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News: Santa Fe / NM, Cars and Trucks
Young racer making headlines with his driving skills
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By JAMES YODICE | Associated Press
August 14, 2006

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - Most of Alex Kennedy's teenage pursuits aren't complicated.

He's a fiend for video games. He reads. He plays basketball. He's extremely attached to the text-messaging feature on his phone.

He does, however, fly in the face of logic on two fronts. First, he has a disdain for television.

"I'll watch it when I've got nothing else to do," he says.

The second is what he can do behind the wheel of a race car. Kennedy is only 14-years-old _ not old enough to drive a car around the streets of Aztec where he lives, but old enough to be a race-car driver and to land himself a national spotlight on ESPN.

Alex Kennedy's skills recently attracted the nation's premier cable sports network to his front porch.

In the past seven weeks, the Kennedys have watched their son blossom from local legend to national hero.

On Aug. 6, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" featured Kennedy as part of a story on the rapid rise of young drivers who are competing and advancing in auto racing.

Kennedy, who will be a freshman at Aztec High School, got a start in BMX at age 5 and has been driving bigger rides the past six years. Last year, he won 11 international, national and state championships in the Legends division. Among his 42 starts were 34 top-five finishes and 18 victories.

Kennedy has been drafting this accelerated learning curve perfectly as he ascends through the ranks. He is zipping through each division with amazing speed.

He's even got his own Web site: alexkennedy.com.

"Things are just different with this kid," says Robert Gayton, an award-winning driver as well as Kennedy's crew chief and driving mentor. "(His skills) are not teachable. They have to be a part of him to be a thoroughbred race driver. There's lots of quarter horse race drivers, but to be a thoroughbred, you can't teach that. It's just in the person."

Terry Kennedy says his son has had an extraordinary intuitiveness and competitiveness about him since kindergarten. He was a state champion BMX driver at 8 and Terry calls his son "the eternal rookie" because he rarely stays anywhere long enough to become a veteran. He dominates, wins some championships, and then moves upward and onward.

Now Kennedy is racing late models, the division where he competes at Sandia Motor Speedway. He's there almost every weekend during the summer months for practice or for a race.

Kennedy has had only half a dozen races at this level, but he raised some eyebrows when he started from the back of the field and finished 10th in the first United States Late Model Association main event in May. He was seventh in the last USLMA several weeks ago.

He needed special insurance and had to convince the track that he had the talent to run the Late Models, a division that is extremely close to NASCAR in terms of the style of cars and the type of driving required.

"The young folks have to show the skills and talent on the track and not be burdensome to other drivers," says Sandia general manager Chuck Jackson. "Alex was good."

ESPN's courtship of Kennedy was swift once it connected the dots. Point A was the Farmington Public Library, where Kennedy volunteered to be part of a License to Read program.

He brought his car along as kind of a show-and-tell, then gave a speech about the value of reading and staying in school. Beyond the large increase of young boys in the program, Kennedy's new status and incredible driving record helped get the story out to the media.

Then, ESPN pounced. After some checking on Kennedy to make sure he wasn't too good to be true, it found out he was a legitimate standout.

"They called me and two days later they were standing in my yard with lights and cameras, totally freaking us out," says Terry Kennedy, who adds that the family has invested about $250,000 in Alex's driving over the past nine years.

Gayton says Kennedy is already trying to map out the next step.

Says Terry Kennedy: "He's so relaxed. The cool thing about Alex is, when he gets his helmet off and gets out of that race car, he's just a 14-year-old kid. But when he gets in that car, he's a race driver. He becomes somebody else. It's like somebody throws a switch."

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