With three championships in three different divisions, Shane Kline has had a pretty good run at Champion Speedway these past 10 years. However, with an old passion and newfound opportunity to experience the major leagues of motorsports, Kline says he will drive in his last Carson City race on Saturday night when the WESTCAR Series Late Model 100-lap feature race is held at Champion.
A field of 30 cars is expected for a race that will mark the third leg of Champion's Desert Rose Series and the fifth stop in WESTCAR's inaugural season. The feature race is scheduled for a 9 p.m. start.
After Saturday night's race, the 32-year-old Kline will turn the page in his motorsports career and work another road that leads to North Carolina and the heartland of NASCAR racing.
"To work in the motorsports industry is something I've always wanted to do," Kline said. "Any time you can be around these and work on them and do what you like for a living, you can't go wrong with that. You get a paycheck for turning wrenches. I mean, what better way to be."
Kline won't be driving, but he is more than excited to have an opportunity to use his skills as a mechanic.
"I've always wanted to race in NASCAR, just like everybody else has. But at 32, realistically, I'm not looking at big-time driving right now," he said. "If I can just wrench in the field or get hooked up with the right people, the opportunities are endless. You just have to put yourself in the right position at that time."
A week-long visit in June was enough to convince him this was the right time and North Carolina the right place.
"Me and my wife were very excited when we went back there," Kline said. "That was a pretty big experience just to see how big the actual NASCAR sport is today; to see how big the shops are, the teams and how many people are working in the teams and stuff like that. It was just amazing. I mean, (Richard) Childress employs over 350 people, he's got six different buildings. A friend of mine is a mechanic for Joe Gibbs and he took us for a tour of Joe Gibbs' shop. All of that really set my mind to go back and learn exactly what it's all about.
"It's a lot of racing. Within two hours of the Charlotte area, there's probably six or seven different race tracks that run just about anything you'd want to watch on any given Saturday night."
It will also give him a chance to hook up with Darrel Krentz and his son, D.J. Krentz. Darrel, a one-time standout driver in Carson City, now works as executive director for INEX.
"I'm going to help Darrel on his Northern Modified, then I'm also going to help D.J. out with his Thunder Roadster," Kline said. "I'll travel around with those guys, get to know people and just have some fun.
"D.J.'s doing really good right now. I watched him race at Concord Speedway. He was second in the race that night and I think he's still second in points in that King of the Ovals series. He told me, 'Hey, come on back, I can always use an extra hand.' So I'm looking forward to the opportunity just to get familiarized with what he knows."
First, Kline has his sights set on one more race at Champion, and he would certainly like to go out as a winner
"I'm going to be focused on this," Kline said, motioning toward the No. 20 Blackjack Motors car he will drive. "It's going to be sad to know that it's my final race, so I'm really hoping to have something good come off. Dean and Lynn (Heller) aren't going to be there to see it, and Jack (Heller) won't be there to see it, so it's really going to force me to drive hard to try and win it for those guys in my last race."
Kline was knocked out of the feature race on May 22 - the victim of a nine-car pileup at the start - then finished second in his last race. Kline also won the Scotts Performance Wire fast time award in both of those appearances, so the car is obviously a contender.
"We've had fast time twice so far since the series has come up. That right there, with the caliber of cars that are here, is quite a feat just in itself," Kline said. "We do have a chance to win. We were very close last time. We had a few mechanical problems that kind of slowed us up a little bit, but we're getting those fixed now and hopefully we can go back out and be just as fast, if not even faster and make a good run for this win.
"I've got a great crew. Those guys are awesome, they know what they're doing. I'm going to miss them when I go back there because they're definitely the backbone of my success," he added, referring to a crew that includes Brad Kiesow, Greg Hein, John Dodge and Tom Price.
To win this race will mean getting past the likes of Wes Miller and Steve Gannon, winners of the first two Desert Rose races, and current points leaders Dan Knight and Byron Gonzales. In the June 18 race, Gonzales led most of the way until Lap 88, when he was involved in a collision and went to the pits with severe damage.
"They're a strong group of competitors and I'm sure they'll get that thing back together just as fast as they were before," Kline said of Gonzales. "Byron's a good, clean driver. I look forward to racing with him and everybody else who shows up. I mean, that's what makes me drive harder, knowing what kind of competition's there in the field. You come out with a win like that, you know you've beaten some of the best Late Model drivers on the West Coast.
"Right now, we've just got to stay focused on our job, which is to win the race for Blackjack Motor Sports, and hopefully we can get them the W and we can go out with a bang and Dean's got a car that's in one piece, unlike the first incident we had."
Kline grew up watching his father, Robert, race and has had his share of his own victories and championships in Carson City. It all started in 1995 when he finished as the track's Mavericks division runner-up and co-rookie of the year with Matt Ramthun, then followed that up with a title in 1996. He moved up and won the Legends championships in 1997, the inaugural season for the division at the track (he also won state and area titles that season). His third title came in the Western Modified division in 2003.
The success hasn't come without a considerable amount of help, Kline was quick to point out.
"To drive for Blackjack Motors Sports, that's been a pretty good opportunity," he said. "Going back to North Carolina, I've got that Late Model experience I can add to my resume to hopefully find a ride back there on one of the local short tracks.
"Bob and Linda Schwartz were very instrumental in my Legends ride. ... I raced for Henry Hodges three times, he let me borrow his car, I finished second behind Chet (Danburg), but there's nobody better to finish behind. ... Chet has been a great mentor to me and I've really enjoyed racing with him. ... And I owe a big, big thanks to my parents (Robert and Carleen Kline). If it wasn't for them, I would have never raced.
"I just want to thank everyone who has helped me in driving. I owe everything to them for any opportunity that may come along down the road."
n Contact Dave Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-1220.
WHAT: WESTCAR Late Model touring series
WHERE: Champion Speedway
WHEN: Saturday. Hot laps 5 p.m., qualifying 6, racing 7:15
ALSO: Legends and Hornets will run