Many drivers have climbed into a race car convinced they were the bravest soul in the land only to blink the moment they enter Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.
It seems that each night the contenders and pretenders are sorted out within minutes after hot laps begin. Beyond battling the fear factor, a heightened level of pressure is found here. Every event at Eldora commands widespread attention and the scrutiny rises commensurate with the prestige of the race.
By any measure the 4-Crown Nationals qualifies as a high-profile event. With participants from the three USAC national tours, the World of Outlaws and the All Star Circuit of Champions on the grounds, the reputation of a racer, particularly a newcomer, can quickly be polished or tarnished.
Ayrton Gennetten had never turned a lap at the legendary half-mile oval but arrived anxious to compete. This was a breakout year for the third-generation driver and with successful and respected crew chief Chad Morgan at his side he felt equal to the task.
While his relationship with his new charge was still relatively fresh, Morgan sized up Gennetten quickly.
“He does not struggle with confidence,” Morgan said with a laugh. “He is confident in what he is capable of doing and sure of himself. That’s actually a great thing. It is good to race with somebody who is ready to rip, someone who says I can beat these guys and I’m ready to go. I told his dad that this is the easy part for me because he walks a fine line between cockiness and confidence. If he steps over that line, we try to slap him back a little bit and mess with him, but not too much because you need that kind of confidence as a racer.”
Bravado aside, Morgan understands the challenge that Eldora presents for a driver.
“I haven’t won at Eldora yet,” Morgan said. “But typically when Brownie (Brian Brown) and I went there we were always in the hunt. Our cars were quick and I had a pretty good idea that when we went there, we were going to be close. I didn’t want to build it up too much, but minus one or two drivers you had the Kings Royal (field) there. You had the Outlaws and the All Stars and everybody that was anybody was going to be there. So, I said let’s be humble and focus on just making the show.”
It was a reasonable goal and Gennetten did a lot more than that. He felt he left a bit on the table with an eighth-place run with the Outlaws but was far more satisfied when he chased Rico Abreu and Parker Price-Miller to the checkered flag with the All Stars the following night.
One thing was for certain, by the time the team loaded up and headed back to Missouri, Gennetten’s stock had gone up substantially. Morgan summed up the weekend’s work.
“What he did there was impressive,” Morgan said. “Not many guys go there who haven’t seen the place and get a feel for it and put themselves in contention that quick. You just don’t see it.”
By all accounts Gennetten appears to have the necessary ingredients to stay in this game for some time.
He figures that his lot in life was established at birth.
“I have a name made for racing,” Gennetten said. “I have a legacy with my last name and an F-1 world champion’s first name. I had better be good in a race car.”
Even open-wheel fans who pay scant heed to what happens at places like Silverstone or Monaco know the legend of Ayrton Senna. While the Gennetten family may not have the same instant name recognition, they have also made a deep mark in the sport.
It seems fair to suggest that Gennetten’s grandfather Gene has never been given proper due for his remarkable prowess in open-wheel cars. When his career hit high gear the Kansas City area racing scene was in a bit of a transition.
Olympic Stadium which rested east of downtown Kansas City was a hotbed of midget racing for decades. Historians often note this as the place where A. J. Foyt scored his first USAC win in 1957. Yet, by the late 1960s the powerful supermodifieds held sway over the tight bullring. While a host of future Hall of Fame drivers would succeed in midgets at Olympic, the same was true in the supermodified and sprint car era.
The famed Weld family made the short tow from their shop to try and take the cash, but they were forced to match wits with the likes of Ray Lee Goodwin, Dick Sutcliffe and local legend Junior Hower.