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BROOKLYN, Mich. - As the points leader in the ARCA Series at the time, Bob
Keselowski got to move to the front of the line at registration when the
series rolled into Flat Rock Speedway almost 20 years ago. After completing his paperwork, the veteran driver from Rochester Hills set out to pull his truck and trailer into the facility.
Bob and his wife Kay had instructed their young sons, Brian and Brad, to stay inside the rig and out of sight, since children were not allowed in the pit area.
"When he fired it up, there was all this smoke and noise, and there must have been 200 people waiting in that line, and they all turned around to see what all that commotion was," ARCA president Ron Drager recalled. "Brian stayed down where nobody could see him just like his dad had told him to do, but there was Brad, waving out the window to everyone, and flashing this big grin."
Brad Keselowski, the cantankerous younger brother, goes through the front gate these days, with no need to disguise his presence. The 24-year-old has parlayed his racing pedigree, and the blue collar mettle that has made this racing family legendary in this part of the country, into a full-time ride in NASCAR's Nationwide Series.
Keselowski's employer - Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport's biggest rock star - put him under the direction of veteran crew chief Tony Eury Sr., and the combination has the No. 88 U.S. Navy
<br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/video.gif> <b><font color=red>VIDEO</b></font color=red>: <a href=" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mSi5a1WZms" target="_blank "><b>MIS track tour</b></a> (June 5)
Chevrolet second in the points as the series rolls into Michigan International Speedway for tomorrow's CARFAX 250.
"Brad has done a great job staying focused, learning from his mistakes and listening to the advice that either I or Tony Sr. gives him," Earnhardt said.
"He's always had raw driving talent, but pairing him with Tony Sr. has helped him greatly. I knew that with his talent and Tony Sr.'s experience, they could win races.
"He's lived up to the expectations I had for him when I hired him last year, and I think he's turned a lot of heads in how sharp he is on and off the track."
There may be some folks in Daytona or Talladega or Mexico City that are surprised by his accomplishments, but not in the greater Detroit-Toledo quadrant, where Keselowski just means racing.
Brad's grandfather, John Keselowski, raced motorcycles and snowmobiles and started the family racing team more than 40 years ago. Ron Keselowski, an uncle, raced in Winston Cup and was a two-time ARCA crew chief of the year.
Brad's dad won 26 ARCA races and the 1989 series championship. Bob was also the Late Model track champion at Toledo Speedway in 1983, a year before Brad was born.
"Being around the race track or the shop is really second nature for me. When we were growing up, that was our playground, our ball field," Brad said. "My family's been involved in racing for a long time, so it's what I know. It's just part of who we are."
The K Automotive Motorsports team had 10 wins and more than 100 finishes in the top 10 in its dozen years in the Craftsman Truck Series, but the financial burden of fielding a team, plus some health issues Bob confronted, forced the family to cut back on the operation, and the sons had to look elsewhere for racing options.
"The way this sport used to work, if you were good enough, you got an opportunity presented to you. The way it has evolved now, if you can arrange financing, you get the opportunity," Drager said.
"But Brad Keselowski is a perfect example of someone not buying their way up the ladder. The Keselowskis scratched out a living doing this, and by no means were they wealthy from it. Brad is where he is because he has worked hard at this."
Keselowski drove to victory at Nashville in June, is second in points on the strength of 14 top-10 finishes in 24 races, and leads the series in "quality passes," a hybrid stat NASCAR keeps that reflects a driver's ability to get around other cars in competition.
"The kid can flat out drive a race car," Drager said. "And knowing he came from pretty humble beginnings, it is real gratifying to see him do so well."
Keselowski and Earnhardt first built a friendship over the internet, racing against each other on-line. Junior put him in the car last year, and Keselowski hopes to bring JR Motorsports a championship with a strong finish in 2008.
"My family always had a good team, with smart racers, but we couldn't get the funding you need to do this right. Dale Jr. obviously had the name, and the backing, and it's exciting to be competing for a championship under his banner," Keselowski said.
"We just have to dig down deep and remember that we're racing for all the marbles now. We can contend for this thing, and that's exciting. You race because you love it, but you also want to win championships out here."
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