Keller Likes Racing, Loves Winning
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
NASHVILLE – Jason Keller has made more starts than any other driver in the history of the Busch/Nationwide Series.
Big deal, he says.
“I don’t want to be known as just the guy who started the most races,” Keller says. “I want to win races and compete for championships.”
But to win he has to start, and start No. 462 comes in Saturday’s Nationwide 300 at Nashville Superspeedway.
The race has special importance because it’s in the backyard of Keller’s Nashville-based team, Baker Curb Racing. Former Bristol Speedway owner Gary Baker and music mogul Mike Curb are in their second full season as co-owners of the team that was originally founded in Kentucky as Brewco Motorsports.
“This is a big race for the bosses,” says Keller with a chuckle, “so that makes it a big race for the driver.”
Keller, 39, is coming off a rough season, losing his ride before hooking up with Baker Curb Racing. But despite the bumps, he has lost none of his enthusiasm.
“I still get excited over racing,” he says. “If I ever lose that excitement, that’s when I’ll know it’s time to hang it up.”
Keller, who has 10 career wins, has one top-10 finish in five races this season. He is ninth in the standings, 259 points behind leader Carl Edwards. Edwards will run Saturday’s race, along with Kyle Busch, who’s second in the Nationwide standings.
Baker says Keller’s combination of enthusiasm and experience makes him the ideal driver for a fledgling team.
“I’ve heard Darrell Waltrip say that you can’t beat ‘sperience,’ ” Baker says. “I’m not sure how you spell it, but I agree. I realize that in our sport a lot of teams keep looking for that next hot youngster, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ll take the wisdom, experience and knowledge of a guy like Jason Keller.”
While Keller has made the most Nationwide Series starts, he has never won the championship in his 18 years on the circuit. He finished runner-up twice, in 2000 and again in 2002.
“I’m not done yet,” says Keller, adding that last year’s trying time gave him a renewed outlook.
“I love racing; it’s what I do,” he says. “Until you come close to losing something that means so much to you I guess you don’t really appreciate it. I feel like I’ve been given a new opportunity and a fresh start, and I want to make the best of it. Gary and Mike and this entire team are great to work with. They’re long-time racers, and they’re totally committed. Their enthusiasm is contagious.”
Keller grew up in Greenville, S.C., where his father ran a chemical company and raced as a hobby. His dad enjoyed riding motorcycles and little Keller remembers when he got his own first ‘cycle – complete with training wheels.
“But my dad spent a lot of time recovering from broken bones, and my mom quickly put an end to my motorcycle riding,” Keller says, chuckling again. “That’s when I got into car racing on a little dirt track near home.”
Keller showed an aptitude for the sport at an early age. One of his boyhood friends – and his future crew chief – was Steve Addington, who went to crew for Kyle Busch and has a reputation as one of the best.
“Jason is one of the genuinely nice guys in this sport,” says Mike Hembree, an award-wining racing writer and Greenville native who has followed Keller’s career from the beginning. “Everybody likes him. He’s a good family man who goes about his business and doesn’t make a lot of waves.”
Keller and wife Deborah have two children, Joe and Jade, and he has been referred to as a “soccer dad.” He helps coach his kids’ soccer, baseball and basketball teams.
“My family is the most important thing in my life,” Keller says. “I love racing, I’m dedicated to it, and I’ve been able to make a good living doing it (with a series record $12 million in winnings). But at the end of the day your family is what’s most important.”
Baker says that balance and perspective is one of the things he likes about his driver.
“I’m a big believer in the importance of character,” he says, “and there’s no finer individual in this sport than Jason Keller. He has earned the respect of every person in the garage and on the racetrack. He also has the respect of our sponsors, and that’s more important nowadays than ever. As far as I’m concerned, he’s there’s no better representative in racing.”
In addition to his record number of starts, Keller also has amassed a Nationwide-record $12 million-and-counting in winnings.
Still, he admits that the lack of a championship gnaws at him – and he knows how long the odds grow ever year. It is almost impossible to overcome the dominance of Sprint Cup invaders like Edwards who double-dip in the Nationwide Series.
But Keller refuses to complain.
“It’s just a fact of life in our sport,” he says, “and there’s nothing I can do about it. But I don’t think those (Cup) guys are invincible. I know I can run with them because I’ve done it before. I don’t really set personal goals, but I want to contend week in and week out, and be in a position to win one. I think this team has the potential to be in the top 10 this year.”
“I like where Jason’s head is and where his heart is,” Baker says. “He’s a good man and a good race driver, and he’s due for some good things to happen.”