sure anymore how much new music he has or anything.
He’s put out some stuff, but it’s not like amazing like the old stuff.
Yeah, the old stuff, I just always liked that.
8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?
I think about someone up top calling the race (from the NASCAR tower) because there’s so much relying on their calls and so many of them are the right calls and good calls and even the ones that I wouldn’t think are right sometimes can be right. But sometimes I just can’t believe certain calls. Like it just irritates me so bad.
Like when you watch it back? (Editor’s note: For some reason, I thought Kahne was referring to spotters and didn’t grasp he was referring to NASCAR at first.)
No, when I’m actually in the car. I may not have all the information at the time, but I can get as mad about some of that stuff as I can about a lot of things.
Are you talking about a spotter clearing somebody or something and you’re like, “I can’t believe that?” I’m confused.
I’m talking about like David Hoots. (The frustration) just comes from the call and then because of that, that person I guess. Whoever makes that call.
9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.
So I think Tom Hanks is my crew chief because I feel like he would just be really in depth and just really figure it out and tune it up. Call a great race. Like he’d have all the information, do all the research. So Tom’s the crew chief.
LeBron’s the spotter because he’s just going to motivate me. I mean, he’ll just motivate the whole race. I don’t even like to be motivated, but if LeBron James was trying to motivate me, I think it’d be awesome. So LeBron’s motivating and he’s the spotter and helping me win the race. And Taylor Swift’s driving my motorhome.
10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?
Actually, the key is probably the interior guy (a crewman who is in charge of the car’s interior like the seat). They have usually walked the area, so a lot of times I’ll just ask him and he’ll know where the closest bathroom is because he knows I need one right before we go. So the key is the interior guy.
11. NASCAR decides they miss the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and want a replacement. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?
A lot of money. A ton of money. I mean, I would definitely break my neck on the backflip — like there’s no way I could complete it, so I would need a lot of money to attempt it. NASCAR money. A lot of money. (Laughs)
12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Aric Almirola. He has a question about Tanner. So he asks, “What is your favorite way to spend a day with Tanner from start to finish? What would you do in a day that you would both have a great time?”
Good question. We have those days, so it’s actually pretty easy. It has a lot to do with doing things and moving. He really likes going to the race shop; we have kind of our routine, so he has his people that really likes. At the race shop he has Roe (office manager Roseann Greene) and my sister (Shanon Adams) and Lisa (Backer, his longtime manager) and the guys in the shop working on the cars.
Basically we get up, we have breakfast, we watch a little bit of Paw Patrol, go to the race shop for an hour, I get a good workout in, he gets to play with everybody there. And then from there it’s pool time, water, outside, swings, slides — just kind of more than anything, running around playing and enjoying the time. And I don’t mind that either; I like relaxing. So to let him go do his thing and me get to relax and just keep my eye on him is a nice afternoon.
The next interview is with Denny Hamlin. Do you have a question I can ask Denny?
How much time a week does he actually put into the Hoop Group and Golf Guys Tour during those seasons? Because I know he has all kinds of stuff going on to make those things go. So how much actual time is he putting into that? Because I feel like it’s a lot.
It seems like it would be. They have social media accounts, they have all sorts of professional trophies and stuff going on.
Yeah. Trophies, they have dinner outings, they have the full-on tournaments, they have the same with the Hoop Group, I feel like they have gambling. It’s all types of things are wrapped around those two groups. And I think Denny is behind all of it, so he has to be putting in some serious hours.
Previous 12 Questions interviews with Kasey Kahne:
Since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Most Popular Driver award 15 straight times, there’s no dispute which driver was the most liked by fans in the last decade and a half.
But who were the other popular drivers during that time? Well, we actually know the answer to that question because the National Motorsports Press Association (which administers the award) has released a top 10 of the voting each year since Earnhardt first won it in 2003.
Only seven of the current 10 most popular drivers will return next season — Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. That’s in alphabetical order, because the NMPA no longer releases the order of the final voting (they used to not only release the order, but also the vote totals).
Who will the other three be? It seems fairly wide open at the moment.
That’s because only two active drivers — Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski — have ever made the top 10 in the past and failed to make it this year.
All other active drivers — including the likes of Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer — have never appeared on the top 10 list.
At the bottom of this post, I’ve compiled a spreadsheet of all the data dating back to 2003. But first, a few observations:
— What happened to Harvick? This is the biggest mystery from the voting. Harvick was the third-most popular driver in 2003 and 2004, then dropped to the bottom half of the list over the next decade — but was still in the top 10 for every year from 2003-13. But he has now missed the top 10 in three of the last four years (starting with the year he won the championship, oddly enough). Perhaps it’s because he’s been more affected than anyone with old-school fans abandoning the sport (assuming his fan base early on had a large portion of Dale Sr. fans after he took over that ride in 2001). What are some other theories?
— Truex on the rise. Martin Truex Jr. never made the top 10 in voting until the past two seasons — this despite being a full-time driver since 2006.
— New faces emerge. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson both made the top 10 in voting for the first time this season. Chase Elliott has made it in each of his first two years.
— Streak continues. Of the remaining active drivers, who has the longest streak of making the list? It’s a tie between Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, who have both appeared every year since 2004. But while Johnson has typically been in the bottom half of the voting when the order has been revealed, Kahne is usually toward the top (and got as high as second in 2013).
— That 2014 list! Seven of the 10 drivers from 2014 are no longer in the sport full time. Of course, that’s a bit misleading since Josh Wise made the top 10 that year based on the Reddit push. But the other six drivers (Earnhardt, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart) took up a combined 68 spots in the top 10 over 15 years — and that’s going to be hard to replace.
Here’s the spreadsheet I compiled if you want to look at the raw data. “Yes” signifies they appeared in the top 10 that year; in years when the NMPA released the order, the driver’s position in the top 10 is noted.
What happened: Leavine Family Racing, which currently fields the No. 95 car with Michael McDowell, announced Kasey Kahne will take over as its full-time driver in 2018. Kahne and Hendrick announced last month they would part ways after this year, but Kahne was ultimately able to remain in the Cup Series with another team.
What it means: Though his new home is certainly a downgrade from powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, this is a good move for both Kahne and family-run Leavine (pronounced “leh-VINE”). Kahne is only 37 and has some prime years ahead of him, and this will allow him to race in an environment without the pressure that comes with being part of Hendrick. At the same time, Leavine’s performance has been improving over the years — McDowell has been the best car in the Richard Childress Racing alliance at numerous races this year — and figures to only get better with an 18-time race winner in the seat. In addition, Leavine should be able to build a sponsorship program around a driver whose loyal fan base has continued to support him through several miserable seasons at Hendrick.
News value (scale of 1-10): Five. This move was expected for awhile, so it’s not a surprise. It also involves a team that isn’t well known to many fans, though Kahne’s part of the announcement makes it notable enough to get a decent amount of media coverage.
Three questions: Will lowered expectations actually allow Kahne to improve his results (McDowell’s average finish is only one spot behind Kahne this season)? Why did Leavine remain part of the RCR alliance instead of working a deal with Hendrick? Will McDowell be able to remain in NASCAR in some form?