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Pedley: Keselowski May Be Carrying The Flag For NASCAR

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 22 2012

Brad Keselowski takes a reverse victory cruise after winning the Food City 500 at Bristol on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The local television and newspaper folks had long since left the building. Video crews were coiling up their cables and talking to each other about their next assignments. The “Winner’s Circle” appearance was over and done and construction workers who are putting the finishing touches on the new Legoland Discovery Center clearly wanted their site cleared so they could continue their quest to

open the doors in early-May.

It was the time of Winner’s Circle press days when the guests of honor – top NASCAR drivers – are usually buckling themselves into the seats of their private jets and asking their PR people which city were they just in.

Not Wednesday. Not at Legoland. Off in a corner, amid piles of construction materials and scaffolding, Brad Keselowski was a standing at a table covered with Lego bits and pieces. He was hell-bent on improving a Lego race car that had only won two of three races against cars built by Legoland Kansas City master builder and Keselowski’s PR man, David Hovis.

“I got next race,” Keselowski – just three days after administering a clinic to a  former Cup champion and this year’s Daytona 500 winner at the series’ toughest track – yelled as he forced a set of really, really large rear wheels onto his racer. “Hold me a spot in the next race.”

The kid from Michigan, the one who still looks like he has just stepped off the set of a John Hughes

Brad Keselowski works on his Legoland car. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Speedway)

coming of age movie, is not your typical 21st Century NASCAR driver.

What he is, it is becoming apparent, is both a throw back and a throw forward. A type of stock-car renaissance man. What he is, is a driver who possesses old school reverence and joy for racing cars and new-school awareness of integrating sport and society.

He is Earnhardt Sr.-tough and skilled behind the wheel but introspective and thoughtful when the helmet comes off. He’s a little bit country and a little bit rock-and-roll all at the same time.

And because of all of that, Brad Keselowski just might be that person that NASCAR has been needing since February of 2001. The one who heals the most gaping of the wounds that have been bleeding and factionalizing the sport for over 10 years now.

Keselowski squirmed a bit in the director’s chair supplied to him by the Kansas Speedway staff when such topics were raised during a break at Legoland. Clearly, being a savior is not as important as beating Hovis in the next Heat.

He listens patiently and thoughtfully as questions that are more about Keselowski the person than Keselowski the driver are asked.

He is asked about old school vs. new school and, in his case, about being both. He subtly shakes his head side to side and says,  ”I don’t look at it as, ‘I want to be old school’ or anything. I have a vision of where I want to be in the sport, how I want the sport, and the people I’m around in the sport to be, and that’s how I am. It goes back to the Twitter stuff (when he became a social media sensation by tweeting from his car during a red flag during the Daytona 500). It goes back to seeing what I would want to see. It’s nothing more than that.

“It’s a philosophy. It’s a kindergarten philosophy.”

But there is also grad school in Keselowski. History grad school. He can be downright Socratic without even realizing it.

“I’m a student of the world, not just racing,” he said when asked about influences. “So many of life’s

Brad Keselowski is a new kind of/old kind of NASCAR driver. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

experiences have been experienced before by a population living or not. You would be a fool when, in having questions, not look up others who have experienced the same thing and how they handled it at the highest level. I haven’t read a hundred books or anything, but certainly, I have read some stuff.”

Apparently, he’s read stuff about physics and lasers. And, perhaps, some of Chad Knaus’ notes.

Between heats at Legoland, he moves around the track, which is an incline with a starting gate at one end and a finish line at the other. Above the finish line there is an electronic scoreboard which indicates who won.

“How does this work,” Keselowski, bending over for up-close inspection, asks Legoland master model builder Jeremiah Boehr, “a laser beam?”

Yep, Boehr says, laser beam across finish line.

Keselowski returned to the construction table. When he returned, his car was modified – it had an extension on the front end: “I put a laser beam trigger on mine.”

Keselowski waded into some tricky waters after winning at Bristol last Sunday. He was asked about the current configuration of that track – a configuration which some and perhaps, from a look at the half-empty grandstands, many – fans hate because it doesn’t produce the “action” which had the old configuration.

Keselowski said in his post-race interview that he loves the current configuration. He pointed to the Petty vs. Pearson like duel he had with Matt Kenseth. The one which featured racing rather than wrecking as they chased the checkers. Give it a try, he begged fans.

Keselowski gave no thought to politics when he gave his answer.

“Heat of the moment and how I felt,” he said, back at the director’s chair. “It goes back to what I said. Treat people how I want to be treated. I react with authenticity and how I really feel and if I was a fan watching, and I was a baseball fan instead of a race-car driver, that’s what I would want to see. If I turn on a football game and I see a football player interviewed, I want to see the same thing. It’s nothing more

Brad Keselowski and the popular Jeff Burton. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

complicated than that.

Earnhardt then gave way to Socrates: “There’s a large percentage of the population that tries so hard to be everything to everyone and ends up being nothing to anyone,” Keselowski said.

And Keselowski has been compared to Earnhardt. Publicly and privately and for Keselowski, uncomfortably.

“I would say its certainly an honor…I’m thinking very carefully about that,” he said, taking a good eight seconds to resume his answer. “I respect a lot of the things that Dale did. I’ve studied a lot of the things that Dale did. There will never be another Dale. There can’t be. The sport will never be in the time and the place to create a man like him again. But there are lessons to be learned and there are things that he achieved with a unique and dynmaic approach that I admire, respect and am certainly more than willing to emulate.”

Keselowsk on Wednesday, had to be pulled away from a place which is designed to stimulate the mind of young children. He had to be taken to a Kansas City airport so that he could head off to an appearance in Las Vegas, a placed designed to addle the minds of adults.

Keselowski fit right in at the former and the guess here is that he was impressive in the latter. He just might be an important part of the cure for what for ails NASCAR.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 22 2012
8 Comments

8 Comments »

  • Trish says:

    I love how Brad is so honest.

    He said last year how disappointed he was in Tony Stewart, who wouldn’t give him the time of day because Brad was new to the sport. Brad also let everyone know his feelings toward Kyle Bush. Brad isn’t going to let the veterans of the sport walk all over him off or on the track.

    Plus Brad is the hottest young driver today!!!!

  • Jim says:

    This kid is such a breath of fresh air for Nascar. He definitely reminds me of the great Dale Sr. Brad is aggressive on the track and not afraid to speak his mind off the track. He is also great with the fans. If anyone can start filling up the grandstands on Sundays again I think it will be Brad Keselowski.

  • Troy Franzosa says:

    Great article. I think Brad is the face of NASCAR. He is what NASCAR really needed. I thought it was great when he tweeted during the red flag at Dayton, look he gained about 100,000 followers during the red flag if that isn’t the new face of NASCAR I don’t know what is.

  • cruz whosoever says:

    ”I don’t look at it as, ‘I want to be old school’ or anything. I have a vision of where I want to be in the sport, how I want the sport, and the people I’m around in the sport to be, and that’s how I am.

    Good stuff.

  • Len says:

    What I like about Brad is that he is who he is. He is true to himself and doe not change for anyone. He speaks is mind but does it with thought and just does not run his mouth. I hope he never changes!

    • Andrea Sutherlin says:

      couldn’t have said it better myself! i love how he drives, speaks his mind, etc,etc. well said!

  • Steve Paulson says:

    Brad was born a RACER and will always be a RACER!His family gave him a chance to be around RACERS while growing up!There are no better people in this world who learn from trying like RACERS!Their appreaciation for hard work to be where they want to be is all inspiring!I know I have been a RACER since my birth some 62 years ago and have yet to find a better breed of human beings anywhere in this world!
    Brad K.could go on to be President someday!He is that aware of where he is at all times!Smart Young Man! He reminds me of me and I wanted to drive race cars at a very young age! Keep it up Brad!

  • Mattwrotethis says:

    I’ve been thinking this for a few years now. I was really hoping Shane Hmiel would be the “next Dale Earnhardt” but it wasn’t meant to be. Then Brad came along, and you’re right, he’s what the sport has desperately needed.