By JAMES YODICE | Associated Press
August 14, 2006
ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - Most of Alex Kennedy's teenage pursuits aren't complicated.
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.
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.
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
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
He's even got his own Web site: alexkennedy.com.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
"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.
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."