Saturday August 30 Knoxville News Sentinel Story

Winger’s arrival puts Kerr on winning Path

By Michael Moats

Just as it looked the 2008 Advance Auto Parts Thunder Series title chase would come down to Rick Rogers and Billy Ogle Jr. battling for the championship, another driver has entered the picture.

Tommy Kerr has climbed into this year’s AAPTS title contention based on his three-race winning streak.

Kerr’s streak, along with some various problems by Ogle, have placed him in second in the standings with four races remaining. He is 149 points behind Rogers heading into tonight’s race at Mountain Raceway Park in Maryville, Kerr’s hometown. Ogle has slid to third, 212 points behind Rogers.

Kerr’s turnaround just past midseason can be pinpointed to a crew chief change. The Blount Motorsports team hired Gary Winger in June. Winger has turned wrenches for drivers such as Freddy Smith, Brandon Kinzer, and Randle Chupp. Winger has turned Kerr’s program in the right direction.

“Yeah, I feel like he was the missing piece of the puzzle on our team,” Kerr said. “He brings a lot of knowledge and confidence to me and the whole team. We always thought we had a good team, we couldn’t get it all put together. He was just what we needed.”

Before Winger’s arrival, Kerr suffered from a variety of mechanical problems and poor finishes. The Larry Garner-owned team did not look like the one that nearly won last year’s AAPTS title.

Even after Winger came aboard, more mistakes and mechanical issues continued to deprive Kerr of his first win. An engine problem at Wartburg Speedway and a mistake, like clipping the inside guardrail at Boyd’s Speedway in June, turned sure wins into disappointing finishes.

Kerr says the team got down on itself, but was picked up by Winger’s presence on the team.

“We got a little down on ourselves,” Kerr said. “Sometimes you just need some luck to come along. You can have the fastest car, but can’t win a race or have a good finish without some luck along the way. But Gary coming on board and showed us we had enough in place to overcome some of that.”

Kerr’s success has not been limited to the Advance Auto Parts Thunder Series.

In late July, Kerr won the O’Reilly Southern Nationals race at Volunteer Speedway – a win he considers the biggest of his racing career. Kerr set fast times during last Thursday’s World of Outlaws race at Volunteer and looked for an even bigger win.

But contact from another car in the early laps of the feature broke the left-front suspension and dropped Kerr from the race. Those strong showings give Kerr confidence he can run with anyone.

“It shows us we are capable of lining up with anyone,” Kerr said. “We’re going to Eldora next week to see what we can do there. I feel like we can have a good showing there. You’re not what you’d call a local racer any more. We can go anywhere and run well with anyone on a given night.”

Kerr hopes to keep his AAPTS win streak alive at his home track of Mountain Raceway and in Sunday’s race at Tazewell Speedway. Another win, or two, will get him closer to the points lead.

“I feel real confident about this weekend,” Kerr added. “With some luck, we can win both races. If we can keep winning races, we’ll keep cutting into the points lead. But even if we don’t, we’ve shown how well we can run.”

Michael Moats covers area auto racing. He can be reached

Thanks to the Knoxville News Sentinal and Michael Moats for allowing us to use the story.