Saturday, August 3, 2013

A dream job and an opportunity to race By Elizabeth Richards

Windham native Derek Kneeland has been racing cars since he was eight. “I grew up racing,” he said. Last weekend, he got the chance to take a break from his spotting career for NASCAR and to race again in the TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway, where he placed 15th.

Kneeland graduated from Windham High School in 2004. He was a regular driver at Beech Ridge, and drove sometimes at Oxford when he got older, but when racing got too expensive for the family-owned team he drove for, he decided to do something different. He moved to North Carolina, where he first got a job in the decal business. Then he worked his way into spotting for NASCAR. The spotter is the person communicating with the driver and making sure the driver knows what’s happening on the track while racing. 

Kneeland spots for Juan Pablo Montoya in the Sprint Cup Series, the most well known of the NASCAR series. He also spots for drivers in other series as well. Spotting for Montoya fulfilled his goal of spotting in the Cup Series by the time he was 30. That happened for him last year at age 26. Now, at 27, his goals include continuing to do what he loves as long as he can. “The next thing, I guess, is getting cup wins and getting championships,” he said. 

Kneeland said his first love is driving, but he’s not trying to make it as a professional driver anymore. “I just love to go and have fun doing it at least once or twice a year, whenever I get the chance to.” His Cup schedule is very busy, as they race almost every weekend. This year, his off weekend coincided with the race at Oxford Plains. In February, he put together a deal to run a late model at Oxford. 

This isn’t the first year Kneeland has attempted to get into the TD Bank 250, but it is the first time he has qualified for the race, doing so in his second chance race. 

The big race, he said, went very well. The field was built up with provisionals, from 36 cars to 42. Kneeland started 28th, got as high as the fourth place position, and finished 15th. While disappointed to drop back after making it to the fourth place position, Kneeland said he was very pleased with the results. “I’ve never raced the 250. I’ve just seen it a lot as a kid. I’ve tried to make it twice back when it was the ACT Series race, and this was my best opportunity at it. I just wanted to make the race and then anything else after that was a bonus,” he said. He said that as long as the race falls on his off weekend, he will continue to try to race in the 250 each year.
Kneeland had a lot of support for the race, which can be a very expensive endeavor, especially when coming from North Carolina rather than already owning a car and already being in Maine. He said he has a lot of racing friends who helped him out. Brian Scott, who Kneeland spots for in the Nationwide Series, supported him with a sponsorship from the Shore Lodge, his family company. Montoya also contributed, along with other friends who came together to enable Kneeland to run the race without having to come up with a lot of his own money. 

Beyond the financial aspects, a lot of work went into getting ready for the race, he said, including getting the right pit stop team together and getting the right guy with knowledge of the cars for a crew chief. “It was kind of stressful until we finally got to the track. You’ve got your regular weekly job, and then you’re trying to plan this race, and you want it to go so well because so many people have helped out and it cost so much money,” said Kneeland. “Once I got to the track, it was a little less stressful and finally once I made it into the race it was like all the weight was lifted off and it was a dream come true.” His family was there to cheer him on, and they all camped together at the track, he said.

So what’s next for Kneeland? He just signed an extension for his contract on the Cup deal, and is happy to continue doing what he loves. “I want to continue spotting until my eyes give out or my voice goes on me. I’ll continue spotting for as long as I can. It’s a good living, something I really enjoy doing. I can actually wake up and look forward to doing what I do.”

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