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After sophomore slump, WoO's King refocusing

January 26, 2011, 5:43 pm
By Kevin Kovac
World of Outlaws Late Model Series
Russ King's car was on display at the Motorsports 2011 show near Philadelphia. (pbase.com/cyberslash)
Russ King's car was on display at the Motorsports 2011 show near Philadelphia. (pbase.com/cyberslash)

Good riddance, 2010. Hello, 2011.

That’s Russ King’s simple mindset as he prepares for the upcoming World of Outlaws Late Model Series campaign, which kicks off with 50-lap events Feb. 17 and 19 during the 40th DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. | Speedweeks previews

Coming off a miserable 2010 season in which he failed to show the progress he expected after winning the WoO Rookie of the Year award in 2009, King, 21, of Bristolville, Ohio, is staring squarely at what he considers a make-or-break year. He feels he must improve on the road with the Outlaws or begin considering another line of work.

“The first year (following the WoO) we ran good sometimes even though we didn’t know a lot (about Dirt Late Models),” said King, who excelled on the western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio big-block modified circuit before tackling the WoO schedule with less than two dozen career dirt Late Model starts under his belt. “We seemed to be making some strides at the end of the (2009) season so last year I thought we’d continue to get better because we actually knew some stuff, but we got worse. We had a horrible season.

“Last year was real frustrating,” he added. “I want to be way further ahead than where I am right now. My mom and dad spend a lot of money for me to do this deal, so we have to be more competitive this year if I’m going to keep doing this full time.”

King appeared to be on an upward trajectory in 2009, registering eight top-10 finishes — including a late-season stretch of four top 10s in five races — en route to the national tour’s top rookie honor. He capped his year with a $12,000 triumph away from the WoO at McKean County Raceway in East Smethport, Pa., proving that his Outlaw education had served him well.

But King experienced a disheartening 2010 season. He managed just two top-10 finishes, led the circuit in DNFs (13) and finished out of the points-fund money (11th in the standings). Only a shining moment in the mid-summer WoO event at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park — he won his first-ever tour heat race and impressively led laps 1-11 of the feature before a scrape with a lapped car started him on a fall from contention — provided King some solace.

“Attica pretty much kept me from hanging myself off the liftgate of my trailer halfway through the year,” quipped King, who settled for a 13th-place finish at Attica after a mid-race tangle forced him to restart at the rear of the field.

Despite his demoralizing performance in 2010, King’s confidence is not shaken. He feels good about the state of his family-owned program, which features two Rocket cars (one he debuted last year and a brand-new machine) and a freshened stock of Custom engines.

“I’m staying positive and I’m real focused,” said King, who displayed his new King Bros. Racing. No. 56 in the DIRTcar Racing booth during last weekend’s Motorsports 2011 Race Car & Trade Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pa. “I feel like we’re the best prepared that we’ve ever been and I feel like I’m more serious mentally than I’ve ever been.

“The mental aspect is half of this deal right now because everybody’s got good race cars and good motors, but sometimes with the Late Model I don’t have that killer instinct to keep digging like I used to in the Modified. When I raced Modifieds I didn’t care who I lined up against or how the car felt — I just had that drive to keep going.

“I just want to get back to having fun like when I was racing modifieds, just at a different level. It’s a big psychological deal for me.”

In an effort to make himself even sharper behind the wheel, King recently began working with a personal trainer to whip his burly frame into better condition. He’s also made a move to buoy him on the technical side, contracting veteran mechanic Robby Allen to provide valuable setup assistance. Allen, who will remain crew chief for 2010 WoO Rookie of the Year Austin Hubbard this season, began working with King late last year and will continue advising the young driver in 2011.

“I’m excited about working with Hog this year,” King said of Allen, who is best known for his successful stint as Rick Eckert’s chief mechanic. “He’s smart and he’s not afraid to answer my questions. The first night I worked with him last year we went to Roaring Knob (in Markleysburg, Pa., for a non-Outlaw event) and I ran fifth. I’ve been talking to him once or twice a week ever since, and last week he was at my shop and we scaled the cars.

“I feel like working with Robby has already helped us make a bunch of gains. I’m confident my race cars are better because he’s changed some stuff on them. You know, my car’s the same as Josh’s (WoO champ Josh Richards) and all of them (with Rockets), but the problem is, Josh is like 160 pounds and I’m 260. We had to change things around to get the (weight) percentages where they needed to be without getting the car too heavy. I never really thought about that, but every little thing matters in Dirt Late Model racing.”

King, who proposed to his high-school sweetheart, Ashley Jackson, last month in a manner that he admitted was “pretty romantic for a guy like me” (he popped the question on sleigh ride in Ohio’s Amish Country), does not currently have a full-time mechanic. He’s content overseeing all aspects of his team’s preparation with help from, among others, his father, Rex Sr., and younger brother, Rex Jr. (both big-block Modified regulars); his cousin Mark Bates; and veteran crew member Bobby Bachman.

“I’m back to doing a lot of the stuff on the car myself like I did with the modified,” said King, who has set an October 2012 wedding date. “It makes me feel better at night that I know what’s been done to my stuff.

“My goal this year is just to be competitive everywhere we go,” he continued. “I feel like we can do that.”

King will start his 2011 quest for redemption in the Sunshine State. He’ll hit the track for the first time on Feb. 13 at Ocala (Fla.) Speedway before moving on for six consecutive nights of racing at Volusia.

While Volusia's half-mile holds a special place in his heart — he made his big-block modified debut there in February 2004, one month before his 15th birthday — it hasn’t treated him well. He’s had an especially tough go in his two seasons of Dirt Late Model action, entering 10 events but only making two feature lineups.

“Realistically, when there’s 75 to 80 good cars there, I’d just like to make all the shows and get a couple top 10s,” said King, whose career-best WoO finish is a ninth, on July 10 at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, N.D. “If we can get off to a good start like that, I think it would help set the tone for the rest of the season.”

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