Lucas Oil Speedway Spotlight: Veteran car owner Hoover finds fountain of youth with talented young driver
Wheatland, Missouri (Aug. 23, 2018) - They are sort of a dirt-track racing Odd Couple, the teenaged driver and the grandfatherly car owner. Upon first glance, 17-year-old Kaeden Cornell and 69-year-old Rick Hoover would seem to have little in common.
But it only takes a few minutes of talking with each and it becomes crystal clear. These two Lucas Oil Speedway regulars both have a thirst for speed and success, all the while speaking in glowing terms of the other.
This Saturday night, the duo that hadn't even met until 14 months ago will attempt to complete an unlikely march to the Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA track title when season champions are crowned in the Big Adventure RV Weekly Racing Series.
It shapes up as a doozy of a finish. Cornell, driving the Hoover Motorsports Rocket-chassis No. 50, is just four points behind 2016 track champion Aaron Marrant with defending champ Johnny Fennewald sandwiched in the middle, two points behind Marrant and two ahead of Cornell.
"It pretty much comes down to who wins this week," said Hoover, the former racer who's been a car owner on the Ozarks racing scene for more than two decades. "This is a long week. I don't know whether to be excited or nervous. But it's a good thing."
Cornell, a senior at Willard High School, said he would like to win the championship for himself and his family, certainly. But he wants it more for Hoover, the Buffalo, Missouri resident who scouted him and put him in a late model for the first time in June of 2017.
"I wouldn't be the Kaeden that everyone knows at the races if it wasn't for Rick," Cornell said. "I definitely wouldn't be in a Late Model. For him to give me a shot, as young as I was, to believe in a kid my age, it was really a risk.
"Of course, I'd love to win this championship and get it on my resume. But my main deal is to win it for Rick."
Cornell described Rick and Melissa Hoover as more than car owners, calling them closer to family members than employers.
"Melissa, his wife, the whole family ... I just love them to death," Cornell said. "Every time I get to the race track, Melissa has prepared me a full-course meal. It's like living in fantasyland. They treat me like a rock star."
Rick Hoover said he saw star qualities in Cornell when the youngster was racing in the Ozark Golf Cars USRA B-Mod division at Lucas Oil Speedway, watching him closely for several weeks in early 2017 before approaching the Cornell family about offering Kaeden a Late Model ride.
Just a few months earlier, Rick Hoover had ended an eight-year racing hiatus with Shane Essary driving his car. Once the Cornell family agreed to add the Late Model to the B-Mod duties, Hoover bought another Late Model for the youngster.
"I've been around racing more than 25 years and I think I can recognize talent," Hoover said, noting how impressed he was at Cornell's driving skills on the track and his demeanor off it. "I asked his parents about putting him in a Late Model and at first they were nervous about it."
Hoover rented the Springfield Raceway on an early summer Sunday afternoon and had the kid turn laps on a dry track nowhere close to racing conditions.
"It was a crappy track and he was turning great lap times. It was right then that I knew he was going to make it," Hoover said.
The Hoover-Cornell combo make steady progress over the last half of the 2017 Lucas Oil Speedway season. They entered some open Late Model events in the fall.
"We ran against the big boys and that helped him so much," Hoover said. "It built his confidence. And that's what we'll do again this year after the (ULMA) season is over."
The 2018 season hasn't been easy. Early mechanical failures led to three DNFs which seemingly buried Cornell in Lucas Oil Speedway points chase, triple digits behind Marrant. But the team persevered and is on a roll down the stretch, winning two features including last Saturday's main event.
Both feature wins, ironically, came in the older of the two cars and with an older, smaller motor. The newer car and bigger motor expired a couple of weeks ago when Cornell was leading an open Late Model race at West Plains' Legit Motor Speedway.
"I call the old motor 'peanut' because it's kind of small," Cornell said. "But it's been a good one. Hopefully, it'll make it one more week."
Win or lose on Saturday, Rick Hoover said the partnership with Cornell has been akin to finding the fountain of youth for him.
"When I retired and had quit racing, I'm not one to sit down and watch TV," Hoover said. "My wife said, 'You're just sitting there and getting old' and she was right, I felt that way. Since I've been back involved in racing, I feel younger. I feel more active. I feel better."
Added Cornell: "Melissa always said he needed to get back into racing because he wasn't happy without it. Any time I can make Rick smile, it makes me smile. That's why if we can win this for Rick, it would be huge."
Gates will open at 4 p.m. Saturday with hot laps at 6:30 and opening ceremonies at 7. All Police, Fire and Rescue personnel will be admitted free with ID.
Champions also will be crowned in the Pitts Homes USRA Modified, Ozark Golf Cars USRA B-Mod and Big O Tires Street Stock divisions on Bill Roberts Chevrolet-Buick Season Championship Night Presented by KTTS.
Drivers will be signing autographs and posing for pictures on the midway at 5 p.m. There also will be raffle tickets sold for a chance to win a ride in the Lucas Oil Two-Seater Late Model. Raffle tickets are $2 each, six for $10 or 12 for $20 with the winner drawn during intermission.
Fans must be 14 years of age or older to participate and if the winner is 14-18 years old, a parental consent form has to be completed and a waiver form signed.
Lucas Oil Speedway Assistant General Manager Danny Lorton, a former driver himself, will give the winner a five-lap blast around the "Diamond of Dirt Tracks" for the memory of a lifetime.
(Police, Fire, Rescue personnel FREE with ID)
Adults (ages 16 and over) $12
Seniors (62 and over)/Military $9
Youth (ages 6-15) $5
Kids (5 and under) FREE
Family pass $25
Pit pass $30
For ticket information on all events at Lucas Oil Speedway in 2018, contact Admission Director Nichole McMillan at (417) 282-5984 or by email at nichole@LucasOilSpeedway.com. Fans also can go online to purchase tickets for any event on the 2018 schedule.
Lucas Oil Speedway General Manager
Office: (417) 282-5984