Winning a championship is nothing new for Eddy McKean; he has won several titles in his racing career. What sets this championship apart is he did it from a distance. McKean's 2002 Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring championship was his latest in a long road that has taken the Idaho native from an entry level division in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge to the top of NASCAR's Regional Touring.
McKean started racing in 1987 at Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho when it was still a dirt track. Thankfully for McKean, Steve York paved the one-third mile oval and developed it into one of NASCAR's best Weekly Racing Series tracks. McKean learned his craft behind the wheel of asphalt Late Models and Modifieds where he won three track championships and two NASCAR Weekly Racing Series regional titles. With little left to prove at home, he set his sights on a far greater challenge.
Entering a handful of Featherlite Southwest Series races in 2000, McKean looked to take the plunge full-time in 2001. McKean's Rookie run in the series turned a lot of heads and served notice that he was a championship contender. McKean was edged out by 2002 series runner-up Burney Lamar for the 2001 Rookie-of-the-Year title despite finishing fifth in the final championship standings.
After a successful Rookie season, McKean moved his racing operation to Bakersfield, California and hired a crew to prep and maintain his car during the week in order to cut down on travel time. McKean would still live in Idaho, where he and his wife own and operate their agricultural irrigation pipe supply business, then fly to the events to save time. This decision proved beneficial, but at the same time took McKean away from prepping his own car.
The Bakersfield, Calif. crew led by first year crew chief Marc Lundgren stepped up to the challenge and prepared top-shelf cars for McKean. The crew included Jim Hooker, George Hart, Denny Moyer, Adolph Garcia, Les Denherder, Scott Denherder, Darin Blanton, Don Lundgren, and the following from Idaho; Roy Mosce, Eric John, and Mike Marsing.
McKean vowed to improve on his 2001 performances and improve he did. McKean started his 2002 Featherlite Southwest Series campaign with a second place finish at the season opener at Phoenix Int'l Raceway and followed that with a ninth place effort at Cajon speedway in March. He was back on the podium at Mesa Marin Raceway in April with another runner-up finish, but misfortune struck at Stockton 99 Speedway where he finished 18th.
McKean scored his breakthrough win at Pikes Peak Int'l Raceway in May and took the points lead which he would not relinquish the rest of the season. In total, McKean scored one victory, six top-five and eight top-ten finishes in 14 starts this season. He completed 1,696 laps out of 1,794 contested and more than $39,150 in purse winnings.
"There is not much regret when you win a championship," McKean said. "I guess my greatest disappointment is not winning at Phoenix in November. I had a great car and we led laps. Flat tires took us out of it."
McKean may not have dominated the 2002 season, but no one else did either. His closest rival, series veteran M.K. Kanke, was only 43 points behind going into the final event. Kanke struggled at Phoenix and did not start the event which all but assured McKean the title. However, as it often is, luck would have the final say. In the end, luck shined brightest on McKean as he was crowned the 2002 Featherlite Southwest Series champion while the sun was setting on the "Desert Jewell'.
"You would like to go out and win every race and capture Bud Poles," McKean said. "Frankly I am surprised we did not win more races. This series is so tough just to make the show, winning is a bonus. I am so happy that we were competitive every week and in a position for good finishes, it just goes to show the talent and caliber of drivers and teams we have."
McKean financed much of his racing operation through his company, Magic Valley Pipe & Steel. He also had primary sponsorship from HPS Mechanical in Bakersfield, Calif. and Victory Circle Race Cars. "I am thankful HPS and Victory Circle came onboard this year," McKean stated. "I think we turned some heads last year and they had confidence in what we could do. They helped make this championship possible."
As McKean readies himself and his family (wife and car owner Lynnette, daughter Ashley, and son Kristopher) for the banquet swing, which included a stop in New York City for a champion's celebration with Winston Cup Series champion Tony Stewart this past week; he ponders what his next challenge will be in NASCAR's ladder system. "I plan on defending my title," McKean said. "We are going to make some changes in how we do things, but the next test would be to defend. In the history of the series, only Ron Hornaday Jr. has been able to do that."
McKean may never win NASCAR's Winston Cup, but he is NASCAR's true champion. He is a grassroots racer who has successfully graduated. With passion and desire in his heart, and skill on the racetrack, he is a champion to look up too. "I started racing a Street Stock on a dirt track; I never thought I would be champion."