A dream (almost) come true

Kent Schenkel with the state-of-the-art helmet he uses. Schenkel will participate in an ARCA test run May 27, with an opportunity to race on June 12.
Photo by Matt Murphy

Originally published May 25, 2009

Kent Schenkel has been chasing a lifelong dream for almost a decade.

Literally chasing. And passing. And tuning up.

Schenkel, 58, of Huntington, will be at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., on May 27, testing for a chance to qualify in the Automobile Racing Club of America's (ARCA) RE/MAX Series "Racing for Wildlife 200" on June 12.

"It's been a dream that's coming true," he said.

Schenkel says he's has enjoyed auto sports his entire life, and after retiring from the family dairy business in 2000, began participating in various racing schools around the country.

He spent nine summers at events at the TrackTime Racing School at Michigan International, in addition to time at the Jeff Gordon Racing School at the Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.

At the schools, Schenkel would drive solo around the track to learn how to drive at high speeds and how to better handle the vehicle. Each time, Schenkel would drive the same car, and each time, his engine power was increased so that he could fine tune his skills.

With all the time he spent in Michigan, Schenkel got to know Bill Eversole, a former ARCA driver and owner and operator of the TrackTime Racing School.

After years of watching Schenkel grow and improve, Eversole told Schenkel that he had potential to race in ARCA, and the ability to take the next step and perform in a test run.

"I owe everything to [Eversole]," Schenkel said.
But the first thing Schenkel needed was a car.
So two years ago, Schenkel purchased a Dodge Charger from Chip Ganassi Racing. The car had been driven by Kasey Kahne in the 2006 Nextel Cup.

The Charger wasn't completely up to ARCA standards, though.

The suspension and brakes needed to be upgraded to meet safety regulations. Schenkel also installed a more powerful engine, increasing the car's horsepower from 625 to 800 horsepower. That change also increased the car's top speed on straight-aways from 178 to nearly 200 mph.

"A 10 mph increase is huge," he said, referring to the increase in speed while driving.

After two years of experience with his car from driving and practicing on speedways like and including Michigan International, Schenkel may be ready to go.

But in order to even be able to see the green flag, Schenkel needed a license to race in ARCA, as well as a pit crew.

With the help of Eversole, Schenkel got his license, allowing him to participate in ARCA events. And that wasn't easy.

Schenkel had to submit a resume, which had to include information about his physical wellness and the details of his experience behind the wheel. It still took two months for that information to be processed by ARCA.

For a pit crew, Schenkel hired Bill Henderson, crew chief for the No. 66 car in NASCAR driven by Dave Blaney for Prism Motorsports.
Henderson will be in Michigan on May 27 for Schenkel's test run. Should Schenkel pass and be able to take a stab at qualifying for the actual race, Henderson, as well as the entire No. 66 crew, will be working for Schenkel, since they will already be at the speedway for the NASCAR race the same weekend.
Qualifying for the race, though, will be a challenge.

At the ARCA test run, winning and losing doesn't really matter. Instead, drivers are judged based on things like consistency in running laps, hitting marks on the track while negotiating turns, keeping a consistent speed, and being able to drive in a pack at speed.

"It's strictly how you drive," Schenkel said.

If drivers pass the test run, they are then eligible to try to qualify for the actual race on June 12.

At the qualifying run, Schenkel would need to place in the top 43 times to guarantee a spot on the track for the actual race.

That race would be Shenkel's first real stock car race, fulfilling his lifelong dream.

And he's not intimidated. Schenkel considers Michigan International to be his home track, and he has performed between 1,800 and 2,000 laps during his decade-long career.

He doesn't really see his age as a stumbling block, either.

"You're only as old as you feel," he said.

Schenkel said he feels confident with his times, and he suspects that he will be able to hold his own.

And for Schenkel, winning or losing isn't all that important.

"I'm doing something I never thought I'd do," he said.

If Schenkel doesn't pass the test, he says his "dream may come to an end."

And in that case, the rookie says that he will continue to drive at racing schools around the country.

But, if he passes the test and is able to race in June, Schenkel may look at racing again, since once a driver passes one ARCA test run, they become eligible for all ARCA races. ARCA has another race in Joliet, IL, in August that he has thought about participating in.

The only problem with more races is that more races cost more money. Schenkel has been paying out of pocket for nearly everything, and without a sponsor, he can't spend too much money on racing. Even just one set of racing tires is $1,800, and drivers go through several sets each race.

Even still, regardless of the outcome, Schenkel is happy to have done what he has accomplished.

"It's been worth every penny to do what I'm doing," he said.

Note: The ARCA RE/MAX Racing for Wildlife 200 will be broadcast live on the SPEED Channel Friday, June 12 at 5 p.m.