Sun, 30 Dec 2012, 11:17 AM
It's Been A Long Time Coming
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2012 Auto Imagery, Inc.
There are thousands, maybe tens of thousands of racers who have been drag racing for a long time. I
am always surprised, or maybe impressed is the better word, when I go back and check some of my
files and see names of drivers who are racing today who were active many, and I mean many years
ago. One of the places where I find that the most is when I check Pomona records, after all, that
track has been active since the 1950's. I will often see a racer at the current version of the
Winternationals or the NHRA Finals and then discover that he also was at those same races in the
1960's. And when you look and see how many racers went ten, twenty, thirty or more years between
national event wins it's easy to see that this sport is addictive. The one thing about these racers
that seems to be a constant is the fact that if they were in the Stock or Super Stock classes in
their early years they are probably still there. Al Vanis won in Stock Eliminator in 1974 and then
again in 2003. Ed Sigmon won Comp in 1969 and again in 2009 and Ben Wenzel won Stock titles in 1967
and 2010 and he did it in the same car. And then there is Al Kenny, a man who goes by the script in
one respect and defies it in the other.
Al Kenny is the 2012 Lucas Oil Super Comp World Champion, and like so many other champions he has
been racing for a long time. Like 2012 Al's early success came in a dragster, but when he began
racing Super Comp wasn't even a class, but Pro Comp was. In 1977 at the Sanair race, which like Pro
Comp doesn't exist any more, Al ran his super charged dragster right into the final round where he
lost to Dale Armstrong, who would later be voted one of NHRA's Top Ten Drivers of all time. Before
that he beat the reigning World Champion, Brent Bramley, Chuck Cheeseman and Simon Menzies and Al
remembers it all very well. "Dale was helping us with the tuning, and that's a huge understatement,
and before the final round I thought I'd go talk to him. We were still thrashing on our car and I
walked over to his pit area and he was just sitting there eating a tangerine. I told him we needed
about a tenth more for the final round and he just smiled, looked up at me and said 'school's out.'
At that time I knew we were on our own and in trouble." That race came a few years after Al started
his career with a short wheelbase, front-engine B/Gas dragster. "We ran that for a while and then
we had a fuel-injected front-engine A/Fuel car that we ran on nitro (100%) for the 1975 season."
>From there, he and his brother, John, stepped up to a supercharged rear-engine car and, eventually,
to the car that took them to the final round in Canada. The two continued to race into the late
1980's, including several seasons with partner Bob Putnam. Eventually Bob and brother John moved on
to pursue family and career objectives and Al teamed up with longtime friend Jeff Rapp for a year
or two with both men taking turns behind the wheel. After Al stopped driving he kept in touch by
helping friends at the track and by serving as crew chief on Herb Rodgers Alcohol Funny Car for a
couple years. "I loved the alky cars but they have the 'fun-to-work ratio' all messed up. Not to
mention the return on investment."
Al knew that he still wanted to race and at that time so did his son, Jason. "We went to the Frank
Hawley school because I didn't want to invest in a lot of equipment only to find that Jason wasn't
interested." Well he was, and as Al put it, "it all spun out of control from there." Al also took
advantage of the time at the school to renew his license and today not only does his son race and
win but so does his daughter, Samantha. In fact, the only member of the family who doesn't race is
Al's wife of thirty-four years, Carol. "She tried it at Frank's school and said it wasn't for her."
That's probably a good thing because if she raced the family would have to get another trailer. "As
it is we may come to some races with as many as five cars next year," Al said. "But I wouldn't have
it any other way."
It may seem like a long way from a front-engine, injected car to a Lucas Oil World Championship but
for Al it has simply been a logical progression. "You race a long time and set goals and to finally
win a championship is, honestly, beyond my wildest dreams." And the key to his success in 2012 was
simple. "Everything just fell my way. When I was bad on the lights the other guy was worse. If I
broke out he broke out by more. All of those races, the ones that are decided by one or two
thousandths of a second all seemed to fall my way this year." Then there was the Las Vegas race
which was pivotal in Al's race to the championship. "There were a couple of pretty good racers by
the name of Stefan Kondolay and Luke Bogacki who could still beat me, and we heard different
versions about who would win if we
ended up in a tie so I wanted to avoid that." At the Vegas race near the end of the season Al,
Jason and Samantha all pulled in the lanes together with Luke and Stefan not far away. "Let's face
it," Al said. "There are no ducks out there any more so it really doesn't matter who you race or in
what round you race them" As it turned out one of the other contenders was paired up with Jason. "I
lost my first round match but Jason picked the whole family up by beating Stefan. That one race was
huge both from a points standpoint and emotionally." That was big and so was the fact that Luke
Bogacki won the national event instead of the divisional race in Vegas.
Besides having everything fall into place at the Vegas event Al says that the key to his
championship season was also the fact that the team had some good luck and some very good
equipment. "Plus we had a lot of input from some very good racers." That would include, but not be
limited to Jeg Coughlin and Gary Stinnett. "They wouldn't necessarily say do this or that but they
would ask why we did or didn't do certain things. With the record those two have when they speak
you better listen." In addition to the assistance from the mental side Gary also helps with the
teams engines. "He just does such a good job and when we decided that we wanted to go fast he was
the first guy who came to mind."
Kenny celebration in Reading.
As good as winning the championship was Al had another great moment in 2012 and that was when he
and Jason raced in the final round at the Maple Grove national event. "That was so special (and not
only because Al won, I'm sure). With the weather and everything they still managed to run the final
round on Saturday when all of our friends were still there hanging by the fence and cheering us on.
It was just one part of a magical season. Now I guess my goal is to have a father and daughter
final round." Hey, when you've won a championship it's nice to set your sights on something else
for the upcoming season. "We'll be plenty busy, that's for sure, with more national events and a
lot of divisional races. Plus I am still in the lead for the Jegs All Star race and I'd like to
lock that up as well." And with the cold weather in the Northeastern part of the country the Kenny
family will head south and west to start 2013. "We'll test down South, race a few divisional races
and then go to Las Vegas for the races out there." And while he does that he will be sporting the
big number one on the side of his car, a number that was over thirty years in the making.
Celebrating Norwalk win.
As with every successful racer Al said that "there are a LOT of people to thank . . . no one does
this alone and I've got 40 years of friends and family who have helped me along the way. From the
'modern era' ('90' category racing since 1999) I'll name a few that stand out: Jack Bowes, Dan
Doolan, Tom Bryce and Dick Dorr who explained the whole concept of 'throttle stops' when we were
starting out. Dan Page Race Cars, Gary Stinnett and Ed Alessi (Select performance) for their top
notch equipment. Greg Boutte (K&N), Scott Mackie (Weld), Scott Hall (Moroso), Roy Freeman
(Hoosier), JEGS (Jeg, John, Troy, Mike and 350 associates) for their support, encouragement and
advice And all the racers (and even some fans) who said they were cheering for me to win the
championship. And most importantly, Carol, Jason and Samantha because racing with your family is as
good as it gets!
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