COLUMBUS, Ind. — This writer was among those who laughed when legendary midget racing team owner Keith Kunz responded to a post on Twitter Friday night, detailing how six months ago, most in the dirt-racing community had given up on his team continuing as a powerhouse.
Those doubts came from the departure of both Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell from Kunz’s regular driver roster, both having left KKM for other opportunities and new challenges.
It left Kunz with a mostly teenaged driver lineup, led by 17-year-old sensations Zeb Wise and Cannon McIntosh, as well as 18-year-old Buddy Kofoid and 15-year-old Daison Pursley.
That quartet also had many telling Kunz he was “done, because KKM didn’t have any drivers,” according to the veteran owner who has overseen the rise of numerous racing talents over the years.
But Kunz had faith in his reworked lineup. It wasn’t the first time he’d reloaded his driver roster due to losing his most potent bullets.
After all, KKM was successful long before Larson and Bell landed on the scene.
“That’s what a lot of people don’t think about sometimes, is that before Christopher and Kyle, we were still KKM. We had plenty of drivers before we found those two,” Kunz said Monday while returning to his Columbus, Ind., base after POWRi’s Oklahoma sojourn. “The process now is probably different than it was back then, but we’ve been confident all along. We knew what we had for drivers and it was everyone else who jumped off the bandwagon before they gave us a chance to see what we were capable of with this new crop. But Christopher and Kyle had their time with us, and things like that always wind down at some point.
“We helped build them up, obviously had a lot of great successes with them and now they’ve gone on to do other things and had done well in those too. We’re still very proud of them and how they grew with us, though.”
Among Kunz’s prior drivers before the “Larson and Bell Era” include Cole Whitt, the late Bryan Clauson, Jay Drake, who continues to work at KKM today; Rico Abreu, Tanner Thorson and Logan Seavey.
Larson, of course, started his own midget operation and found immediate success by winning six races in a row late last year. He followed that run up with a Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals victory in January.
Meanwhile, Bell teamed with his longtime friend Chad Boat at Tucker/Boat Motorsports, and though he struggled at first, Bell ran second to Larson at Tulsa Expo Raceway in January.
But what of Kunz’s new young talents? As it turns out, they’ve been just fine in their own rights.
McIntosh finished third behind Larson and Bell in the Chili Bowl finale in January, while Kofoid finished in the back half of the top 10 and garnered rookie-of-the-year honors for the event.
Wise showed plenty of speed in his limited starts thus far; he just hasn’t had the luck during the first five months of the year to translate that pace into results on paper.
Meanwhile, Pursley has started to find his footing as well and appears to be coming into his own during his second year with the squad.
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