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Driver on title track

Posted: July 16, 2009 9:47 p.m.
Updated: July 16, 2009 9:45 p.m.
 
When the old NASCAR Southwest Series shut down a few years ago, M.K. Kanke had won more races than any other driver in the history of the division.

He finished with 22 career wins. His 88 career top-five finishes were also tops in the class. One thing he didn’t win, however, was a championship.

As far as he’s concerned, that’s not a problem.

Kanke, a 47-year-old stock car racer from Frazier Park, has a commanding lead in the Stockcar Racing League Southwest Tour standings and says he would rather win a championship in this league than one in NASCAR.

“If for some reason we can have a season all the way to the end and win this deal, just because the way they run this thing, I would rather win a championship in this series than NASCAR Southwest Series,” Kanke said.

The SRL Southwest Tour will be at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale on Saturday night for a 100-lap race. Kanke has won three of the first four races of the SRL Southwest Tour season and has a 42-point lead over Greg Voigt. He is coming off a win at Madera Speedway on July 4. In the race he didn’t win, he was the runner-up.

“Actually this is probably the best season we’ve had,” Kanke said.

Aside from winning races and running up front, Kanke said he likes what he’s experienced in the SRL Southwest Tour. It reminds him of simpler and happier times in NASCAR, when the old Southwest Tour was more about instinct and ingenuity than dollars and development.

“I haven’t seen that since the mid ‘80s, the early ‘90s,” Kanke said. “I’m pretty excited about the series because of that. Toward the end of the Tour, it got to the point where you just had to spend too much money on tires and shocks and all kinds of crazy set ups to get the car to go fast. You really don’t have to do that in this division. That’s a good thing.”

It’s good for a number of reasons. Cost is one of them. Teams and drivers don’t have to spend a fortune on their cars to have a chance to be competitive in races. But another benefit to the way the SRL Southwest Tour runs its operation is that it allows younger drivers a means to test their skills against tough competition without investing too much in equipment.

“I really believe that the younger guys really have a shot at it and don’t have to spend a lot of dollars to do it,” Kanke said. “That’s pretty impressive. Not that many divisions have that anymore. You can show up with a pick-up and an open trailer and run up front.”

As for Kanke, it’s been a rewarding season for more ways than one. Kanke had to sit out most of last season after breaking his hip in April 2008. He raced at All American Speedway in Roseville, the season opener of the SRL Southwest Tour last year, and finished eighth.

About a month later, he fell off a tractor at a tractor show in Tulare and broke his hip. He was sidelined for the remainder of the SRL Southwest Tour season. His team decided to wait until Kanke recovered and was ready to race rather than put another driver in the car.

He didn’t disappoint in his first race back. He won the season opener at All American Speedway, starting from pole and leading every lap but the first.

He followed his win in Roseville with another win at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“It’s more for the guys that waited all year,” Kanke said. “For us to take the effort and time and getting it back up front for sitting for so long, that was really good for the team.  It was worth waiting for.”

Kanke’s record at Irwindale is pretty impressive. He has won three times at the half-mile oval since 2001. But that was in the old NASCAR Southwest Tour. His last win at Irwindale came in 2005.

When asked about his expectations for the Irwindale race, Kanke said he is shooting for a top-five finish.

“It’ll be tough,” Kanke said. “This is a tough division. When you got (Jim) Pettit, (Craig) Raudman, Greg Voigt, you got some pretty stout guys. You got Auggie Vidovich in there. You got basically three or four Southwest Tour champions and you’re going to have some guys from Irwindale that are top notch. It’s going to be a good show.”

Tim Haddock can be reached by e-mail at tim@haddockinthepaddock.com. Go to www.haddockinthepaddock.com for interviews of the drivers and updates from the races at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale. Plus, read about Patrick Long and his two-pronged auto racing career, one as the leader of the GT2 drivers standings in the American Le Mans Series, the other as an aspiring NASCAR driver.

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