News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 7, 2008

Trackside: Reluctently, veteran engine builder Keith Kunz basks in the limelight

Moments following the U.S. Auto Club Hut Hundred at the Terre Haute Action Track on Saturday night, veteran car-engine builder Keith Kunz appeared almost lost for words when asked to detail the reasons for his immense success at the local half-mile dirt oval.

One never eager to bask in the limelight of success, Kunz and his partner Pete Willoughby reluctantly gathered with their winning crew and driver for the traditional victory-circle picture session.

When young Cole Whitt motored to an impressive win in the annual midget classic, it added yet another chapter in the success story for Kunz at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds — a book that would include prestigious wins in both USAC sprints and midgets locally.

The reason for Kunz’s successful ways is really pretty basic. He comes to the race track with immaculately prepared race cars, talented drivers and a wealth of experience at competing at many of the same USAC ovals over the years.

It’s a combination that has served him well at the Action Track. His latest win came with a car that was nearly untouchable in the early and latter stages of the Hut, a driver that drove flawlessly all evening and a race track that Kunz dialed in on early.

Kunz’s success locally has come with a blend of veteran drivers and blossoming newcomers like Witt.

Witt and Kunz joined forces earlier this season after the talented teenager came from the west coast a year ago to make a name for his self with

hopes of moving up the

racing ladder.

Following in much the same path as that of Jeff Gordon, Witt and his family moved to Indiana where age restrictions aren’t as prohibitive. He turned 17 back in June. After a season for the most part of going alone in 2007, Witt hooked up with Kunz at the end of the season to do a couple of races in California. The union resulted in a full-time venture with Kunz in 2008.

“He [Witt] was under 16 so his mom and dad came back here to get him experience in the sprints. That got him a lot of seat time. When he turned 16 they came to us. We sat down and talked. We offered a program where we do the whole USAC series,” explained Kunz.

• No-shows — The evening did not go as well for DAK Promotion and USAC officials. Both were faced with questions on why several publicized drivers were no-shows Saturday.

The special modified match race for several Indy car personalities failed to materialize and the absence of J.J. Yeley generated its share of grumbling among fans.

USAC officials had to be embarrassed that one of their marquee events fell way short of drawing a full field.

USAC Director of Communication Dick Jordan addressed the disappointing turnout Monday.

“There were several factors involved that we feel led to the problem,” said Jordan. “We’re going to address all the issues so when we come back next year it will be better. We want a quality event.”

• Loss of a friend — The area sporting scene has lost one of its staunchest supporters and nice guys with the passing of Kent Walls last week.

Kent handled high school basketball and football play-by-play for Brazil and Terre Haute radio stations during the 1970s and 1980s.

He was a devoted follower of Purdue and Butler basketball and all forms of racing. He was rightfully proud of having made 75 consecutive races at Talladega — his final two while undergoing treatment for lung cancer.

Those afternoon game days at Hinkle Fieldhouse won’t be quite the same without Kent. Rest in peace good friend.

Joe Buckles can be reached at