From the World of Outlaws
CONCORD, N.C. – April 12, 2011 – Seasoned-veteran, devoted family man, wise mentor and fierce competitor. These are a few of the terms used to describe Joey Saldana. From injuries to near misses, the experiences and knowledge gained since his rookie-of-the-year season in 1996 have taught the “Brownsburg Bullet” immense lessons on and off the track, and once again he’s atop the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series championship standings entering events on Friday at Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway and Saturday at I-55 Raceway near St. Louis.
“I grew up in a racing family,” said Saldana, a native of Brownsburg, Ind., who has 74 World of Outlaws victories in his career. “For my dad, racing was first and foremost. Everything went into that. As I have grown up and become a dad myself, I really realize that racing is my job, but it’s not my entire life. My family is there to take care of me when I get hurt and get me through the highs and lows.”
Take last year, for example. Saldana started off the 2010 campaign very strong, seeking a championship for himself and his car owner, Kasey Kahne. At Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn., for a two-night show promoted by Kahne, he was on top of the world. Saldana won the opener to extend his early season points lead. He was looking to make it a clean sweep the next night when he was caught in a crash on the backstretch and wound up with a broken hand that required surgery. He recovered and won a series-high 13 races, but another wreck in September at Eldora Speedway resulted in a concussion, forcing him to miss the next night at Lernerville Speedway and dashing his hopes at the championship. Through it all, his wife, Shannon, and son, Reece, were by his side.
Saldana didn’t take long to turn his focus to 2011. He headed to Australia to brush up on his short track skills as well as help out teammate Cody Darrah, who suffered a broken leg in a car accident on the afternoon of the first day of the 2010 season, forcing him to sit out most of the year. With Darrah fully healed, Saldana and the rest of the KKR team raced Down Under to help the young driver get re-acclimated to the cockpit.
“Cody and I roomed together the entire time we were down in Australia,” said Saldana, 39. “We really got to know one another and learned about each other’s driving styles and what we each like in a car.”
Saldana speaks highly of 21-year-old Darrah, a 2011 Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year contender from Pennsylvania who beat the Outlaws at Williams Grove Speedway in 2009 before becoming a driver on the tour for Kasey Kahne Racing.
“Cody has a ton of potential. He’s under a lot of pressure and realizes that. That’s why he puts so much into his racing. The guy works out like crazy and pays attention to everything, trying to soak up as much knowledge as he can. Right now he’s doing a lot of living and learning.”
With Darrah settling in to his Great Clips Maxim and Paul McMahan, who filled in for Darrah in 2010, sliding over to a third KKR entry with the help of Dennis Roth, Saldana and his teammates have tackled 2011 with a vengeance. McMahan has set quick time at four events and Darrah has shown flashes of brilliance at several tracks. Saldana, who has raced for Kasey Kahne since 2006, earned two wins in March, getting the first victory of his career at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and winning for the fourth time in a row at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, Calif. Those victories along with eight Top-5’s and nine Top-10’s give Saldana a four-point edge over Steve Kinser in the series standings. More than anything, Saldana credits the large team approach instilled by Kahne as the key for the organization’s success.
“Kasey has been a big proponent of the large team approach,” Saldana said. “We have three race cars going down the road but we all really act like one big team. I really think that brings us all closer together and enables us to work better as a unit.”
Saldana experienced the one-team approach recently at Merced (Calif.) Speedway. His Red Bull Maxim was running second in the feature event when an altercation with a lapped car caused serious damage to the front end of his machine. His crew, led by first-year crew chief Kale Kahne, Kasey’s brother, along with members from Darrah’s and McMahan’s crews, worked feverishly to replace the entire front end of the car. They got Saldana back on the track in less than two minutes and the driver raced his way from 24th to 16th in the closing laps.
“That, more than anything, shows you just how strong of an organization we have,” Saldana said. “The guys saved me from a DNF and we still managed to not lose a ton of points.”
Saldana knows that an early lead in the standings is nothing to shout about. However, he does know that a strong start and keeping pace with other elite teams will make him better prepared for the grueling gauntlet ahead.
“Steve Kinser is off to one of the best starts in his career and we’ve been right there with him,” beamed Saldana. “That makes us feel great about our program and gives us confidence as the season continues.”
As happy as he is about the start of the 2011 season, Saldana is even happier when the conversation turns to family. He currently resides in Pittsboro, Ind., with Shannon and Reece and welcomed baby boy Ragan to the family last September.
“Family life is great,” Saldana said. “My wife and kids come first before anything. I’m really pumped up about it and it’s getting fun going to all the soccer and football games and the wrestling matches. I really enjoy being a dad.”
With a growing family and rock solid team behind him, Saldana forges ahead on the 2011 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series tour. With upcoming events throughout the Midwest, the Kasey Kahne Racing driver is optimistic about the task ahead.
“I feel like we have some great tracks coming up for us and we’ve learned a lot so far,” Saldana said. “A lot is expected of us but I know we have the talent and depth on our team to meet those expectations and to continue to win races.”
The World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series is brought to fans across the country by many important sponsors and partners, including: Armor All (Official Car Care Products), STP (Official Fuel Treatment), Chizmark & Larson Insurance , Goodyear Tires (Official Tire), Factory Value Parts, VP Racing (Official Racing Fuel), Vicci (Official Apparel); in addition to contingency sponsors, Jake’s Custom Golf Carts, RacingJunk.com KSE Race Products, Racing Electronics, S&S Volvo; Engine Builder’s Challenge participants Don Ott Racing Engines, Kistler Engines, Shaver Specialties and Speedway Engines; and Chassis Builder’s Challenge participants J&J Auto Racing, Maxim Racing and XXX Race Company.