Ross Kenseth reached a point where he faced a decision: Continue to pursue his degree in mechanical engineering or chase the dream of becoming a stock-car racer.
The desire to drive won out. Kenseth took a year off from Clemson University in South Carolina and traveled north to pursue a future in stock-car racing.
“I’m almost 21, and I haven’t really had a decent chance to run a lot of other stuff besides late-model cars,” Kenseth said. “It’s time to go all in and do nothing but racing. I’ve been working well at it last year, but going to school and racing at the same time, it’s tough to put your effort into both.”
The son of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Matt Kenseth, Ross Kenseth will compete in the 7-Up 150 at 3 p.m. Saturday at Toledo Speedway. The race combines drivers from ARCA’s CRA Super Series and the ARCA Midwest tour, an aspect that drew Kenseth to the field.
Kenseth is one of two drivers with paternal ties to NASCAR in Saturday’s race. Stephen Wallace, the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, is among the 42-driver field, which also includes Dennis Strickland, who won the 2013 Glass City 200; Travis Braden, the defending CRA Super Series champion, and Ali Kern, a Fremont resident who in 2013 became the first woman to win the CRA Super Series rookie of the year.
“Both series do a great job of getting drivers there,” said Kenseth, a Wisconsin native who drives for Boyne Machine Racing, based in Jenison, Mich. “You get a good mix of different driving styles, and I get to go against guys who I watched growing up, and guys who win a lot of races around the country. You get to see how you stack up.”
One of NASCAR’s more accomplished current drivers, Matt Kenseth began driving full time on the Sprint Cup circuit in 2000 and won the 2003 Sprint Cup championship. He currently drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and is second in the Sprint Cup standings. He’ll drive Saturday in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
“I’ve been around racing my entire life,” Kenseth said. “I can remember being 3 or 4 years old and going to my dad’s races in Wisconsin.”
But Ross Kenseth said his father didn’t push him toward racing.
“He’s always done a good job of letting me figure a lot out on my own,” he said. “But on the other side of it, if I’m driving, you don’t really know he’s there unless I go to him with a question or for advice.”
Kenseth began driving late-models in 2007 and won the pole and finished sixth at the ARCA Herr’s 200 at Madison International Speedway last summer in Oregon, Wis. However, he is uncertain of his immediate future on the ARCA circuit and will continue to compete in late-model racing.
“Nothing’s confirmed yet, but a lot of that comes with funding,” Kenseth said. “For any driver, especially these days, it’s finding funding that will help you drive it. If you have the money lined up, you can race anything you want.”
Scheduled for two testing sessions in the last week at Toledo Speedway, the wet weather washed out Kenseth’s first session. His second session Tuesday was canceled after he and his team decided to remain in Michigan and prepare the car for Saturday’s race.
“It’s been five years since I’ve driven there, and I’m sure it’s going to be a little different to race there,” Kenseth said. “It was one of my first races in a bigger style of late-model car. I’m looking forward to going back. We’ll be ready.”