Kansas Speedway, the brainchild of International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy, has been a special place for Ryan Blaney, the Wood Brothers and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team.
For Blaney, the 1.5-mile track that once was literally out in the corn fields, but now has become the centerpiece of a major commercial development, is the site of his Sprint Cup debut, back in 2014 while driving for Team Penske.
For the Wood Brothers, it’s a place where the team’s Director of Business Development Jon Wood, won the pole for the first-ever race there, a NASCAR Winston West race on June 2, 2001.
At Kansas in 2003, Wood outran his then-Roush Racing teammate Carl Edwards to score his first-ever victory in the Camping World Truck Series. Wood led the final 28 laps and finished 1.176 seconds ahead of Edwards.
In addition, the Wood Brothers team also has had success at Kansas, with its best run coming in 2004, with Ricky Rudd driving the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford.
In that race, Rudd and Joe Nemechek battled door-to-door for the win with Rudd finishing second by a scant 0.081 seconds. All told, in 12 Sprint Cup starts at Kansas the Wood Brothers have four top-10 finishes, the most recent being a seventh-place by Blaney last fall.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said the opening Kansas race in 2001 is a memorable one for him, thanks to the generosity of the France family, who may have a reputation of being firm in its business dealings, but also has a soft-hearted side that many have never seen.
Wood said he was having dinner with Lesa Kennedy some months before the Kansas track opened. In the course of their conversation, he mentioned that he wouldn’t be able to join his son Jon and the team at Kansas Speedway because of his duties at the Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway the same weekend.
“I told her I would really like to be there with Jon for the first race at Kansas, but our Cup race team came first,” Wood said. “I didn’t think any more about it until I got a call from Daytona Beach a few days before the race.”
Lesa had told her father, the late Bill France Jr. (“Billy” to those close to him.) about Wood’s predicament, and they had arranged for him to fly from Dover to Kansas and back on a NASCAR plane.
“I got to the airport Saturday morning and got on the plane, and there was no one on there but the two pilots and me,” Wood recalled.
Upon arriving at the track, Wood made his way toward the France suite overlooking the track but was stopped because he didn't have the proper credentials.
“The guy was an FBI agent,” Wood said. “I told him I didn’t have a credential, but that Mr. France had invited me to his suite.
“The guy left, came back in a few minutes and said “Follow me.”
Wood and Billy France watched as the then-19-year-old Jon Wood battled veteran Frank Kimmel for the win. Wood had the lead late in the race, but on the final restart, his third-gear ratio was too high, and that hindered him in getting up to speed. Kimmel slipped past him for the win.
“I got back on that plane and was back in Dover by seven or eight p.m.,” Wood said.
Wood watched his son’s 2003 truck victory at Kansas on TV in the team’s hauler at Daytona International Speedway. Later that July 5th evening, Rudd drove the Motorcraft Ford to a third-place finish in a Pepsi 400 that saw Ford drivers sweep the top three finishing positions.
“Kansas has always been good to us, even going back to 1956 when my Dad (Glen Wood) finished second in a NASCAR Convertible Division race at Hutchinson, Kansas,” Wood said, adding that he and his fellow members of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team are hoping to make some more pleasant Kansas memories this weekend.
There are reasons to be optimistic, among them the fact that Blaney finished seventh at Kansas last fall and is coming off a ninth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday. And there are only 40 cars entered, so the team can focus on preparing for the race instead of worrying about making the starting field.
“Being able to concentrate on the race changes the whole outlook for the weekend,” he said.
Qualifying for the Go Bowling 400 is set for Friday at 6:45 p.m. eastern, and the race is scheduled to start just after 7:30 p.m. Saturday with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1.