Ford Racing developmental driver, Kasey Kahne, the reigning United States Auto Club (USAC) WorldCom Midget Car Champion, is considered by many to be one of the rising young race-car drivers in the United States. The driver of Steve Lewis Racing's...
Ford Racing developmental driver, Kasey Kahne, the reigning United States Auto Club (USAC) WorldCom Midget Car Champion, is considered by many to be one of the rising young race-car drivers in the United States. The driver of Steve Lewis Racing's #91 Ford-powered Beast, the 21-year-old Kahne will make his Toyota Atlantic Series debut this weekend at Road America in a car prepared by P1 Racing. Earlier this year, Kahne spent some time lapping the Homestead Motor Speedway's road course in one of Team Rahal's year-old Reynards, and has competed in four U.S. FF2000 races this summer. Kasey took some time during the CART weekend in Cleveland to talk about how his relationship with Ford Motor Company began, what he's been doing this season and what the future holds for him.
HOW DID YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FORD BEGIN
"My relationship with Ford began when I first started driving for Steve Lewis and Bob East in midgets before the 2000 season. The first time I sat down to talk with Steve and Bob, Dan Davis [Director of Ford Racing Technology] was also there. We got together at the PRI Show towards the end of 1999 in Indianapolis and decided that part of driving for Bob and Steve would also include doing something with Ford at that time. Then we got into racing during the season and things went well, and the better they went the more I ended up talking to someone from Ford, so that's how it got started. But this season is the first time that I really started doing things directly with Ford. I went to a Bondaurant school last year there were some little things we did, but this is the first year that anything has really happened to start developing what direction I'm going to go in."
SO BEFORE THAT FORD WAS JUST KEEPING AN EYE ON WHAT YOU WERE DOING?
"Yeah, they were watching me and sending me to some schools, but this year I went to another school and did some testing in a Busch car as well as Team Rahal's Champ Car at Homestead. Now I'm starting to do some racing while continuing to do more testing in open-wheeled cars."
KNOWING THAT FORD WAS WATCHING WHAT YOU WERE DOING, DID YOU FEEL ANY EXTRA PRESSURE TO PERFORM LAST YEAR
"I thought I had to perform if I wanted them to keep watching me so I had that pressure, but it's just a pressure that I put on myself. What the deal was with the #9 [midget] car was that I was going to drive just pavement [races] and a little bit of dirt [races], and I knew from sitting down in that first meeting when they came up with this that I wasn't too happy at first. But I knew right then that if I could perform early in the year that I would end up running the whole year for them. I thought I could do that and everything went well at the start of the year. We were leading the points and I got to go to every race and we ended up winning the championship."
AFTER YOUR SUCCESSFUL 2000 SEASON, WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE OFFSEASON BEFORE THE 2001 SEASON
"I continued to talk with the guys at Ford about things that we'd like to start on early on in 2001, like testing and things like that. I also went down to Charlotte and talked to some owners of NASCAR teams, like Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs, who called me and met with me to talk about what they were looking for. I never ended up doing any testing for them, but I was pretty close to jumping into a car for one of them to take some laps. It was also around that time that things started to happen a little more with Ford. Right after I sat down with Childress and Gibbs I got the Champ Car test with Team Rahal and then I did the test in the Busch car, so that actually helped make things happen faster for me."
HOW DOES IT FEEL BEING A 21-YEAR OLD WITH THESE PEOPLE CALLING YOU TO TALK ABOUT DRIVING FOR THEM
"It feels pretty good, but sometimes I wonder whether or not I made the right choices. But if I ever end up doing anything I want to do it with Ford because of the things they've done to help me so far. I talked to some Busch teams that wanted me to test with them, and then to have those other top Winston Cup teams calling me too, that just made me wonder if I made the right decision. I really want to try and pursue something that not everybody does and I think it would be really good to try and run in CART."
WAS IT STRANGE TO BE SAYING 'NO' TO THOSE WINSTON CUP OWNERS LIKE CHILDRESS AND GIBBS
"It was weird to have to say no, but it was also very difficult. I basically told Childress that I wanted to pursue open-wheel racing right now and it probably wouldn't be right to come test your car because I'm not going to end up racing for you if things went well. I've made up my mind that I want to pursue open-wheel racing and I'm going to stick with that right now. Not many people knew about this opportunity, but people who did kind of looked at me like, 'What are you thinking?'"
LOOKING BACK AT THE TEST WITH TEAM RAHAL, HOW IMPORTANT WAS THAT TEST IN HELPING YOU DECIDE WHAT FORM OF RACING YOU WANTED TO PURSUE
"If I wouldn't have done that test with Team Rahal, I'd be trying to pursue a ride in stock cars, probably with a Busch team, so it was really critical that I got to drive a Champ Car."
FROM WHAT I UNDERSTAND, YOU WERE INITALLY LEANING TOWARDS PURSUING A CAREER IN STOCK CARS. HOW DID THAT TEST IN A CHAMP CAR WITH TEAM RAHAL CHANGE YOUR MIND
"It was just the way I felt in the car, and the way the power, the steering and the brakes felt, and just how quick and reactive it is when out on the track. Just getting to drive a car that handles and reacts like a Champ Car does for 250 miles was unbelievable. I never expected it to be like that. I've watched a ton of CART racing and expected them to be fast, but it's the little things about them and how quickly they are and how good the brakes really work, how quick you can turn right or turn left, it was pretty impressive."
WHAT'S UP NEXT FOR YOU? YOU'VE RACED A LITTLE BIT IN FORMULA 2000 THIS YEAR, SO WHAT DOES THE REST OF 2001 LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
"I raced in F2000 again at Road America in early July, and then I have six tests and three races in an Atlantic car, which would be Road America, Houston and Laguna Seca. But I'll also be running Silver Crown and Midget races too when there's nothing else going on just to keep racing. After that, I don't know. The year is pretty much winding down, so after Laguna Seca there's a couple of midget races and then that's about it. Hopefully, there'll be some testing that I can continue to do during the winter."
LOOKING AHEAD, HAVE YOU HAD ANY DISCUSSIONS ABOUT YOUR PLANS FOR THE 2002 SEASON
"We've talked a little bit about it, but I don't think we really know what I can and can't do yet. I think after we do a few more tests and a few more races I'll be able to tell what I'm capable of doing and the guys at Ford will know too."
TALK A LITTLE ABOUT THE F2000 RACES AT MID-OHIO, WHICH WERE YOUR FIRST RACES ON A ROAD COURSE.
"It was alright. The thing that really hurt our weekend was the first day it rained and it was a full test day. I had never raced in the rain and I had never been on a road course with other cars on the track and I'd never been in those cars before, so the first full day everything was unknown to me. After that we just had short 30-minute practice sessions, but a car would spin off course and you'd lose five minutes there because they'd always bring out yellows and you'd have to pit, so it didn't leave us with a lot of time, which hurt our weekend. But then having the test in Sebring [in early July] really helped me a lot. We went for two days straight and by the end of the first day we were real quick and by the end of the second day we were just as fast as everyone else there, so that was good."
HOW MUCH DIFFERENT FOR YOU WAS IT RACING ON A ROAD COURSE AS OPPOSED TO RACING ON AN OVAL
"The only thing that's really the same is that you're racing to be the fastest car out there, and even that's a bit different. But really everything is different when you're on a road course in one of those cars compared to what I've done in the past. It was completely new but it wasn't any more difficult. There's a lot more to it because in every corner you have to do something different. On an oval you get into a rhythm at both ends of the track and you just keep that rhythm throughout the race, change up your lines a little bit and try to figure where the fast ones are. But on a road course there's 14, 15 corners and every one is different and you have to do each one a little differently. There's really a lot to the ovals and a lot to the road courses, but just to learn the road course side is what's taking the most time."
WHAT WERE YOUR EXPECTATIONS HEADING INTO THE RACES AT MID-OHIO? "WHAT DID YOU WANT TO WALK AWAY WITH FROM THAT EXPERIENCE
"I was thinking we could run a top five by the end of the second race. After I qualified we weren't starting very well in either race, like 15th and 16th, and those cars are pretty even so there's not much passing. I mean there was a lot of passing, but for me I just wasn't going to move from 16th right up to the top five. It's just something that wasn't going to happen, but I also ended up bending my front wing on the second lap trying to pass a car. I had a huge understeer every time I went into a corner and that really hurt me for the rest of the race."
WHAT'S BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT FOR YOU AS YOU LEARN TO RACE ON ROAD COURSES
"Probably the braking; finding out how hard you can really brake. Just trying to brake, shifting down and steering, timing all those things together. You can brake so much harder in these cars compared to what I'm used to driving, so just to brake that hard and slow down that quick and get the downshifting and everything down. It's not tough to get it down, but it's hard to do it so that it's smooth and everything kind of flows together and that the car stays planted."
WHAT KIND OF GOALS DO YOU HAVE
"I want to be in CART as soon as I'm ready for it, but I'm not sure when that is yet because I don't want to go in there and make a fool of myself. That's why I want to run open wheels, to go to CART and not run F2000's the whole time because if that's the case I'll stay in sprint cars [laughing]."
IF YOU CAN BE SUCCESSFUL IN CART, DO YOU HAVE ASPIRATIONS OF COMPETING IN FORMULA ONE SOMEDAY
"I've never really thought that far ahead. I watch a lot of F1 races and those cars are amazing to watch. I went to the [Indianapolis Motor] Speedway and watched some of their testing and it's pretty neat. I've never really thought too much about that, but right now CART is where I'm focusing all of my energy right now."
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF SOMEDAY BEING SOMEONE WHO RACES ON ALL DIFFERENT TYPES OF CARS? CHAMP CARS? STOCK CARS? SPORTS CARS?
"Right now I'm not running stock cars, but I'm flexible with everything. I want to be racing if there's an open race during some weekend because I just like racing any car that I can get my hands on. A lot of people ask me what my favorite type of car is to drive. Well, there's a favorite car that I have at a favorite track, so that's not really the car but both of them put together. Any time I get into a car that I've driven before, I have a blast driving in it and racing it."
FROM WHAT I UNDERSTAND, DAN DAVIS AND GREG SPECHT WERE REALLY GOOD ABOUT NOT PRESSURING YOU INTO CHOOSING ONE FORM OF RACING OVER ANOTHER. THEY PRETTY MUCH LAID OUT YOUR OPTIONS AND LET YOU CHOOSE WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO.
"Yeah, that's pretty much how Dan approached the whole deal. By him doing it that way I think was the best way to do it because for me. Well, if he would've wanted me to go in one certain direction I might've done that, but he also gave me the opportunity to try out a couple of different cars. Before I got the chance to try out the Champ Car I would've went to stock cars, but he gave me the opportunity to try an open-wheel car. I think if he would've wanted me to try something like the Champ Car, but at the time I really didn't want to, but now that I got the opportunity to test it, that's what I want to do. I want to work as hard as I can to run Champ Cars."
DO YOU FEEL FORTUNATE TO HAVE A COMPANY LIKE FORD BEHIND YOU, HELPING YOU TO BUILD A CAREER
"I feel very fortunate to have something like this come together because I know it doesn't happen a whole lot. One thing that I also fortunate about is having the opportunity to drive for Steve Lewis and Bob East, which kind of set up the relationship with Ford. Just driving for them and getting set up with Ford is a pretty big deal."