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In the Fast Lane with Kendra Adams

Finding your path in the sport of auto racing can be quite the task for those trying to make their way by way of the driver’s seat or with the toolbox as one of those weekend warriors at the shop or at the track.  It is not necessarily all about getting the trophies and the accolades but rather, it’s about gaining respect from your peers while gaining as much experience at the asphalt arena to be better than the prior outing.

For 16-year-old Kendra Adams of Ontario, Canada, she’s a determined, brilliant, and astute racer who’s more than just a student of motorsports.  She’s a genuine competitor who balances the priorities of real life affairs like school and work while pursuing her dreams in the racing world.  All the while in her fast paced world, it’s at the racetrack where she’s truly happy personally and professionally.

Adams is dedicated to forging her path in the sport while acknowledging the maxim that no one is an island. Instead, dreams are kept alive through a strong support system which is evident with Adams and her family.  The sacrifices put forth to balance life with racing is one that today’s NASCAR stars and the legends of yesteryear could appreciate.

While she doesn’t have a bone to pick or a chip on her shoulder, she’s a hearty racing tour de force who works hard to gain the respect of her peers on the track as well as improving on her prior performances.  There’s no trace of an ego or air of overconfidence with this young racer.  She’s not just another young female racer either.  Kendra Adams is a true, genuine and legit stock car talent whose budding career builds with more pages that’ll chronicle her ascension into this sport through successes, learning experiences, and most of all, a racer who’s got the makings to be a staying power in stock car land.

Right now, it’s about getting to know about Adams and what she brings to the table.  For that, we’ve got the firesuit and helmet ready so let’s get “In the Fast Lane with Kendra Adams” right here on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson :  First of all, thanks you for taking your time to let us interview you.  Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got your start in racing.

It's all about gaining experience and respect.

It’s all about gaining experience and respect.

Kendra Adams :  Thank you for interviewing me.  I currently live in Ontario, Canada, I am 16 years old.  I will be going into the 12th grade in the fall, in the extended French program.

My Dad raced for 15 years and then quit racing when I was four or five years old.  When I was about 10, I told my parents that I wanted to race cars.  They told me that I was too young and that our local race track required that racers be 14 to race.  When I was 12, I noticed that they had a 12-year-old racing so I asked my parents again to let me race.  Surprisingly, it was my Mom that had to talk my Dad into letting me race.  When I was 13 and in grade 8, my parents bought me my first race car, a four cylinder, front wheel drive, Honda mini stock.  It was the most amazing Christmas gift ever.  The worst part was that I had to wait four months to use my present.

I moved up to the super stock division this year and the car I have is pretty old.  It’s an old Late Model that my Dad used to race in 1999 – which is the year I was born – and it was already old then.  We made changes to make it legal for the super stock division, but I am a little out of date with the equipment that I am using.   However, it’s a great car for me to learn in.

RT :  Racing gets the reputation that it’s primarily a sport that’s popular here in the United States but Canada’s produced some great stock car and open wheel racers internationally.  How popular would you say racing is there and how passionate are Canadians with stock car racing in general?

KA :  Racing is hugely popular in Canada!  If anyone has ever been to a NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway, they would see many Canadians come down for that race as it is close to home.  The track that I race at, Sunset Speedway, in Innisfil, Ontario, has four divisions for racing each Saturday night with great car counts and approximately 100+ cars there each night.  We race two different classes of mini stocks, super stock (which I race) and late models on a regular Saturday night.  They also have traveling series that come to the track for Pro Late Models, Super Late Models and they host a NASCAR Pinty’s race as well.  Within a two-hour radius of my home, there are six speedways so I would have to say that racing is very popular here.  Some amazing drivers have come out of Canada – JR Hanley, Pete Sheppard III, DJ Kennington, JR Fitzpatrick, Cayden Lapchevich, Mark Dilley, Gary Klutt and Alex Tagliani, to name a few.

RT :  We talked about this a bit about your racing situation.  Essentially, you have a unique racing situation in which you don’t have a dedicated crew and have to preserve your car as much as possible to compete in the races at Sunset Speedway.  Are there times that it’s frustrating and other moments where it’s made you into savvy racer with how your approach at the track?

KA :  It’s sometimes frustrating!  When I started racing, my Dad was traveling almost every week for work.  He would come home Friday night and leave Sunday night.  On some weekends, he wasn’t able to come home at all and it was up to my Mom to make sure I got to the track and got the help that I needed.  This was a new thing for me and I knew next to nothing about cars.  Every week, my Mom would tell me to be careful with the car and to remember that there was no one home to fix the car.  If the car was damaged, we wouldn’t be able to race the following week.  Dad and I only had Sunday to fix the car before he had to leave again for work.

Because of this, it made me a very passive driver.  I have always given a lane or allowed a faster car by in order to save my car.  I had a couple of times where the car was damaged and Dad had to leave for work, but my parents’ friends, Randal Harris, Derrick Tiemersma and Phil, Josh and Branden Bullen, were there to help out when I needed the car fixed.   Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to race the following week and I can’t thank them enough for that.

I have always raced people as clean as I could in order to avoid damage.  Sometimes, this has cost me finishing places but it has definitely taught me to not use up my equipment.  Depending on the race, what lap we are on etc., I would rather give a line than end up with wrecked race cars.  Conserving my car and finishing the race has always been my biggest priority.

We have a couple of friends that come to help on Saturdays, when they can, at the race track.  For the most part, it’s just me and my parents.  That being said, if something major happened, there are a lot of amazing people at our race track that would come help up fix the car, loan parts etc., to get us back into the race, if we needed the help.  The racing community at Sunset Speedway is amazing.

RT :  Let’s talk a bit about your season so far.  It seems like you’ve had some steady progress in the Super Stocks but some challenging moments as well.  How would you evaluate where you stand right now as we head into the summer months of the racing season and do you feel you’re getting closer to consistently scoring top-10 finishes?

KA :  The track that I race at, and the guys that I race against, are easily the best in the province.  This track has top talent and a deep field. On any given night, there are 10 – 15 drivers out there that could win the feature.

I have a ton of respect for the people that I race against.  Qualifying at our track is difficult.  You have one heat race to attempt to qualify.  Your starting position is done by a draw when you arrive at the track.  There are generally 30 cars each night with 10 cars in a heat race.  You have to finish first to fourth to transfer through to the feature.  If you fail to do this, then you have to go into the consi to qualify and determine starting position.  I haven’t been able to qualify through a heat race yet but that’s certainly a goal.

As much as starting up front would be nice, starting at the back and having to make my way through traffic is what is going to make me a better driver, so I’m okay with starting further back in the field for now.

We treat our racing as a hobby.  The cars in this division can range from $5,000 to $70,000, so on top of the talent, there are some really big budgets too.

My goal coming into this year is to finish top-15 in the points and top-15 in the features, as I am hoping to crack the top-10 by the end of the year.  I know it doesn’t sound like it, but for me, those are good, realistic goals.

RT :  You’ve particip­ated in the Drive 4 Diversity program and applied for the Kulwicki Driver Development Program in recent years.  When you reflect on the fact that you started racing at just age 13, does it humble you to know you’ve been in the running for both of these programs for stock car prospects?

KA :  Being selected for the Drive 4 Diversity program in 2015 was the most amazing and humbling experience I have ever had.  I only applied because someone I look up to suggested that I apply.  I didn’t feel that I was ready nor did I ever think that I would be picked.  I talked to my Mom about it and she said if I wanted to apply I could, the worst they could say was no.

I went into the combine having no idea what to expect but I went in with confidence and gave it everything that I had.  I had never driven a legend car before so I asked a friend if I could test his legend before I went down.  We did about 20 laps testing in the car before the rain came.

My experience was extremely limited in the legend car but I felt good.  Needless to say, I wasn’t picked for the program for 2015 but I’ll be applying again in 2016.  If I am selected for the combine, I’ll go down and represent my home track the best that I can.  I feel now that I’ve participated in the combine, I’ll have a better idea of what I need to do this year.

To have even been considered for D4D and the Kulwicki program was unreal.  As you said, I haven’t been racing for long, so to even be considered is a huge honor for me.

RT :  Much like life, the sports world has its share of the heavy hitters and the underdogs.  It seems like you thrive in the role of being an underdog.  Would you say that you sometimes carry a chip on your shoulder in wanting to prove yourself to your peers and to the critics?

After a setback with her engine last weekend, Kendra Adams had the kind assistance of fellow teams to continue her race day efforts.

After a setback with her engine last weekend, Kendra Adams had the kind assistance of fellow teams to continue her race day efforts.

KA :  Actually, not at all.  As much as it is awesome to win, my goal each and every week when I go on the track, isn’t to win the race.  My goal is to learn, get seat time and beat my personal best efforts.  I know that it would be a minor miracle for me to win a feature race this year, so my goal is to go out, push the car and myself to the limits just outside of my comfort level, give good feedback to my Dad on the radio, and try to do better than I did the week before.

Being successful, beating myself, doesn’t even mean finishing in a better position than I did last week, as it could mean learning to adjust with the changing car throughout the race, if we miss the set up, it could mean adjusting to that in order to get the best finish we can.   I don’t think about what my peers or critics think as I am not there to prove myself to anyone.  I am there to learn and get the best results that I can with what I have.

RT :  I understand you got to attend the Dover race weekend a few months ago.  Talk about that experience and in particular, that moment in which you met Matt Kenseth while wearing Joey Logano gear.

Matt Kenseth does have a place in his heart for Joey Logano!

Matt Kenseth does have a place in his heart for Joey Logano!

KA :  I’ve been to a number of NASCAR races at different tracks but none of them could ever compare to the experience I had at Dover this year.  I have to thank Gloria from NASCAR for providing hot passes as it was truly a life experience that I will never forget.  I was able to be in the garage area, see what the teams do on race weekend, watch all the action and best of all, I met so many amazing drivers.  Joey Logano is my favorite driver but there are so many drivers that are so amazingly talented so it would be hard to ever top that experience.  Meeting Joey was a highlight of the weekend of course but my biggest disappointment was my missed opportunity to meet Tony Stewart.  I was simply tongue tied and before I could get the words out, he was gone. If I get that opportunity again, I won’t miss it.

It was a little awkward when I saw Matt Kenseth.  I wanted to ask him for a picture, but my first thought was, “I’m wearing my Joey Logano shirt, he’ll say no for sure,” but he was good natured and took the picture with me.  It became a classic photo for my family and we all thought it was pretty funny.

RT :  As a driver, you have perhaps the most qualified perspective when it comes to this question.  What are some of the biggest obstacles that young racers encounter that you feel should be addressed so as to increase their visibility to prospective team owners in the major series of racing as well as to ensure their racing careers continue in that driver’s seat?

KA :  Being young, you certainly don’t get any respect in the beginning, and that’s fair as it does need to be earned.  However, I think that a lot of people forget that everyone had to learn at some point in their career.  Being young, there are a lot of critics that will dislike the young drivers, as some consider them “spoiled, rich kids.”  My family isn’t rich but racing is something that we all enjoy so we make that our entertainment.  It’s where my parents choose to spend their money, not only on me, but on something that we can all do together and enjoy as a family.  I believe that there are many families that feel the same way.

I honestly believe that visibility for young people is at an all-time high right now.  There are so many programs that are geared to the young, upcoming racers, there are a lot of hugely talented young drivers making their mark in NASCAR right now, which I think helps team owners look to the younger drivers as their future.  Many teams have their own driver development program, so I think the visibility is there, in most cases, it the financial support that isn’t.  Racing is tough.  One of the top prospects in Canada right now is 16-year-old Cayden Lapcevich who is currently leading the NASCAR Pinty’s Series points after three races.   However, he doesn’t have a sponsor and isn’t sure he’ll be able to compete for the whole season.  The talent is there, just sponsorship – to race at higher levels or be a top competitor at a local level – is hard to come by.  Unfortunately, sponsorship is what allows us all to be able to race and it’s just extremely hard to obtain.

RT :  Off the track, what are some of your favorite things to do to relax from the intensity of racing and are there some musicians or bands that you enjoy listening to or even do some karaoke to in the car?

KA :  Someone actually asked me this question the other day and my answer was that racing is actually my outlet.  It’s what I look forward to every week and what I want to do more than anything, so my outlet from everything else in life, is racing.  I do play hockey and golf as well, but racing, by far, is my favorite sport, thing to do, my outlet.

As for music, I like a little bit of everything.  Country music is my favorite, but I can listen to everything from rock, to hip hop…everything.

RT :  I’ve asked this question to some racers in the major three NASCAR series and those working their way up the racing ladder.  How much of a race team’s success is on the driver and pit crew and how much would you say is all on the equipment?  Would you say there’s a precise formula to it all or is it a situation where you can’t just place numbers on these intangibles?

Kendra spends some TLC time with her car.

Kendra spends some TLC time with her car.

KA :  I actually find this question interesting as it is something that we’ve discussed a lot.  I look up to my Dad for so many reasons, but one of the things that I respect about him so much is that he always raced on a very minimal budget and was always able to get the most out of the car.  He could take a 10th place car and put it in the top-five just by wheeling it.  To me, that’s the mark of a top driver, and something that I aspire to.

You can put an average driver in the best equipment and they may do well, probably win races, but they can lose races as well by just simply not being able to adjust to the car, making a small mistake, or not being able to capitalize on other driver’s errors.

In my opinion, the true test on how much talent a driver has is how well they will do in lesser equipment or an ill handling car.  A top driver will be able to take a poor handling, or low budget car, and make it to the top.  They may not win the race with it but they will get everything out of the car that is possible.

Even at a local level, having a great crew is important not only for the knowledge that they would each bring, but the time and commitment as well.  There are many weeks that things don’t get done to my car simply because there isn’t enough time or hands to do it all.  On top of racing, I attend school full time and have two jobs.  I’m enrolled in summer classes to earn extra credits for high school so I can graduate early.  My Dad works on call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.  There isn’t always time to be in the garage to do things that could make the car run better.  We do what we can with the time that we have.  On average, we spend about six-10 hours a week working on the car, more if we had a bad weekend.

I think it takes a whole team effort to be a top runner.  Having a talented driver and crew is going to make a big difference in the success you have on the track.  But having top equipment is going to make difference as well.  To be a top driver, you need to have it all – talented driver, talented crew and a great budget to bond it all together.

Author’s Notes :  Our special thanks for this interview goes to Kendra Adams for taking the time from her schedule to talk racing and her career here on TPF!  All of the photos here in this article are courtesy of Kendra Adams.  In addition to TPF, if you would like to learn more about Kendra and keep updated on her racing efforts, “Visit” her official website, “Like” her Facebook page, and “Follow” her now on Twitter!

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing. Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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