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Brad Keselowski, The Lone Soldier from Detroit
By Kevin Alan Lamb
(248) 752 – 1103
With just four races to go in the NASCAR 2011 Sprint Cup Series, Brad Keselwoski, a 27-year-old Rochester Hills native sets his sights on where his career began, in 2004, at Martinsville Speedway. Trailing just 18 points behind the current leader, Carl Edwards, Keselowski and the #2 Miller Light Dodge Car are looking to make a push.
Just two years removed from his 2002 graduation from Rochester High School, Keselowski launched his career in the Craftsman Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway as the driver of the No. 29 for his family owned K Automotive Racing Team.
“The fact that I am the youngest of five kids really doesn’t have a bearing on the man and racer that I am today. Whether I am the youngest or the oldest, the fact that I came from a racing family, more than anything else, shaped who I am today,” said Keselowski.
K Automotive Racing Team is owned by Keselowski’s father, Bob Keselowski. Bob was a competitor in the ARCA RE/MAX Series and the former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, now called the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
During the ARCA series he had 24 wins, 26 poles, and a 1989 championship. Keselowski’s older brother, Brian Keselowski, competes part time in the ARCA RE/MAX Series, the Nationwide Series, and the Sprint Cup Series.
Keselowski takes great pride in being rooted from a family of racers.
“It meant a lot. From the advice my dad gave me about driving a racecar to the way they ran K-Automotive, I carry a lot of that with me today. My dad worked on his own stuff and he, obviously, knew everything that went into his racecars and what those parts and pieces did. At Penske Racing we have plenty of excellent mechanics to put our cars together so I don’t have to turn wrenches, but I still go to the shop all the time so I know what is going on my racecars,” said Keselowski.
Like most father and son relationships, Keselowski and his father had their differences when it came to their favorite racers.
“Kyle Petty was my favorite. He drove that cool Mello Yello car and had the long hair that drove my dad crazy. I was a big Kyle Petty fan, and he and I have had a lot of fun with that fact,” said Keselowski.
In his debut race at Martinsville Speedway, in 2004, Keselowski started 26th and finished 33rd. He made seven more starts that season, his best finish coming at Mansfield, where he finished 16th.
In 2005, Keselowski began competing in the Truck Series full-time with backing from SUBcrews.com and Samson Stone. He opened the season with a career-best seventh-place finish at the Florida Dodge Dealers 250. Running every race that season, he finished 21st in points.
In just seven years Keselowski has collected four wins, 20 top-10s, and two poles on the Sprint Cup Tour, in addition to 16 wins, 96 top-10s, and 10 poles on the Nationwide Tour. In 2007, Keselowski began running in the NASCAR Busch series full time and for Rookie of the Year honors with Keith Coleman Racing, but the team suspended operations in July.
Comparisons are already being made between Keselowski and Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby.
“Here’s the deal, I’m the best there is. Plain and simple. I wake up in the morning and I piss excellence,” said Keselowski, quoting his favorite line from Talladega Nights.
In 2010, the former Rochester Falcon won his first championship in his first full-season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Keselowski produced six wins, five poles, and a series-record 26 top-five finishes in route the title in the No.22 Discount Tire/Ruby Tuesday Dodge.
“I don’t really set goals. I want to win races, keep challenging for spots in the Chase and continue the proud tradition of the ‘Blue Deuce.’ If I can do those three things, we’ll be fine.”
The “lone soldier from Detroit” has earned the honor of Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver from 2008-2010. His last win came at Bristol Speedway, in 2011, where he checkered at the Irwin Tools Night Race.
“Detroit is definitely a car town, but I wouldn’t consider it a big racing town. There is definitely a connection there since the Dodge and the other American manufacturers are based in Detroit so I’m proud to be the only Detroit driver in the Cup Series right now,” said the no. 2 driver when asked about his self-attributed nickname.
Established as one of NASCAR’s rising stars, success in both the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series prompted Keselowski to join Penske Racing in September of 2009. He was named to drive for the team full-time beginning in 2010 behind the wheel of the No. 12 Penske Dodge in the Cup Series and the No. 22 Discount Tire/Ruby Tuesday Dodge in the Nationwide Series.
In his first full season with the team, Keselowski motored to a 445-point victory in the Nationwide Series championship standing with six wins, five poles and a series-record 26 top-five finishes.
Following the success of his 2010 campaign, Keselowski was selected to drive the “Blue Deuce” in 2011, and joined select company as only the third driver in the 21-year history of the historic ride. With drivers Rusty Wallace and Kurt Busch formerly behind the wheel, the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge has averaged an 8.8 season finish in the final Cup Series standings.
Keselowski’s blood runs rich with an impressive professional pedigree and he is ready to embrace the traditions and expectations associated with a being entrusted with a top-notch car.
“I didn’t get into this sport to be a star. I got into racing to get the most out of myself. Racing, from day one, has made me challenge myself and I respect it completely because of that,” said the lone soldier from Detroit.
Keselowski was born into a tremendous advantage as a driver, growing up in a family where spending time at the race shop and track was more of a birthright, than a job, but some of the best moments were spent with his brother Brian and their go-kart.
“My brother, Brian, and I had this go-kart that we would race around the shop and the parking lot. After a lot of practice, I got to where I could do a perfect 360° spin and keep going and I wanted to show my brother. He got on and off we went, but I didn’t take into account the weight difference with Brian on the go-kart. We got halfway through the spin and the right-rear tire caught and shot us head-on into the wall of the shop. My dad came running out and thought we were both really hurt. To this day, I don’t know how we weren’t,” said Keselowski with a chuckle.
Some 18 years later, in August of 2011, the No. 2 racer endured another crash, and despite being clearly shaken, was able to exit the car under his own power. Keselowski was heading into a turn at Road Atlanta when his brakes failed halting him into the wall at 100 MPH. He had registered up to 155 MPH but the car slowed to approximately 100 MPH before hitting a non safer barrier wall head on.
The driver was airlifted to an Atlanta-area hospital for evaluation, and afterward he sent messages from his Twitter account. Keselowski also subsequently posted pictures of some scrapes and lacerations, and a very badly swollen left ankle, but added that the X-rays of his feet and ankles looked good and that he didn’t have to stay in hospital overnight.
Four days later, he miraculously won his third career Sprint Cup.
“My thought was, ‘There is no way this will keep me out of the racecar.’ We were just starting to hit our stride as a team and I was not about to let this get in the way of making the Chase. The guys on the Miller Lite Dodge put their heart and soul into giving me great racecars and I wanted to show them that it would take more than a practice crash at Road Atlanta to keep me from giving them 100%. There was never any doubt from me that I would be in the car at Pocono the next week, and it worked out pretty well,” said the 27-year-old.
While many credit Keselowski for his ability to perform after experiencing a significant trauma, the Rochester Hills native credits his team for its ability to rally despite public perception that their season was done.
“I can’t say that it wasn’t special, that it was just another win, because it wasn’t. But it wasn’t special because I was injured or because people outside of Penske Racing had, basically, written the rest of our season off. It was special because, in a time like that, we were able to come together to get a much-needed win that put us in great shape to make the Chase,” said the three-time Sprint Cup winner.
Even after being airlifted from the track Keselowski’s greatest fear is not the danger that looms at the next turn, but the possibility of shell-shock as a result of a crash.
“For me, the scariest aspect of racing is not performing up to the way I feel I can perform. If you let the fact that you can be in an accident creep into your head, you will never be able to perform like you need to and you won’t make it in this sport. This sport is dangerous. Every driver is keenly aware of what can happen to us in a racecar, but I know that we are racing in the safest racing series in the world,” said Keselowski.
With just four races to go look for the sport’s hottest young star to push the envelope and rub his way all the way, to the finish.
“Don’t let anything stand in the way of your dream. You’ll have to make sacrifices, I’ve made plenty of them in my career, but if this is something you want to pursue as a career you have to make it your No. 1 priority,” offered Keselowski for young racers and racing fans.
When he has the opportunity to return home, Keselowski is certain to make a stop at his favorite Coney Island.
“Lipuma’s Coney Island is a must-stop place for me every time I’m home,” said Keselowski.
Kevin Alan Lamb is a 26-year-old resident of Royal Oak with a master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga.