EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of a feature on Kevin Huntley from the August 2020 edition of Sprint Car & Midget Magazine.
To have the inside information on how things went down, you probably had to be a first-hand witness, because Kevin Huntley offers only the vaguest of hints about his teenage years.
It leaves one to guess, however, that they were – to say the least – colorful.
When asked which of the two major Bloomington, Ind., high schools he attended, without any hesitation he said, “Both of them. I graduated from Bloomington South, because North didn’t invite me back for my senior year.”
As for his first days in a sprint car, he added with a laugh, “My dad bought it to give me something to do so I wouldn’t get in trouble.”
The great irony here is that today, Huntley is as hard a worker as you will find, and now owns two successful businesses.
His former teachers at Bloomington North – and South – should be proud of him.
There was almost no way around it, Huntley was destined to get involved in racing. His father tooled stock cars around Bloomington Speedway, and one of his best pals was the late Sheldon Kinser.
Rex Huntley was a plumber by trade but, in his son’s words, “He is one of those guys who does this, and that.”
One of the things he did was co-own a radiator shop with Kinser. He would eventually buy Sheldon out and turn the property into a motorcycle salvage lot. Motorcycles also captured his son’s fancy, and soon he was racing two-wheelers.
It was an endeavor, Kevin admitted, his parents “absolutely hated.”
When Karlene and Rex Huntley put their heads together they decided that, while sprint cars could be dangerous, they were still more palatable than what Kevin was doing now.
With the help of Sheldon Kinser, Rex was able to find a suitable car for his son to try.
“It was a 302,” he recalled. “It was an old USAC car, because that’s what they used at the time. It wasn’t much. Dad brought it home and said, ‘Here you go.’ So I’m looking at an old race car I have never seen before, and I think, ‘What do I do now?’ I have always been pretty mechanically-inclined, but I didn’t really know anything about a sprint car.
“So, I had to figure it out.”
In 1984 he was ready to go and, as a final touch, his nickname was painted on the car. He was called “The Pup” by nearly everyone who knew him.
When pressed on how this name came to be, with his characteristic humor he said, “They had several names for me, but that was the only one that could be said in public.”
His career journey began when Rex and Kevin towed the car to Lincoln Park Speedway. Why that was chosen as the place for his first race remains unclear.
What is crystal clear is what transpired.
“I thought I was really something,” he said with a laugh. “They dropped the green flag, and I was like, what just happened?”
He was dead last before the field had made it to the first turn. His tale is hardly unusual.
Seat time was most important in his first year, and by the midpoint of the 1985 season trained eyes could see Huntley had some talent. He knew he still needed some help, and he got it from a known source.
Jerry Rone was one of the most accomplished mechanics in the area and, for him, sprint cars were a whole lot more interesting than classwork.
In his high school years, he spent considerable time in detention and, when there, he was assisted by a classmate who served as a teacher’s aide.
Rone must have taken a liking to her, because he took the time to introduce her to Rex Huntley, destined to be her future husband.
Jerry, in turn, took an interest in Kevin, and tried to help him get his sprint car operation headed in the right direction. In 1985, particularly after Rone came onboard, he had a slew of top-five runs. In his estimation, he should have won a race or two.
“I really didn’t have very good equipment that second year,” he recalled. “It was OK for the time, but it wasn’t anything special. That winter we bought a good car and Jerry built us a really good engine, and that was a big part of the success we had. I thought he was going to stay on and help me, but he went to work for Galen Fox. He lived just down the road from me, and I could call him and he could coach me along.”
It all paid off. The results were even more impressive because it was his deal.
“I was 100 percent responsible,” he said. “Day and night. I did have some guys help me. Barry Frye, a long and dear friend, drove the truck and helped us do anything. Jeff Peterson, who just recently passed away, was there. He was a really young kid at the time, I think he was 15. I would have to go pick him up.
“Tim Wilkerson, former racer Butch Wilkerson’s son, hung out with us too. Jerry built the engine, but I maintained it. I took it apart, freshened it and all that good stuff.”
He won his first race at Bloomington and just started rolling. In the end, he was the champion at both Bloomington and Lawrenceburg. Clearly he was ready to branch out. He made his first trip to Eldora, a track that would provide some vivid memories.
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