Thursday, October 23, 2014

1987 - Kemp quite a racer in his own right

Burlington, Iowa (October 23, 1987) - Larry Kemp has proven to be a successful racing entrepreneur, winning awards while wearing the hats of both owner and promoter at 34 Raceway and the Donnellson Dirt Track.

What many local racers don't realize is that their weekly competitions are being conducted by a man who once used to win races — as a driver in the Cedar Rapids area.

“I think some of them think I’m just some guy that came along,” Kemp laughed.

Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Keith Knaack. Knaack currently serves as team manager for the Helen Rae Special, car # 73 driven by Phil Barkdoll on the Winston Cup circuit. Prior to that, he managed the team of NASCAR standout Dave Marcis.

Nearly 30 years ago, Knaack and Kemp campaigned stock cars together at tracks in central Iowa.

“We were more or less doing it for fun,” Knaack explained. “We would fall into the eighth to 12th place cars on the average, without even trying very hard. And if anybody fouled up ahead of us, we’d sneak up a few spots.

That became our lifetime work then. Now, we both are in business to help racing become fun for everybody else,” said Knaack, who also serves as publisher for the Hawkeye Racing News as well as race director for the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA).

Upon his graduation from Linton High School in 1959, Kemp and his 1933 Ford coupe went racing. It was a time he fondly remembers.

“It was pretty tough back then with 60 or so cars there all in one class,” he recalled. “We (Kemp and Knaack) started out sharing the car. I drove it Saturday at Cedar Rapids and he drove it Sunday at Waterloo.”

“It was all late models back then so we had to run against the top racers in the state of Iowa,” Knaack acknowledged.

By 1964, Kemp had graduated to a 1955 Chevrolet. That same year, however, he also added a wife, Kathleen, and his racing career was destined to become short-lived.

“I got married and then I just stopped driving,” Kemp explained. “I got upside down one night when she was pregnant and that bothered her a little bit, so then I got started in the officiating.”

Kemp’s new duties included acting as flagman, scorer, track official and nearly everything else at various racing venues throughout Iowa.

“I worked at a bunch of different tracks,” he stated. Kemp soon got into track promotion, a match made in heaven for both Larry Kemp and the sport of racing. In 1981, Kemp came to 34 Raceway as promoter for then-owner Johnny Johnson. In 1985, he purchased the track from Johnson.

The rewards have been many - some on a national scale. During the past three years, Kemp has received three major awards from Racing Promoters Monthly magazine during its February banquet in Daytona, Fla.

In 1984, 34 Raceway was honored for the nation’s Outstanding Weekly Promotion. In both 1984 and 1986, Kemp was named one of eight regional Promoters of the Year nationwide, and was a finalist for national Promoter of the Year honors on both occasions.

“Since we got into the promoting thing, we’ve been thoroughly successful,” Kemp said. “It’s something I like to do and something I plan to keep on doing for a while.”

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