Alan Kenny Guest Editorial
Where to start … well, the media frenzy has died down (OK, so it was a few magazine interviews and a TV spot on the hometown TV station – and now Luke has asked me to write my this article). For me, that is a media frenzy. I still feel like the “World Champ” title is surreal and will probably always feel that way, but I will certainly enjoy having the number 1 on the scoop all year.
Luke said that a lot of these articles follow a loose theme of “How I won it” and I’ve been giving that a lot of thought. What made 2012 a championship year? What, if anything, did I do different? Were there special circumstances that made it possible? And from a personal standpoint, can I ever win it again?
Let’s start with the basic facts:
1. Am I a better driver than everyone else? Nope, not even close. Take a look at the top 25 in Super Comp points last year. There’s no way I can claim to be a better driver than any of those guys.
2. Do I have a better car than everyone else? Nope, it’s a great car and a safe car (thank you Dan Page), but lots of racers have great cars.
3. Does the big top end speed (185+) give me an advantage? On that one, I have to say YES (thank you Gary Stinnett). For me at least, I believe that seeing my opponent and the finish line at the same time makes it easier to judge the stripe ... maybe not so easy against a 150 mph car, but still way easier for me than him or her. Plus, being a big speed guy means I get to “reel ‘em in” on every pass and that’s REALLY FUN! On the other hand, I raced for 3 months last year with my spare 565 (mid 170’s mph), accumulated a bunch of points and won a 25 grander at Atco! So maybe big speed is overrated, but I prefer to be the fast guy.
So what’s left? Age and experience, crew (family and friends), confidence and LUCK. Based on the above, it would seem that this is where the difference must come from. So let’s look at these factors.
I’m sure there are lots of people who believe that I was just plain lucky in 2012. And they are absolutely right. But there are different kinds of luck. Alan Reinhart likes to say that drag racing is a “right place - right time kind of sport.” That applies to watching someone lose with a 10 package ... and you go 45 on the tree ... and win because your opponent goes 55 (that happened round 2 at Norwalk and I ended up winning the race). That kind of luck was working against me at Pomona as I watched Stefan Kondolay (who was chasing me down in points) get 3 free ones (red light, opponent no show, red light). You find yourself saying “Please, someone just give him a race!” But it’s NOT all luck, because if he had not earned enough points to be in a close second place, none of those free ones would have mattered.
By the way, standing trackside and watching the pursuers (Luke @ Vegas, then Stefan @ Pomona) was the most ulcerating and agonizing experience I’ve ever been through, but at the same time incredibly exciting because I was still in front. I didn’t sleep well. I had perpetual indigestion. But when we finally won it, the thrill was indescribable. Like winning a race but MUCH BIGGER and since it happened at the last race of the year, that wonderful feeling continued through the Lucas Banquet, the holidays, the Division Banquet and I’m still reveling in it! I wish every racer could get the opportunity to experience it. It’s everything you imagined and much, much more!
There are lots of definitions of luck. My favorite is from Johnny Rutherford (old time Indy car racer for you young guys). Johnny said: “Luck is when opportunity and preparation meet.” That fits with the old saying “you make your own luck” because YOU get to control the preparation part. And in sportsman (handicap) drag racing the most important part of preparation is mental. Of course, you need a mechanically safe and reliable car that handles well, good brakes, etc. I have often heard people say, “It’s not what you drive, but how you drive it.” How you drive it is much more mental than physical. Yeah, you have to hit the tree and keep it in the groove, but the tricky part is decision making. And that is good news, especially for ‘older’ racers, because experience is the best teacher. You can rehearse all the scenarios in your mind, and that really helps, but you need to get to the point where you automatically react on the track (like you imagined it) without thinking about it, because there really isn’t time to ‘think’ on the run ... at least not for me. The decision making needs to be automatic ... a function of your subconscious brain. Maybe younger racers can think fast enough to assess, evaluate and act ... but by the time I do all that, I’m looking at my opponent’s win light! Bad news for us ‘older’ racers is the ‘young’ racers are coming up from junior dragster programs and they already have tons of experience at a much younger age than we did. When you learn to trust your instincts, it’s easier to keep your mind clear at the starting line and focus on the light ... because if you miss the tree ... well, you know.
What about confidence? Henry Ford once said, “Whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can’t ... you’re right.” Henry was right on. You have to convince yourself (and your crew) that you can beat anyone on any day. Saying you can beat anyone is bragging. Believing you can beat anyone is confidence. Believing is better and a lot less annoying! It’s easy to be confident when you’re winning ... a lot harder after a few first round losses. A short memory helps (easier for us old guys). A good, consistent car helps (thanks to #1 Throttle Stops, Stinnett Carbs, Select Performance Converters and Hoosier Tires). But belief in your ability is the key and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you believe, the more you win and the more you win, the easier it is to believe. Try to remember that the next time you pull alongside Luke or Peter or Troy or ...
What about crew? Good information is critical to good decision making. I’ve got Carol, Jason and Samantha (and many friends as well). Knowledgeable crew can be a huge advantage. At some tracks it’s hard to see what’s happening on track, or hear the announcer from the staging lanes. Having someone who leans in at the last moment to tell you that “It’s a couple fast (or slow) out there” will lead to much better decision making. You have to believe in your math and your car, but sometimes there are factors in play that can’t be calculated. Last minute, good information will make you better.
So how did I win the championship? Well, I was really, really lucky. I had lots of right place, right time luck and I had lots of opportunity meets preparation luck. I had good equipment and good information which helped me make better decisions ... and I didn’t screw it up too often! Now I want to try to win another championship. That’s a tall order and a longshot but we’ll have lots of fun trying. The first one took me 40 years. I may have to pick up the pace!
I can’t end this without thanking the people and companies that helped me get it done. Jeg, John, Troy and Mike Coughlin and everyone at JEGS; Greg Boutte and Ryan Fellman @ K&N; Dan Page Race Cars; Gary, Jason and Luke @ Stinnett Automotive; Ed and Eddie Alessi @ Select Performance; Scott Mackie @ Weld Racing; Roy Freeman @ Hoosier Tire and Scott Hall @ Moroso. And a big thank you to all our friends, not just the ones who come for dinner (but we do enjoy them), but the ones who are there at midnight helping you change a motor, or take down a mangled awning, or load up a crashed car, or offering help and parts, or even a loaner car. This includes the Sawyer’s, Dorr’s, Krug’s, Ross’s, Fricke’s, Northrop’s and in the case of the “awning over the roof at Joliet” about 20 or 30 people who we don’t really know that well, but they showed up to help late at night anyway. That’s what makes this such a great sport!
And of course, thanks to my wonderful family; Carol, Jason and Samantha.
See y’all at the races!
Alan and his family after winning the 2012 national event in Reading (where he defeated his son, Jason in the final round).
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