In his third full season on the K&N Pro Series, Kennedy, 21, parlayed his perseverance on the racing path to his first win in the East tour on Saturday at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola.
“It was definitely a really special win,” said the 21-year-old Floridian. “Of course, to win in Florida and at the inaugural event at 5 Flags Speedway, there is so much prestige and history at that racetrack and of course with the Snowball Derby and a bunch of really cool races that they put on at that racetrack. It was really cool to win there.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever raced in Florida in a NASCAR sanctioned series, so it was something really special, and I guess you could consider it my home track for the K&N Series.”
For Kennedy, it was a “home track” win — although not in the sense of his true hometown track, Daytona International Speedway. The iconic 2.5-mile superspeedway was built by Kennedy’s great grandfather and NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. in 1958 as the local racing venue transitioned from the beach course to high-banked asphalt.
But give him time. The son of International Speedway Corporation president Lesa France and the late Bruce Kennedy will make his national touring series debut in a Turner Motorsports truck at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 21.
Despite his pedigree, Kennedy is susceptible to growing pains just as any other aspiring racer.
“You know, just running the series for three years, and just going through that learning curve with me and the team and everything, it’s certainly been a lengthy one,” Kennedy said. “But we’ve definitely come far in the past couple years. It’s finally starting to show and it’s finally starting to pay off a little bit.”
NASCAR phenom Kyle Larson raced against Kennedy in the K&N Series last year during his title run. Larson, who won his first national touring series race at Rockingham in a Turner Scott Motorsports truck on Sunday, believes Kennedy has promise and will be competitive given the caliber of the equipment.
“I ran the K&N East Series last year with him and thought he was a really great driver, and got to race with him at the New Smyrna race and stuff,” Larson said. “He was always really smooth.
“He’s going to do great with Turner Scott and their trucks. Their trucks are really good, and I think he’s really good. So I think it will mesh pretty good. He should be running up front easily.”
In addition to the UNOH 200 at Bristol, Kennedy is slated to also compete in trucks at Iowa Speedway and the season finale Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I wanted to start at a short track, because I’ve been around Bristol,” said Kennedy of the half-mile track. “We raced there last year in the can K&N series, and we raced there this year as well. I felt like it would be a comfortable place to start at. It is definitely an intimidating place, but I’m looking forward to it.
“I’ve had laps around Iowa as well. Sort of moving to Homestead to try to advance my NASCAR license to have the opportunity to run full-time trucks in 2014.”
While racing is Kennedy’s passion, he is not neglecting his professional path. Taking a page from the family business, Kennedy is in his junior year at University of Florida where he’s studying sports management. His secret to balancing racing and school?
“It’s all about time management,” Kennedy said. “I’m taking a full course load right now, and I’ll have pretty close to a full course load for the fall semester as well. I’ll be graduating in spring 2014, but it’s definitely tough.
“Whenever I’m at school, I’m pretty much focused on school and my exams and knocking all that stuff out as best as I can, so when it comes to racing and the weekend, I can put those aside and focus on the car and the set-up and what I can do better 110 percent on race day. So just basically scheduling everything and being prepared for all the unexpected.”
Unfortunately, there are no classes for “the unexpected.” However, Kennedy’s internships, whether at the track or shadowing race teams, have provided him with firsthand experience for his career outside of the race car. He feels “blessed” to have worked with Hendrick Motorsports, former Petty crew chief Robby Loomis and at Daytona International Speedway.
“I worked around the Speedway at Daytona,” Kennedy said. “I was there at the Daytona 500 Experience and Daytona USA. Did a couple jobs around there. Then they had me running around the track and doing a bunch of different jobs from cleaning up cars and cooking up hot dogs to selling programs, and a bunch of different really cool, unique stuff. I got to see a little bit of the business side and a little bit of the competition side as well.
“It really sort of opens your eyes to how diverse the sport is and how much of a family sport it is. How everyone sort of has each other’s back. It really sort of opened my eyes, because I had always been around Daytona. We traveled to a bunch of races back then. But it really opened my eyes to see what all goes on during the race weekend both at the track and off the track. Just sort of the whole broad aspect of it.”
For now, the business side can wait. After winning from pole in Pensacola, Kennedy is hoping to add to his trophy case.
“I definitely think it’s a source of motivation moving forward,” Kennedy said. “We’ve had our ups and downs, more downs than ups, I guess. But you know that’s all part of racing and that’s all part of the sport.
“This will definitely motivate all the guys and hopefully get us determined to go out there and win more of these races and eventually run for the championship at the end of the year.”