|SCCA Runoffs| My Runoffs Experience – Kyle Keenan

(L to R) Travis Washay, Kyle Keenan, and David Daughtery

(L to R) Travis Washay, Kyle Keenan, and David Daughtery

I’ll never forget riding in our $200 Nissan pick up truck, on our way home from our first go-kart race. Just as we were about to get on the freeway, my Dad looks over, and quietly says “Kyle, I’m sorry……I wish I could give you the equipment everyone else has.” As I sat there, half confused as to what he meant, by the time I got home I knew exactly what it meant. Since that day, I’ve been 100% devoted to my racing efforts. From racing a bike around the block, to a Spec Miata while 3-wide down the back straight at Portland, it’s been a long, crazy road, one that ironically enough, ended up putting Team KBR and myself on the top step of the podium at the SCCA Runoffs.

When SCCA announced late 2013 the 51st Annual National Championship Runoffs would be on the west coast, and furthermore, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I’m pretty sure everyone on the west coast put it at the top of their priority list. The SCCA National Championships offers a chance to race with the best drivers in each respective class is.

For 2014, we decided to focus on our B-Spec efforts with help from Kia Motors of America, Dick Hannah Dealerships, and Kinetic Motorsports. Our 2012 Kia Rio Lx was in great shape, thanks to some minor teething issues that were fixed just after our last race of 2013. Armed with only 3 new Hoosier sticker tires, we loaded the car up on our flat bed trailer, and attended as many of the US Majors Tour events that we could.

After 3 race weekends, we were qualified for the 2014 Runoffs, winning both the Divisional B-Spec Championship, as well as the Regional B-Spec Championship in the process. With 10 wins in 11 starts, we were feeling confident our car could be a great Top-5 car at the Runoffs.

The SCCA Runoffs is a very long schedule compared to our usual 2 or 3-day events. Monday is a paid test day, Qualifying is Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and the race is Sunday. So you’ve got 3 qualifying sessions to learn the track, lay down a flying lap, and then a 20 lap race on Sunday.

We arrived about mid-day Monday, and found a pit spot next to local buddy Dylan Olsen, driving his #13 Ford Mustang in American Sedan. Pit area was restricted to a 25′ by 30′ spot, which was more then enough for us with our Support Vehicle and our race car.

 

Qualifying came around Tuesday, and instantly I felt comfortable around Laguna Seca. Turn 2 has always been my nemesis, and luckly I was able to tame it rather quickly. As we finished up Qualifying on Tuesday, we were sitting in 3rd place, a few tenths behind 2nd. After a long tech process, our car was taken back to our pits, where we began prep for Wednesday’s qualifying session.

Exiting Turn 3 during Qualifying. Photo by Jeff Zurchmeide.

Exiting Turn 3 during Qualifying. Photo by Jeff Zurchmeide.

Wednesday was a smooth, quick day. We made a setup change to try to “numb” the front end a bit, basically raising the front of the car to make it a bit less twitchy on turn-in. The car was easier to drive, but we still struggled to keep the car feeling solid under braking.

After qualifying on Wednesday, we were sitting in 4th, even after improving our time. On the hunt for speed, I went and found my Hoosier Tire teammate David Daughtery. He suggested I switch tire compounds, from the SM7 tire I was running, to the A7, an autocross tire from Hoosier. After telling David I was tight on funds and couldn’t afford a set, David did the most unexpected thing; “Kyle, take these tires. They’ve got 2 heat cycles on them. Run them for Qualifying tomorrow and then run them for the race Sunday. You can win with these tires.”

It takes a lot for me to trust someone. Let alone when someone hands me a set of tires, that they outqualified me on, and says “Here, run these and beat me with them.” I took a chance, and bolted the Hoosier A7’s on my car, still mounted on David’s Enkei J-Speed wheels. Team KBR changed compounds on the brake pads, and I was more then confident we had a great car. Our first flying lap was good enough for 2nd, and I backed it up right away with one just a couple tenths faster. As I entered the pits, I think the whole team breathed a massive sigh of of relief. We worked hard, and nailed a perfect setup for race day. We’d be starting on the Front Row for the SCCA Runoffs! Epic! I just wanted to be 5th or better!

Spotting for Jordan Wand (SM #99) during Friday's Spec Miata race.

Spotting for Jordan Wand (SM #99) during Friday’s Spec Miata race.

Friday and Saturday gave me a chance to watch some racing. A few of my competitors were also in other classes, so it gave me the chance to check out what they were doing. I also spotted for my good friend Jordan Wand, watching him put on an epic drive from his 32nd starting position in Spec Miata to an eventual 16th place finish. I’ve worked with Jordan almost all season, and it was awesome seeing him run an absolutely perfect race. In the picture above, you can see I’ve got the Race-Monitor app up on my phone, a fantastic app that displays live timing for races worldwide! It’s the easiest way to get live timing updates during sessions.

Also got to watch my mentor and coach, Gary Bockman, aboard his crazy Mazda RX-3 GT-3 race car. Gary has been trying for almost 25 years to win the runoffs, but sadly it wouldn’t be his, as his car lacked the straight-line speed the front runners had. Even with Gary pushing his car to the limit, he finished 6th, in one of the tightest packs of GT cars I’ve ever seen. Gary is a shoe, and to watch Gary, in his element, is amazing.

Gary Bockman's RX-3. Photo by Jeff Zurchmeide

Gary Bockman’s RX-3. Photo by Jeff Zurchmeide

Sunday rolled around, and before I knew it, I was up at around 2am with what I think was food poisoning. I know it had nothing to do with nerves, as I literally was not nervous at all. Hoping it’d pass through, I just did my best to try to get some rest. As we drove to the track, I felt really sick. Just trying to keep my head in the game, I ran the track through my head, and really focused on where I thought the key places to make moves, or defend moves, were going to be. Not long after getting to the track, the team had the car ready, and I belted in for what I hoped would be one of the best races of my life. While I didn’t show it, I was feeling sick, and I just hoped to make it to the end of the race.

We were rolled out on the grid, and followed the pace car around the track for our warm up lap. Heat in the brakes and tires, and I had a feeling we had a great car. I felt comfortable in the car, and knew I had to have a perfect start in order to hold off the rest of the pack as we headed into the first corner. With the drop of the green flag, we all took off, and I did all I could to side-draft John Heinricy, on pole, down into Turn 2. Surprisingly, we made it through the first lap without any contact, and then a full course yellow came out for a car stuck in the gravel. To my surprise, John pitted with a car problem, effectively taking him out of contention for the race. “Holy cow, I’m leading at the runoffs……”

Leading the B-Spec field to the restart!

Leading the B-Spec field to the restart!

We went back to green, and Travis Washay got a great run, passing me as we headed towards Turn 9. I drove my car hard into Turn 11, nailing the corner absolutely perfect, and gaining a massive run down the front straight. I threw my car to the left, on the pit exit road, and snuck past Travis. Almost instantly, another yellow came out. “Great…..yellow flag again?” With 2 cars stuck in the gravel, and one without a wheel, I knew it was going to be a long clean-up. As we idled around the track, I used it to analyze the track and look for any areas to watch out for. Sandy spots, any cracked or peeling asphalt, curbs that were not grippy, etc.

After my not so good first restart, I nailed the 2nd restart perfect, leading the field to the green flag. A charging Travis would fill my mirrors for the first 12 laps of the race, and with about 6 to go, I started to pull away from Travis. I reached up, and turned the rear-view upwards so I wouldn’t be tempted to peek. I put my head down, and started to really pick up a solid rhythm. Dad, my crew chief, was giving me split times as I came by each lap. With about 5 to go, I feel a rub in the Left Front of our car. “Please, just 5 more laps tire. You can blow after we cross start finish, just stick with me for now.” Yeah, I talk to my tires….

With 3 to go, it finally hit me; “We’re leading the Runoffs. If I run clean I can win.” As my team cheered me on over the radio, I just focused on running every lap perfect. 1 to go, and the rub is getting worse. Still feels like it’s holding air, just a few more corners! As I rounded the cork screw for the final time, I did something I’ve always wanted to do. I reached up, and turned the headlights on. Not a few seconds later, I turned the car onto the front straight, made the final shift, and immediately began to yell at the top of my lungs over the radio: “We’ve done it! We’ve done it!” Not too long after that, the tears come, and I enjoyed a bit of a cry as I completed my cooldown lap….

Here's a couple cameras, smile please!

Here’s a couple cameras, smile please!

After an interview, and an emotional victory lap with Dad, soon I was grabbed by friends, and family members alike. As we celebrated, I was soon grabbed by my coach, Gary Bockman. Gary has coached me since I first started in cars in 2007. His teaching methods have been super effective, teaching me more about being mentally strong, and finding self confidence. I’ve known Gary for probably 20 years, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen him cry. Having Gary there meant the world to me. I thought he and his team had already left, and to have him there, on my big day, totally meant the world to me.

I have so many great people to thank, so much that I could do a huge post on it. But I’d like to thank everyone, from the bottom of my heart, who has shown support for us over the years. From fellow drivers loaning us tires, to other teams loaning us spare parts, fuel, and other items just to make it to race day. So many people have helped us it’s incredible. Pat McFall, Gary Bockman, the entire BSI Racing crew, the Miatacage.com/SBOX Engineering group, I could go on forever.

Coach Gary Bockman and I share some tears......

Coach Gary Bockman and I share some tears……

Team KBR, for preparing such a fast, comfortable car to drive. I had 100% confidence in the car and felt like I could do nothing wrong with it. We ran the entire race without making a single mistake or error. Team KBR works harder then any other team out there, and are such a great group of committed racing enthusiasts who wanted this win just as bad as I did.

Kia Motors of America, Dick Hannah Dealerships, and Kinetic Motorsports, for believing in us and giving us the resources to make this win possible.

David Daughtery, for loaning “The kid” a set of tires, so I could shine on race day. I hope to be able to do the same for someone else someday. Class act, and a great friend forever!

Jumped the start on the champagne spraying....sorry David ;)

Jumped the start on the champagne spraying….sorry David 😉

Hoosier Tire, for all of the continued support! Bruce, Tim, and everyone at Hoosier have been a real pleasure to work with!

Mothers Polish, Sikk Shades, Redline Oil, Hawk Performance, Blairco Heating and Air Conditioning, Bravo Enviornmental, PPV Inc, Waste Watch Inc, AIM Sports, Summit, Saferacer, and all the great brands who have stood behind us over the years.

Morgan Peetz, for buying a street car and letting us cage and race it! “Grandpa” Mike for his crew help as always! The Ferrara’s for coming south to watch! The Ferrick’s for letting me stay at their house to relax as much as possible leading to the Runoffs.

Above all, I want to thank my parents for encouraging me to chase my dreams of becoming a great race car driver. From Dad’s countless hours under the car making sure it’s perfect, to Jan sorting all the logistics, making sure everyone is fed, and to my Mom and little brother, Shane, for coming out and showing support as much as they can.

Dad, we had the good equipment when it mattered the most. Thanks for everything man. I love you.

Taking Dad on the best victory lap yet!

Taking Dad on the best victory lap yet!

While I’m not sure what my 2015 plans are yet, one thing is for sure; You can find me in Daytona, at the 2015 SCCA Runoffs, driving the #1 B-Spec car 🙂

 

 

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