Most race fans who attend Beech Ridge Motor Speedway on a regular basis know about the rich talent pool within each division.

When they look at the premier Pro Series, Sport Series and ever-popular Wildcat division in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action on Saturday nights, they don’t have to look very far to see skilled drivers and teams.

For 21-year-old Standish native Wade Kennedy, moving up from the entry-level Thursday Thunder program to compete in the Wildcat division is a big step. Yet the young racer is up for the challenge, already wheeling his new Chevrolet Camaro race car to a third-place finish on opening day.

“I’m having a great time competing in this class this year,” Kennedy said. “We’ve only had three points races, but I feel like we’ve been competitive each time out. I’ve got a great team behind me and a brand-new car, which boosts my confidence. So far, I’m enjoying it a lot as I learn.”

Kennedy formerly competed in the Mad Bomber JV division on Thursday nights. He ran part-time in 2015 before jumping in full-time the following year. Injuries from a motorcycle accident kept him away from the track, but when the broken pelvis was healed his attention returned to racing.

In 2017, despite suffering through a rash of engine woes, he finished fifth in the final point standings. He says the Thursday Thunder program is rock-solid and has big value in developing young drivers.

“I had a blast and raced against a lot of fast, competitive cars in that Thursday Thunder program,” Kennedy said. “Everybody thinks it’s like a Demolition Derby filled with beginners, but that isn’t true. It’s a great place to learn how to race and not spend a ton of money. It gave me the skills to move on.”

One big advantage Kennedy has as he takes on this challenge is his mentor, second-generation Beech Ridge veteran Dan Mckeage. An affiliation with Mckeage’s well-known and respected “Naughty 40” team brings knowledge, experience and advice that helps speed up the learning process.

“Dan and his entire race team are invaluable to my racing efforts,” Kennedy added. “He’s been giving me pointers since I first crawled into a race car. The man knows a ton about our sport. I try to learn as much as I can from his experience.”

Like so many other young racers at Beech Ridge, the presence and impressive performances of Turner’s Mike Rowe serve as an inspiration to Kennedy. Watching Rowe run so well in his mid-60s against younger drivers can be moving.

“Mike is a legend who I’ve always enjoyed watching,” Kennedy said. “He can still win races, as he proved last Saturday, and finishes in the top five most nights. He’s an inspiration to me and a lot of other young drivers who can only dream about being so competitive at that age. It’s just so impressive to see.”

Like every one of his weekly rivals, Kennedy has a key group of core supporters and crew members who keep his program moving forward. Weekly maintenance to the car and the proper adjustments on race day require a dedicated team.

“I have to thank my father, Jason, first and foremost, for all he does. He’s put a ton of effort into my racing, I couldn’t do it without him. Dan (Mckeage) gives us the shop space and lets us use his tools to maintain the car. He’s always been my racing coach, helping me learn as I go. He makes a huge contribution.

“My crew members David Boucher, Tyler Smythe, Tim Bennett, Scott Lamb, Stephen Taylor, Robbie Harrison, Garrett Lamb and the whole Naughty crew all work hard for my race team. I also need to thank Randy Harmon at No Such Chassis for the great work he did building my new car. I’m fortunate to have so much support from so many good folks.”

Kennedy also has a few highly-valued marketing partners who make his efforts possible, as well.

“I’m pleased to have East Coast Communications on the car this year, along with VSP Electric, Southern Maine Pools, East Coast Builders and Top Gun Construction. I’m proud to represent each of these fine companies in 2018.”

Mckeage says Kennedy comes from good stock and works hard on his program.

“Jason Kennedy has been one of my best friends for 25 years,” Mckeage said. “He’s helped me for half of my racing career, stepping away only briefly to raise a family.

“Wade is a hard working young man and a very quick study. His natural ability to be smooth while still getting the most he can out of his car and maintain full control is very impressive for someone with such little experience.”

Mckeage says his young protege is catching on fast in a class filled with seasoned veterans.

“It’s been a pleasure to watch him develop each week into such a good talent. His understanding of how he wants his car to handle and ability to ask for help in those areas has been progressing all the time. I think the sky is the limit for him.”

When he looks at goals and objectives for the balance of 2018, Kennedy is confident, yet also cautious.

“At first, my goal was to run somewhere inside the top 10 each week, be competitive and maybe finish up with a top-10 position in the final points. When I look at how we’ve been running so far, I want to revise those goals.

“I think now that maybe a top-five finish in points is within our grasp, and we may even be able to put ourselves in contention for a win at some point. If we continue to work hard at it, success will come.”

Kennedy knows there is more learning ahead. There will be a few good nights, and some bad nights.

“I’m getting more comfortable in the car every time out, and I think more seat time will provide the experience I need to improve. We just need to keep up our speed and stay consistent all summer.

“I’m just really enjoying this opportunity, and am very thankful I can do this.”

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Standish native Wade Kennedy powers off Turn 4 at the Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough during this year’s season opener. Kennedy moved from Thursday night entry-level racing to the highly-competitive Wildcat class in 2018. (Phil Whipple/Sun Journal)


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