The winner of the Keith Kunz Give Back Classic at Millbridge Speedway will earn a free ride into the Chili Bowl Nationals in January.PHOTO BY MOTORSPORT IMAGE – LAT
Keith Kunz will present the winner of the Oct. 31 race a free ride in the Chili Bowl
BY: MATT WEAVER
Toyota and Keith Kunz Motorsports are teaming up in October to give one talented unknown driver a legitimate Rocky Balboa moment.
All he or she must do on Halloween night is beat over 100 of their rivals in a head-to-head Outlaw Kart race at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, North Carolina.
The admittedly pithy summary is the best way to describe the Keith Kunz Giveback Classic, a two-day event in which the famed dirt team will present the winner an all-expenses-paid entry into the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, the most prestigious race in the discipline.
For the uninitiated, it’s a race that draws many of the best race car drivers, regardless of discipline, to the Tulsa Expo Center each January. Last year’s event came down to a battle between NASCAR stars Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson, both Kunz affiliated racers.
Kunz has won the race four years in a row and wants to give an underfunded, blue-collar winner the chance to race in one of the biggest events in grassroots motorsports.
“There is a tremendous amount of talent in Outlaw Kart racing,” Kunz told Autoweek last month during Indiana Midget week. “That’s where Larson, Bell and (current USAC National Midget championship leader) Logan Seavey came from.
“But this thing started when Jeremy Burnett (Millbridge track owner) called me and suggested that we have a kart race where the prize is an opportunity to race in our biggest race of the year.”
You know, kind of like Apollo Creed giving a local contender, Rocky Balboa, a World Heavyweight Championship shot.
Racing in a KKM Midget during the Chili Bowl Nationals means instantly having access to one of the top-20 cars at worst. It’s something racers all across the country wish they could earn or at least beat on a weekly basis.
Kunz, in tandem with the Toyota driver development program, is simply going to give the opportunity away to one deserving driver who earns it on the track — the old-fashioned way.
“We hope this attracts a driver that wouldn’t ordinarily get to showcase their talents in our equipment, but someone who really deserves it,” Kunz said. “This isn’t a race for the guys who already race at a high level, like Kyle or Christopher.
“We want someone that most people haven’t heard of yet. Someone who can get in one of our cars and show what they’re made of, and you never know what could happen from there.”
To ensure that the drivers meet the criteria of deserving, the KKM Give Back Challenge requires all would-be participants to submit an application. As of Aug. 1, there are over 100 confirmed entrants.
Currently known entrants range from 10 to 50 years old.
Chili Bowl participants must be 16, but Kunz has confirmed that an underaged winner will receive an equivalent opportunity in races in which they can currently enter together.
“I just want to give back,” Kunz said. “That sounds cliche because it’s the name of the race, but it’s true. The most rewarding part of what we do right now is working at the shop and looking up at the TV and seeing Kyle and Christopher win races.
“We’ve been a part of that journey from the start, and I want to be able to give that same opportunity to someone that deserves it.”
Brent Crews (10, North Carolina) – A native of North Carolina, Crews began kart racing at 7 years old, competing at GoPro Motorplex (Mooresville, North Carolina) and began dirt racing in the beginner box stock class at Millbridge Speedway a year later. Now 10 years old, he is one of the youngest entries in the KKM Giveback Classic and has plenty of experience on his side. In addition to multiple wins on dirt over the last few seasons, Crews is a seven-time national champion sprint kart driver and won the IAME International Final’s inaugural x30 mini division title in Le Mans, France, in 2017.
Anissa Curtice (16, California) – At 5 years old, Curtice started her career in karts, becoming a regular on the Northern California racing circuit where she has amassed eight feature wins. In addition to outlaw karts, Curtice competed in legend cars at Redwood Acres (Eureka, California) where she captured a feature event win and earned rookie of the year honors in 2017. She most recently graduated to the open-wheel ranks, making her first competitive laps in a full-size sprint car in May.
Karsyn Elledge (18, North Carolina) – A fourth-generation racer of the Earnhardt lineage from North Carolina, Elledge began her career in karts, tallying three track championships at Millbridge Speedway in the Box Stock (2012-13) and Intermediate divisions (2013). Earlier this year, Elledge scored her first premier class win at Millbridge in outlaw karts. In addition to karts, Elledge has made starts in a limited late model and made her national midget debut in the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League in May.
Colby Horn (14, Texas) – A racer at heart, Horn and his father decided to travel from Texas to Millbridge Speedway on a regular basis this summer so the young driver can get more track time before the KKM Giveback Classic. The decision has already paid off — Horn captured his first win at the North Carolina track in June. Horn began his career racing outlaw karts with his brother and won the 2016 Wild West Shootout in the Open Outlaw division at Big Sky Kartway in Montana and the Short Track Shootout at KAM Kartway in Texas earlier this year.
Duke Johnson (17, Oregon) – An Oregon native, Johnson competes on the kart circuit out West where he has captured three open karting championships. Earlier this year, Johnson was victorious at the inaugural mini Strawberry Cup at Willamette Speedway (Vancouver, Washington) and later won the prestigious 2018 Wild West Shootout in Montana, becoming the second Oregonian to win the race.
Emilee Lowry (15, Oklahoma) – Lowry started her racing career after winning a winged outlaw kart at the 2015 Chili Bowl Nationals for $5. Lowry went on to race the kart, receiving the ‘Hard Charger Award’ from Texoma Speedway (Wichita Falls, Texas) later that year. Lowry is currently running in the Outlaw 250 and Open Outlaw divisions at her home track of Kam Kartway (Rhome, Texas) where she is third and first in points, respectively.
Tyler Seavey (22, California) – In what can be deemed a breakout year, Seavey has amassed wins in the Red Bluff Outlaws championship and West Coast Nationals. In May 2018, he joined his younger brother, Logan, as a winner of the QRC Open outlaw kart event at Millbridge Speedway.
Casey Starr (19, Oregon) – An Oregon resident, Starr was a competitive figure skater as a child until she opted to trade her skates in for a driver’s helmet and began racing at the age of 12. Starr has amassed over 15 event wins, including a micro sprint win at River City Speedway (St. Helens, Oregon) earlier this season. After being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in late 2015, she puts her efforts towards raising awareness for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) including having a Crohns and Colitis Awareness graphics set for the KKM Giveback Classic.
Gracie Sonntag (16, Texas) – After closing last season in the top-three in the 250 Outlaw Class, Sonntag has continued to gain karting experience, moving to the Open Outlaw class this season. Sonntag is the 2016-17 Modified Kart champion in the Midwest Racing Winter Series, finishing in the top-five of the Animal class that same season. Sonntag is a third-generation racer as her father and grandfather both raced as well.