Spotlight: Go speed racer
It was just another day at the track in the 1980s.
School of Public Health facilities manager and Ann Arbor native Jimmie Kennedy traveled to Florida to compete in the sprint car division of modified car racing. He recalls one opponent who stood out among the drivers because of his age.
"He was just a 14-year-old kid," Kennedy says. Years later, Kennedy realized that the kid he once raced against was Jeff Gordon, four-time NASCAR champion.
"Several of us said, 'You know, he's going to go some place one day.' We didn't realize he'd go this far."
Like Gordon, Kennedy started his modified car-racing career as a teenager. He began driving under an assumed name at 17 when his parents denied him permission to race, even though his father was a driver.
"Part of the way through that first year, I got caught," he says. "My mother found out and she said, 'Your dad has to go with you.'"
Since then, Kennedy has built and raced more than seven modified cars with his father's help. "My dad and I get to spend a lot of time together," he says. "Not many guys can say that their dad is their best friend."
Together, father and son recently completed a 550-horsepower, canary yellow modified car that sports a cherry red 45 on the side. Reaching speeds of 120 mph, it will make its first appearance on the track this season.
Kennedy's love for building and racing cars stems not from winning, but from his love for family and friends. On a typical weekend, his garage is a hub of activity and laughter where friends, family and neighbors gather to help out.
And Kennedy needs all of the hands he can get.
"It takes a minimum of eight hours per week to prepare a car for the next race if nothing is wrong with the car to begin with," he says. "You check every nut and bolt of the car. You check every wire and every hose."
The only part that is re-used is the front frame clip.
"We could have bought a bunch of parts and threw them on, but it's a lot more fun to build and engineer them yourself," Kennedy says. "Everything from the smallest mounts to the body is all fabricated."
Kennedy says that unlike many sports today, racing is one that the entire family can enjoy, as the people involved are friendly, and it is a good, clean sport.
"The community and cross-section of the people that participate and go is so amazing," he says. "I know engineers from Ford Motor Company that race with us. I also know people that would mortgage their house to get the next car."
Racing season began at the end of April, and Kennedy is gearing up for his summer-long dash through 12 open-tire class shows. His first stop will be in Owosso at the beginning of May. From there, he will travel to other local tracks including Spartan Speedway and Auto City Speedway near Flint.