Sat, 14 Dec 2002, 09:51 PM
Kevin Helms Makes A Little Bit of History
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2002 Auto Imagery, Inc.
Kevin Helms will save a lot of money next year because he wonít have to buy any new
numbers to put on his car. As the Stock Eliminator World Champions, Kevin can keep
that big old number one of the side of his Camaro for another twelve months, and
thatís something that not a lot of people in the history of the sport have been able
to do. In fact, the only other guy to put back-to-back championships on the board in
Stock Eliminator was Jerry McClanahan who turned the trick back in 1973 and í74. Now
that you think about it, itís apparently easier to win the Top Fuel title in
consecutive years than it is to win in Stock. But then, there are a lot more
stockers out there than there are top fuel cars.
Jerry McClanahan and Kevin Helms couldnít be further apart on the performance scale
if they tried. Jerry, who lived just a stoneís throw from the Pomona race track, won
his first title in a blazing 1966 Chevrolet 4-door entry that ran in the P/SA class,
and that was his fast car! In í74 he stepped down, to coin a phrase, to a 1966,
9-passenger Chevrolet station wagon that fit neatly into the R/SA class. Jerryís
winning time in his final round at the í74 World Finals was a blazing 14.75 at 75.88
mph, and that was running all out, after all, in those days you didnít get penalized
for "breaking out" in the final round. And, in those days, if you won the
World Finals you were the world champion. Take nothing away from Jerry, though,
since he earned his two titles and the divisional crowns as well in those two
seasons, still, he didnít have to do what Kevin did to win the championship. Kevin,
driving his big block, 396 cubic inch, stick shift Chevrolet, had to beat some of
the toughest racers in the country on a weekly basis in order to secure his second
title, and he had to handle the pressure of being the champ.
Kevin won Vegas Points meet.
Most drivers will tell you that winning the first championship is the toughest,
after that the pressure seems to be on the other guys to beat you. Kevin felt the
same way this year. "After winning last year, I decided to go out and have fun
this year. I already had a championship and nothing and no one could ever take that
away from me," he said. Well, as a matter of fact, no one did take it way from
him, although it certainly wasnít from a lack of trying. Going into the Las Vegas
points races, the last divisional event of the season, Kevin has still battling it
out with Toby Lang and Jeff Hefler, a couple of excellent racers, and he needed to
go rounds in order to keep them at bay. He not only went rounds, he won the event,
beating Tom Roberts in the final. Since both Lang and Hefler had gone out early,
Kevin Helms had a pretty good weekend in Las Vegas. And, just to make it even nicer,
he took his Super Stock car to the finals, too, where he finished runner-up. Like a
lot of the racers today, Kevin does run two cars at most of the events.
"Without a sponsor, taking two cars increase your chances of making some
money," he said. "And it keeps you sharp." Sharp enough to win three
divisional events this year and to visit the winnerís circle in the Super Stock
class, and sharp enough to go rounds at the national races that he claimed.
"Last year I did well on the national level, and this year it was the
divisional stuff that helped me out," he said. Hey, they all count, Kevin.
Not only has Kevin won two Stock Eliminator national championships, but he has also
won the U.S. Nationals twice (1998 & í99), and thatís another accomplishment
that he is justifiably proud of. "This year I had all kinds of mechanical
trouble at Indy and I lost to Al Corda in the third round." But by then he had
piled up enough points on the divisional level to begin to think that he could
possibly repeat as champion. "After winning in Douglas (at the Division 5
race), I really decided to go after the championship, again." And the rest, as
they say, is history.
Helms celebrates '99 Indy win.
At the awardís ceremony this year I asked Kevin what he was going to do during the
off-season. "Well, first Iíve got to fix all the stuff I broke at the end of
the season, and then Iíll be working on some engines for a few other racers."
Yes, the former diesel mechanic will be building engines for his fellow racers, and
youíve got to think that a guy who can make a 375 horsepower Chevrolet engine run as
well and consistently as Kevin does should get lots of calls. And, I imagine, heíll
look forward to spending some time with his wife, Gail. While the two travel
together to all of the races, the schedule has to be a bit of a grind, so a few
weeks at home may be just what the doctor ordered. That is, of course, unless that
phone keeps ringing from the other racers who want an engine built by the two-time
NHRA Stock Eliminator World Champion.
While Jerry McClanahan and Kevin Helms took decidedly different paths to their world
titles, they do have a couple of things in common. If memory serves me correctly,
Kevin actually began his racing career doing some bracket racing, just like Jerry
did, and he also competed in those early years in P/SA Chevrolet, just like Jerry
did. The only real difference is that Kevin decided to step up, and when he did, he
did it in a big way. Congratulations to Kevin and Gail on their tremendous
accomplishments and donít be surprised if next year that green Camaro isnít wearing
the number one, again, at the end of the season. In reality, keeping the same number
or your doesnít save you a lot of money, we all know that, but it sure makes all the
other racers jealous. Well, everyone except Jerry McClanahan.
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