Keith Kunz

Contributor

Keith Kunz

My brother Rusty and I had our own team in 1994. We had run for a couple of years with Page Jones. We won Belleville with Page and the Chili Bowl with Andy Hillenburg. It was probably in April of that year that Gary Zarounian called me and asked me to come out and help him. Zarounian had Sleepy Tripp driving for him and while I was out there I actually talked him into hiring me. So I went from having our own car and working a regular job to a hired mechanic all of the sudden.

I did that in 1994 before I came back here to the Midwest with their stuff. We won some races and went from Sleepy Tripp to Donnie Beechler. At the end of ‘94 John Lawson called me and asked me to come and work for him. Lawson had Billy Boat driving for him at the time. I did that in ‘95 and ‘96. We won a lot of races together.

Towards the end of ‘96 Pete Willoughby was starting to put together his own team. John Godfrey put us together and he hired me and I moved down to Columbus, Indiana. I’m originally from Springfield, Illinois, so it was kind of like coming back home.

I first met Pete at the Hut Hundred at Terre Haute at the end of 1996. He was a quiet, super guy and was just starting a team. He wanted to go run the national deal. It was a startup team, he’d just gotten into midgets. I was wanting to do the national deal myself. I hadn’t done that yet. I’d been out to the West Coast and that was it. I’d never chased the national midget stuff. I was really excited to do that and kind of come back home.

Pete is kind of the business end of our team and I’m the mechanical end of it. I think we complement each other really well. I don’t worry about the business end of it and he gets us where we need to go. He gets me what I need in terms of parts. Pete works with the sponsors and just handles the whole business end of it. There’s a lot there from dealing with the kids, their parents and making sure that everything is taken care of. He probably really does a lot more than what I do. I work on the cars and I’m kind of the face of it but there’s a lot there that Pete deals with on the business end of it.

Pete had actually hired Jason Leffler at that point to drive for him. Once I came back a second car kind of opened up and were trying to think of who to get. We ended up hiring Jay Drake. Jay had been running kind of a sister car to Billy Boat. So we ended up running in ‘97 with Jay and Jason.

Jason was real feisty. When he came to us I’d been racing out on the West Coast, so I’d kind of seen a lot of him. He crashed a lot. He tore a lot of stuff up. When Pete hired him it had a lot to do with my brother Rusty, who was kind of helping him at the end of the year before. Jason was determined. He knew what he wanted to do, he wanted to be a race car driver. That’s all he was going to do. He worked hard at it and was very talented.

We won the USAC National Midget deal in our first year together. We ran 1-2 that year. It was a great start for us. At the end of ‘97 Jason ended up going to the (No.) 9 car and we continued on until about 1999.

Pete had a trucking company and closed it down at that time. The trucking company was what supported us. That’s what most team’s do, they have some kind of business or something to fall back on and support themselves. We didn’t have that anymore and Pete was the one who said, “Let’s try to race until we can’t go any more.”

At the time I didn’t really think it was realistic. I was actually thinking about going to Stealth or trying to find someplace else to find a job. It was kind of late in the season and Pete said, “Let’s just race a little bit.”

It was late ‘99 or 2000 and we were kind of having some success at that time with Jay and our sprint car was really, really good. So we just kind of continued on.

Jay Drake is Keith Kunz Motorsports winning-est driver | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
Jay Drake is Keith Kunz Motorsports winning-est driver | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

The Birth of Keith Kunz Motorsports

We started up Keith Kunz Motorsports at that time and I went to all of the sponsors and said that Pete was thinking of getting out but that I wanted to keep going. All of the sponsors chose to stay with me so things just transitioned nicely to Keith Kunz Motorsports.

It was a survival deal at that point. Racing was all we had to live on. We didn’t have any jobs, we didn’t have any money put away. We started the whole deal with I think two cars and less than $10,000 between us.

We just went racing. We made money, Jay made his money. We kept on surviving and getting to the next race. Jay had a great year that year, he won between like 25-27 races. Probably 16-18 of them were in our stuff. Some of the wins were big paying races in the sprint car. We did a little bit of midget stuff but the sprint car was kind of our bread and butter.

Jay was kind of “My guy.” We had a lot of drivers throughout the years but Jay and I could race and never talk. We could go all night long and never talk. I just knew what he needed and he trusted me. We’d just go race and win races. Jay is probably the winningest driver in our team’s history.

We were still just kind of in survival mode. We won some races and won some big races, but we were just surviving. We were being fed off what the cars brought in. There were a lot of times it seemed close to ending. We probably should have been bankrupt several times.

When you get into the winter months is when it gets tough. November, December and January are really tough because you don’t have any money coming in. We were fortunate that the people we were associated with and our partners (Cory Phillips at Advanced and some of the engine companies) would carry us. We would owe them money and they would kind of ride it out and eventually when things would get going good you’d pay them again. They were never pounding at our door. They kind of rode it out with us and we’ve stuck with them. We are still with a lot of those same guys today.

Those guys were such a big help. You just couldn’t pay all of our bills. It’s hard when you don’t have anything at all to fall back on.

So we kept going and then it going to the point where a lot of people started asking us what it would take to get their kid in one of our cars. How do I get my kid to drive your car? It was how we were surviving so the bottom line was that the answer was money.

David Abreu has been instrumental in the development of several California-area racers | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
David Abreu has been instrumental in the development of several California-area racers | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

Rent-A-Ride

The first one that came to us was Rich McCune, Sarah McCune’s dad. They came to us wanting to know what it would take to get Sarah into our car for a season on the dirt. They wanted to get her some dirt experience. We worked it out and we had Jay in one car and her in another car.

We realized right away that this was how we could make it all work. It was the first time anyone had come in and asked how much it would take to do the full season with us. I think it was the year after that when Lou Cicconi brought us Tom Hessert. Tom was with us for a couple of years and that’s when we decided that this is the avenue that we need to go down. If we were going to survive racing our own stuff and winning races we were going to need some way to fund it.

I really believe that it’s cheaper for people to race with us than it is for people to try to do their own start up team and learn how to do it. It’s even truer now that we’re established.

It’s also very important to us that people who do pay to race with us enjoy success and their time here. Most of the people who come here and spend the kind of money it takes want the truth. At some point you kind of know whether their kid can do it or not. The more the rental guys succeed and move on, the better business is for us.

Tanner Thorson is a great example of that. Tanner has been here for I think three years now with the support of David Abreu. David’s helped a lot of kids in Outlaw Karts. After Rico moved on he kept his kart and moved some kids through there. Ryan Robinson has come through there. He’s very generous in helping these guys because he wants to see them succeed.

Everybody thinks of David as this rich guy, but when you meet him he is about as down to Earth as you can get. You wouldn’t think that he’s the guy that he is. He’s very smart and very business smart. He’s a very giving man not only in racing but within his community that he lives in.

He really helps the Boys and Girls Clubs out there and the schools. He goes out and doesn’t just spend his own money but he finds money. He donates a lot of his workers to complete projects. If you knew his background it’s pretty amazing to see all of the giving that he does and the opportunities that he provides to people and not just in racing. He’s a pretty amazing guy.

Tanner’s been here with the support of David for the last few years and now that Christopher (Bell) has moved on we are looking to fill that seat which is totally funded by us and whatever sponsorships we can bring in. Tanner is the guy we have chosen to fill that seat this year. That’s very rare for that to happen but that is the plan. That’s what we’re all here for, to eventually move on and to not have mom and dad have to pay for everything.

There is a point with all of these guys that you can kind of see the switch flip. There was a point with Rico that I saw it and with Tanner it was last year. The thing with Tanner is he’s been behind Kyle and Christopher and Rico and when you’ve got that much talent someone has to be first and someone has to be fourth. Through his learning curve he was right there knocking on the door but always getting beat.

I think he finally figured out how to take it to the next level and still be in control. These guys keep the bar so high and it’s about getting to that level but keeping in control. Part-way through last year Tanner figured that out.

At the same time, right towards the end of the year he matured a lot. Personally he’s matured. He’s turned into a different person and has grown up and he has a new outlook on things. With the support of David Abreu he was kind of a spoiled kid and now he kind of sees what’s out there and the opportunities that are in front of him so he has a different outlook on it.

He’s at the shop working for us now that he’s out on his own, which is very rare for any of my guys. He’s here every day and it might surprise you how much of a work ethic the kid has. He’s pretty determined and I think he’s really looking forward to what the year has to bring and some of the opportunities that he’s going to get beyond here.

Christopher Bell captured The 2013 USAC Midget National Title for Keith Kunz Motorsports | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
Christopher Bell captured The 2013 USAC Midget National Title for Keith Kunz Motorsports | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

Battling The 9's

At the same time, though, we’ve always hired drivers. We started with Jay and he got hurt there for a while before going to Tony Stewart’s team. So we were always looking for different guys. We had Tracy Hines, we’ve had Dave Darland and all of these guys just came in to win races. We would hire them strictly to win races and make us money.

The Steve Lewis 9 cars were fairly dominant back then. We won our fair share of races back then but nothing like we do today. When we came on the scene in ‘97 they were already pretty dominant. We won the championship that first year and ran second with Jay. I think Tracy Hines was probably driving for them then and I think he ran third.

There was a lot of politics in USAC at the time. Steve had a lot of power and you just felt like you were always fighting a political battle. USAC was always on our driver’s and we always felt that unfairness.

They were really good though. Bob East was probably the best guy I’ve ever seen at the pavement stuff. They were good on dirt and they had the best drivers. Throughout the years they had every one of the good drivers from Tony Stewart to Kenny Irwin to Kasey Kahne and Dave Darland. They won championships with all of those guys and that’s where everyone wanted to go race. They always ran two cars, they won a majority of the races, and they had the best motors so it was a battle and a struggle.

When we won the title that first year Steve Lewis told Pete, “You’ve raised the bar, get ready for the challenge.” The next few years they stepped it up, came back and they dominated for quite a while there. They were still dominant right up until Steve decided to get out of it.

I think we learned how to race at another level to race with those guys. Racing full-time and racing for a living is different than just doing it as a hobby. You learn how to survive, you race different. You learn how to points race and go after championships. That’s probably the hardest thing for drivers is to learn how to points race and take your second-third-fourths and make sure that you finish instead of crashing.

Around 2004 or 2005 John Godfrey sold Stealth. We had been teamed up with him for a long time. When he sold Stealth we decided to start building our own cars. We did that and started building our own midgets and sprint cars and then we started selling some.

I sold a lot of sprint cars out on the West Coast. Glenn Crossno became a dealer and we had Cory Kruseman running our cars. Everything was kind of taking off. I had probably three or four guys just back here building cars. That went on for probably three or four years there until around 2006 or 2007.

At some point Glenn decided to start building his own cars out there. It hurt us in the building market. That was when the coil car was kind of the thing to have. We were building some back here but a lot of our customers were out there. So when that stopped, it kind of slowed things down here and we had to start letting guys go and tighten up everything around here.

It’s been up and down throughout the years. You figure out how to survive, you ride it while it’s up and when it gets down you’ve kind of got to back down and do what you can do. It’s a very iffy market.

Tanner Thorson describes his car's handling to 2014 USAC National Midget Champion; Rico Abreu | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
Tanner Thorson describes his car's handling to 2014 USAC National Midget Champion; Rico Abreu | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

The Turning Point

I think the turning point was really when Cole Whitt came along. We did the sprint car and the midget deal with Cole. Cole and his father were kind of running their own stuff in local sprint car shows around here. I think Cole was around 15 at the time and was just getting ready to turn 16. I think he went to Bubby Jones and talked to Bubby about doing it. Bubby actually pointed him in our direction and told him that we were the guys he should do it with.

Cole was a lot like Jason Leffler in that he was real feisty. He always worked on his own stuff. He was very knowledgeable and wanted to race. He grew up as a kid running a lot of local stuff and took care of his own stuff. He was real hard on himself if he didn’t do well. He was a real talented kid who was great to work with.

We got hooked together with Cole and went out that first year and won the USAC National Midget championship. We were running the midget and the sprint car full-time on dirt and pavement. We really started to build our team more and more. We were getting better and better.

We raced with Cole in 2008 and then Toyota came along in 2009. They wanted to be associated with Cole because he had just won the championship. We switched to Toyota’s and all of their motors were done at TRD.

We went from being a contender every night and winning the championship to being about a seventh or eighth-place car all of the sudden. We were struggling. The motors were a pushrod motor and they wouldn’t pull off the corner. We kind of struggled through the year and then Cole moved on and went to NASCAR.

In 2010, we got Dave Darland and hired him full-time. We were still doing some rental stuff as well and had the Armstrong boys in here. That’s how we were surviving. Our motors were still at TRD and we just struggled. We were a fifth-eighth-place team.

Right at the end of 2010, Gary Stanton had been working on the Toyota stuff. He was kind of creating a new version of it. They had one of them out and I think maybe the Wilke’s had it. TRD actually built a copy of it and started working with Gary to build a motor.

They gave us the motor for Turkey Night at Irwindale. Bryan Clauson was driving our pavement stuff for us at that point. We went to Turkey Night and won. We went out for hot laps and in the very first session it was like. “Wow, we’ve got something here.” It was a big turning point. All of the sudden we had a motor and we were back contending.

Tanner Thorson on the gas at The 2016 Chili Bowl
Tanner Thorson is the primary driver for Keith Kunz Motorsports in 2016 | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

Building a Foundation

Pete and I have been very fortunate that in our efforts to make this whole team work we’ve met some really great friends who have become great supporters of our team. IWX and Mike Curb have been incredible additions to our team.

IWX is Steve and Joan Coulter. They’ve been around racing forever. They actually owned trucks when NASCAR first started the truck series. Mike Bliss drove for them and they won the NASCAR Truck Series championship. They were involved with Danny Drinan back in the early ‘90’s. They’ve always been involved in racing and with them owning a trucking company through Pete owning a trucking company they knew each other. Steve’s main base is in Springfield, Missouri, and he has one here in Columbus and I think one in Kingman, Arizona.

Pete and Steve’s trucking companies were right beside each other so they knew each other and talked through the years. They’ve always been friends and several years back Steve and Joan started coming to the Chili Bowl and just hanging out. They’ve always helped us at the Chili Bowl and enjoyed themselves more than anything.

Over the last three or four years they’ve gotten more involved. They are getting to that point in their lives where they are retiring and enjoying themselves. They got involved quite a bit in the sprint car and midgets and they’ve become one of our primary sponsors.

Mike Curb came to us through Bryan Clauson when he was driving for us in 2012. Mike Curb is associated with so many people in racing. Mike goes back to Indy cars and NASCAR. He’s the owner on some NASCAR stuff and IndyCar stuff and he’s been around forever. He’s kind of that silent, behind the scenes guy who just really enjoys racing. He’s not out there in the public eye at all.

He got involved with us through Bryan. He was kind of partners with Bryan and when Bryan drove for us he wanted to be associated with us. When Kyle came along all of the sudden he wanted to be associated with Kyle and since then our relationship with Mike has just grown bigger and bigger over the years.

He’s on Kasey Kahne’s stuff, he’s on Tony Stewart’s stuff and you don’t see that much of him or know that much about Mike Curb but he’s involved with a lot of drivers. He really likes helping the drivers move on. You’ll see all kinds of drivers that have Curb on their suits.

His ties to racing are actually through Cary Agajanian. He and Cary have been business partners for years and years and years. I think he is probably the one who got Mike involved in racing.

NASCAR star Kyle Larson was a vital part of the resurgence of Keith Kunz Motorsports | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
NASCAR star Kyle Larson was a vital part of the resurgence of Keith Kunz Motorsports | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

A New Hope

In 2010, Bryan was running his dirt stuff and our pavement stuff, it was kind of a combination. We were both listed as the owners.

Bryan was just a really natural talent. He was 16 when he came to us. He won the very first race he won the very first race he ran for us in a pavement midget. He was the youngest guy ever to win a USAC Midget race at that time. He raced so much coming up through, he was in Kenyon cars running the Speedrome, then running sprint cars when he was probably 13 or 14 or 15 years old, somewhere in there. He was just very naturally talented.

So for 2011 we knew we had to contend with Bryan. They were going to go and do their own deal. We kind of looked around we were at the Chili Bowl and Kyle Larson was one of the guys who was on our list.

Pete went over and kind of watched him in hot laps and when he came back from watching him in hot laps he said, “That’s our guy.” Before the weekend was over we asked him if he wanted to come back and run. It took him a few weeks to talk it over with his family before he decided to join our team.

Kyle was probably the most gifted driver we’ve ever had. Everything came easy to him and he made everything look effortless. Even today when you watch him whether it’s Chili Bowl or whatever, he can go away for a year and after two laps back in the car you’re blown away.

When he came to us we knew we had something special. You could just see it instantly. He just adapted so easily. He’d get out of the car and he wasn’t tired and not even breathing hard. His highs and lows were so equal, there were no highs or lows with him. I’ve never ever seen the kid throw a fit. He was always very thankful for the opportunity that he had and always gave you 110%.

At the same time that Kyle was joining the team Toyota came out with a new motor. They also moved their engine program from TRD to Rick Long over at Speedway Engines. There was a lot of things happening at once and it was all good.

Rick had been doing our sprint car stuff and he was doing stuff for Kasey Kahne and Brad Sweet in the midget stuff and kicking everybody’s butt. We really felt like if Rick got his hands on the motor that good things would happen.

Rico Abreu will be competing full-time in The Camping World NASCAR Truck Series | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
Rico Abreu will be competing full-time in The Camping World NASCAR Truck Series | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

Developing a Program

Our whole program has changed with Toyota. When Kyle came along and moved on to Chevrolet it opened the eyes up of the people at Toyota. At the same time they had a change there and David Wilson took over TRD as President. David is a big open wheel fan and when they saw Kyle move on they committed to that not happening again.

They never really did a driver development program. They always support teams and let the teams do their thing. They kind of went to work with us and Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs and it’s taken them a few years to get there but they’ve kind of tried to create a path to give these drivers opportunities.

They’ve done that a lot with Christopher. They’ve created a lot of opportunities in the super late model with Kyle Busch. He went down there, produced and won some races. From there they tried to get him into a truck race. I think last year they promised him one race and he ended up getting seven.

They’ve always under-promised and over-produced. They kind of have a plan worked out. It’s still up to the drivers. You have got to go produce, but they’ve created some opportunities to put these drivers in some pretty good rides and good situations that hopefully will help them move on.

It’s the same way with Rico. They have kind of gotten behind Rico this year and went to work. He’s going to do the truck series for ThorSport and I think he’s probably going to get to do a bunch of other stock car stuff.

It’s pretty neat and gratifying to know that I’ve helped these kids get to where they are today. It’s good for our business because everybody out there sees their success and feels that we are the path to NASCAR. Everybody is looking for the path to NASCAR but it’s so hard.

On Sunday, there are still only 42 cars in the whole country that get to race. So you have to put yourself in the right place at the right time, have the right connections and create the right opportunities. I feel like that’s what we’ve done here with Toyota. We’ve created the opportunity for these guys to showcase their talent.

The thing is every dad out there thinks their kid is the next big thing. That’s a natural thing. We kind of explain our program as college. If you want your kid to be a race car driver this is their college. College is expensive and you’re banking on your future. If you’re going to send your kid off to do something or if you’re going to do it yourself you’ve got to put yourself in the best opportunity to succeed. What Toyota and us have done is created a path for these drivers and if they produce here they will move on.

I tell people all of the time, the first thing you have to do is win races. If you go win races they cannot, not notice. They cannot ignore winning races. As long as we produce and these guys go win races they’ll get opportunities down South.

For some reason the path has become midgets. It’s not sprint cars, it used to be Silver Crown but right now it’s midgets. All of the guys down South are watching what’s going on in midget racing. All of the crew chiefs know Kyle, Christopher, Tony and Kasey and they know these guys came from midget racing. They’re all big fans.

If you go to The Chili Bowl there is so much NASCAR hype and presence. The NASCAR fan base for midget racing is unbelievable right now. As a result there is a lot of eyes on everybody in midget racing. If you can come to midgets and be successful you’re going to get a lot of recognition. If you’re talented you’ll get the opportunities.

Kyle was just kind of a natural. It took him a few races to get the midget underneath him and get the feel of it and then by June or July he was winning a lot of races and winning big races. Everything just kind of took off from there.

Keith and brother; Rusty have become the top two mechanics in midget racing | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
Keith and brother; Rusty have become the top two mechanics in midget racing | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

Rusty

Over the last few years I’d say our main competition has been my brother Rusty. Rusty and I owned that car together in the early 90’s and he was my biggest supporter when the opportunity came up to race on the West Coast.

Rusty came back in ‘97 when Pete and I started our team. He would show up at the race track and I would work at the shop and take care of everything. So he was part of that championship when we won in ‘97. He was actually Jason’s guy and I was Jay’s guy.

I think there was another year when he came back and worked for us. He’s always had a job and had guys who’ve come to him and wanted him to take care of their cars. He won a bunch of races with Tony Stewart, he won the Chili Bowl with I believe Sammy Swindell in his car. Rusty’s always had somebody that came to him to take care of a car or take care of their kid.

The last five years or so it’s always been someone who wanted him to take care of their car and let him hire a guy to drive. He basically runs the team like he owns it. He’s been our number one competitor.

Rusty and I talk all of the time. We talk about setups, we talk about what we’re doing. We’re real close and we’re really competitive. If one of us can’t win we always want to see the other win. The last few years have been pretty unbelievable in that one of us has won 90% of the races probably. That’s a pretty cool deal.

2016 Chili Bowl Nationals winner; Rico Abreu is showered in confetti as Bryan Clauson as Zach Daum are queuing up for post-race interviews
Keith Kunz Motorsports are the 3-time and defending USAC National Midget owner champions | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

A Couple of Kids

If you plan on racing and beating Rusty you had better have talented drivers behind the wheel of your cars. The last few years we’ve been fortunate enough to have two really talented drivers who have each won us a USAC National Midget championship.

Rico Abreu is a fireball. When he came to us it was a challenge. He’s had to work to get where he is. Some guys are naturally talented and some guys have to work hard to do what they do. Rico just really has a lot of heart and has worked really hard to get to where he is.

His biggest thing was having to race against Kyle and guys like that and he would always push himself to beat those guys. He would take it to the next level and just figure it out eventually. He wore stuff out getting there but he would go places that nobody else was willing to go. He would do the things that nobody else would do and figure it out.

He’s a confidence guy. You’ve got to build his confidence up, if you’ve got his confidence up he’ll do anything. There’s different guys you can do different things with. Some guys you can get mad at or you can talk to them a certain way but Rico’s the kind of guy that no matter what you’ve gotta keep pumping him up. You’ve gotta tell him that you can beat these guys, that we’re faster than them. If you’ve got his confidence and he believes in you he’ll drive that thing.

Rico has really just gotten so good the last two or three years. I told him in 2014 when he won the championship that he was better than anybody. I told him that he was better than anybody in midgets right now. He went out and won it. I think the last two years he’s run in the top-three probably every night except for one or two times. He’s pretty unbelievable when he gets in a car, the percentages are pretty good that he’s going to put it on the podium.

Christopher Bell was kind of a wildcard. We hired him to fill the shoes of Kyle Larson which are some pretty big shoes to fill. We were really surprised at how he stepped up to the plate. He exceeded any expectations that we had for him. I would say that by 2014 he was probably better in a midget than what Kyle was. Kyle was that guy that could drive anything, he was adaptable, but in a midget if Christopher got to the front it was over. He’s very smooth and we’ve had a lot of success together.

Pete Willoughby and Keith Kunz have experienced incredible success together in the racing world | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
Pete Willoughby and Keith Kunz have experienced incredible success together in the racing world | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

The Mighty Midgets

Over the last few years I’d say our main competition has been my brother Rusty. Rusty and I owned that car together in the early 90’s and he was my biggest supporter when the opportunity came up to race on the West Coast.

Rusty came back in ‘97 when Pete and I started our team. He would show up at the race track and I would work at the shop and take care of everything. So he was part of that championship when we won in ‘97. He was actually Jason’s guy and I was Jay’s guy.

I think there was another year when he came back and worked for us. He’s always had a job and had guys who’ve come to him and wanted him to take care of their cars. He won a bunch of races with Tony Stewart, he won the Chili Bowl with I believe Sammy Swindell in his car. Rusty’s always had somebody that came to him to take care of a car or take care of their kid.

The last five years or so it’s always been someone who wanted him to take care of their car and let him hire a guy to drive. He basically runs the team like he owns it. He’s been our number one competitor.

Rusty and I talk all of the time. We talk about setups, we talk about what we’re doing. We’re real close and we’re really competitive. If one of us can’t win we always want to see the other win. The last few years have been pretty unbelievable in that one of us has won 90% of the races probably. That’s a pretty cool deal.

Keith Kunz has earned a reputation as one of the top mechanics in Midget racing
Keith Kunz has won the last two Chili Bowl's with Rico Abreu { Photo: Jeffrey Turford

Today and Beyond

Right now we’re trying to grow more. This year we’re going to run five cars full-time. Last year we ran three cars pretty much every night. We’re going up to five. Running three cars and going to four cars really isn’t a big deal but when you go from four to five it takes on a whole other level. You’ve got to have more trailers, you need more employees and then once you get that figured out going to a sixth one really isn’t that bad.

We are trying to grow in the driver development department with Toyota. We are just providing a lot of opportunities and trying to put on some good racing.

This year as I said we are going to run five cars full-time. Our schedule is up almost to 60 races this year. That’s a big midget schedule. I think maybe 45 is the most we’ve ever done. It’s just the way that everything laid out this year. There aren’t a lot of races on top of each other between USAC and POWRi.

Along with those five cars full-time, it looks like Christopher, Rico and Kyle want to come back and run some races. When they move on we have to fill those seats to survive. It’s hard because they still want to come back and race when they can but it’s hard for us to provide that much equipment and everything.

We’re trying to work out the details now and get them lined up so that they know when they can run. They will all be back for Turkey Night and Chili Bowl, that’s a given. At Turkey Night we are looking at least eight cars and probably nine or 10 at Chili Bowl this coming year, so it’s going to be a busy year.

We get a lot of calls from people wanting to do one-off stuff and we’ve gotten to where we don’t do that. We try to do a year-long program because that way you know what you’ve got, you know what’s coming in. You try to throw a car in here or there but at this point it gets too hectic.

We’ve got some people already looking at 2017 and at the end of the year, we kind of look at those opportunities. Luckily, we can kind of sort through them and figure out who’s going to be here and kind of go from there. At some point there’s not enough room. We’re trying to grow with that demand and fill those seats. Hopefully we can continue to be successful, win races and those seats will fill themselves.

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