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FINDLAY - For Northwest Ohio's Chad Kemenah, his victory at the historic Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix over the weekend is as bittersweet as any moment in his racing career.
The Fremont native won the final World of Outlaws race at the half-mile clay oval that has hosted the likes of A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Al Unser Jr. during its close to 60 years of operation. The track, now surrounded by housing and commercial development, has been sold and will cease operations within two weeks.
"It is a thrill to win at a place with so much history, but at the same time, it makes me feel a little sick to think that we are losing a great race track," Kemenah said. "It doesn't take away from what was a real memorable night for us, and we'll always be able to say we won the last race there, but you want to hear about dirt tracks opening up, not closing down for good."
The 37-year-old Kemenah, who now makes his home in Findlay, was a regular at Fremont Speedway and Attica Raceway Park before moving on to the All Star Circuit of Champions, where he won four consecutive season championships. Kemenah then made the jump to the World of Outlaws, the top tier in sprint car racing.
"They are the best of the best, and that's why I wanted to compete in the Outlaws," Kemenah said.
He was ninth in the points race last season, his third in the World of Outlaws, where the drivers pilot 1,200-pound cars powered by engines of 800-plus horsepower.
To win at Manzanita this past weekend, Kemenah had to hold off two of the sport's best - 20-time series champion Steve Kinser and three-time World of Outlaws champ Sammy Swindell.
"To beat those two guys, with all the championships they've won and the hundreds of races they've won between them - that puts a little more on it," Kemenah said. "This was a really big victory, for a lot of reasons."
Kemenah said as he put his Kantor Oil Company Maxim car through the paces, he had a sense that his final trip to Manzanita could be a special one.
"I've always said that on most days, you just have a feeling when you go out on the track that you are going to win, but this was one of those times when, right from the start, I felt like I had a dominant race car," he said. "Then you have to go out and get the job done on the race track, and fortunately, things went our way."
Kemenah, the 2006 rookie of the year in the World of Outlaws, won for the third time in his career and gave car owner Jon Kantor of Oklahoma his first win in the series.
"That probably means more than anything, because one of the biggest parts of this game is knowing you have the financial backing to go out and race," Kemenah said. "I've done it the other way, where you never know if you'll make it financially from race to race, but with a solid owner behind you like I have, so much of the pressure is off."
Kemenah did not leave the legendary track with just a big trophy and a hefty winner's check. He brought a piece of Manzanita back to his family in Findlay.
"I went and took some dirt for the kids at home," Kemenah said. "My wife doesn't get to come out here very often, so I am taking some stuff home for her and the kids."
Kemenah and the World of Outlaws race next on April 10 at Lone Star Speedway in Kilgore, Texas.
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