Bred for speed
In the past three years, Jason Keim has learned a lot about racing. Halfway through his fourth season, he is beginning to grasp the nuances and subtleties of guiding a car around a dirt track at 90 miles per hour.
To call the learning curve steep would be an understatement. Fortunately for Jason, he has found some qualified teachers within his own family: his brother Ryan and a support staff made up of other relatives.
Though Jason is just beginning his career as a driver, racing's roots run deep in the Keim family.
Darrell Keim, Jason's father, started working on a racing crew based in Edwardsville in 1984. His sons Ryan and Jason, both Eudora natives, were not yet old enough to speed around the track at the time but participated in any way possible.
"We'd go to the shop every day during the week," Jason said. "On Fridays and Saturdays we were always out at the racetrack."
After spending many of their early years helping out around tracks and shops, the Keim brothers decided to make a name for their family in the racing business.
In 2000, after 16 years of working for other racers, the pair decided to make an investment: the brothers would purchase a car of their own. The family decided Jason would drive the car while older brother Ryan serviced the car and took on the responsibility of keeping the driver in line.
Darrell Keim contributed both money and guidance to his sons' endeavor, helping fund the purchase of tires and other parts. It took two years for the family to turn its dream into reality and two more to get the racecar onto the track, but by 2004 Keim Racing was competing in Kansas and Nebraska.
"It took a lot more money than I expected," Jason said. "I knew coming in that it would take a lot of hard work, but learning how to drive the car was also really tough."
The team's first season was a learning experience. Jason ended the season ranked 14th in the points standings of the Topless Outlaw Racing Association after engine problems forced the team to miss two events. Ryan said the team's first season was productive despite the problems because visiting a new dirt track each week helped Jason learn the ins and outs of dirt-track racing.
"You can take the best racecar and put a new driver in it and he'll finish last every time," Ryan said. "Dirt is just tougher to learn than asphalt, driving-wise."
Despite the tough assignment, Jason took steps forward in his second year of racing. With a completely new car in tow, the team started racing at Winston Speedway in Missouri. Jason said racing at the same track every week helped his times because the competition and track did not change much over the course of the season.
The stability of a home track and a little extra experience helped Jason finish 2005 ranked ninth in points at Winston Speedway.
After a late-season accident destroyed the team's car, Keim Racing invested in a new car and went back to Winston Speedway for the 2006 season. In 2006 the team enjoyed its best results, finishing fourth in overall points at the track.
2007 has brought more of the same success for the family. With just over two months remaining in the season, the team is currently ranked third in the standings at Winston and second in the International Motor Contest Association national rankings.
"This year we've had our best season," Jason said. "But moving to a national racing series would require more money and more experience."
Ryan said making the move to a national racing circuit is the team's ultimate goal, but the team needs to keep winning and adding sponsors.
If the family's hard work is any indication, more wins and sponsorships could be in order. The brothers spend the time between races working on the car at their garage in Lawrence and gaining experience on practice runs. Janet Cottrell, mother of Jason and Ryan, compiles a video of each race for her sons to review. Studying race tapes for several hours each week allows Jason to see his performance from another angle in order to make mental adjustments.
Keim Racing may have officially been birthed when Jason first raced in 2004, but the genesis of the team can be traced back further. For over 20 years, the Keim family has embraced racing as a way of life. The devotion to both sport and family is what could make Keim a household name.