It wasn’t that long ago that Jake and Deanna Carswell were like most racing fans.
But simply sitting in the grandstands, watching races across the southeast, wasn’t enough for the young couple from Woodstock, Ga., who promote Christian music concerts around the country.
“We race for fun; it’s a side business,” Jake Carswell said. “When we’re not busy working with music, we race. It’s a blessed life we live. We try to have fun with it.”
In 13 seasons, there has been plenty of fun. Carswell Motorsports has built an impressive resume of victories and drivers inside the Jody Ridley-inspired No. 98 Super Late Model.
From Southern Super Series and Deep South Crane Rental Blizzard Series championships to wins at the south’s most storied short tracks, the Carswells’ late model program has been a perennial contender weekly for more than a dozen years.
With a new driver behind the steering wheel, it will once again be one to watch this Friday at Five Flags Speedway when the Blizzard Series resumes with its third of four 100-lap features.
“We were friends with Jody Ridley’s family, and when he retired, we decided to give it a shot,” Jake Carswell, 41, said. “We’ve been doing ever since.”
Quite well, too, no matter who’s been in the seat.
Justin Wakefield, a former World Crown 400 winner, got the program off to a roaring beginning for nine seasons before NASCAR young guns Ryan Blaney and Daniel Hemric continued to routinely carry the torch to Victory Lane.
Ross Kenseth, son of Sprint Cup Series superstar Matt Kenseth, is the latest driver to hop behind the steering wheel of the No. 98.
Kenseth takes over for Hemric, who left the seat late last month to focus more on his Camping World Trucks Series program with NTS Motorsports.
“I’m real excited,” Kenseth said. “When Jake called me, it was a no-brainer. I was happy to come onboard.
“There’s not that many owners out there that put people in a quality car like the Carswells do. I think what this sport needs is more owners like them to build it back up at the short track level.”
In addition to the SLM 100 lapper, the Pro Trucks (25), Sportsman (25 laps) and Bombers (20 laps) will battle it out Friday night.
Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday and admission is $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, military and students; $5 for children ages 6 to 11; free for kids under 6.
Hemric seemed to be managing both programs quite well before his sudden departure. He grabbed a Southern Super Series win earlier this year in Nashville and had earned a top-five in 10 trucks starts.
During the offseason, the Carswells anticipated there might be some pushback in 2015, as Hemric pursued a trucks deal.
But, once the calendar rolled over, it seemed those fears were laid to rest.
“Once we got schedules, we laid them both out, and it all just fit,” Jake Carswell said. “The trucks team approved it at that point. It was a good deal. I don’t know what changed.
“It definitely blindsided us. I wish the best for Daniel as he pursues his dream to make it to Cup, but it caught us off guard when all of a sudden in the middle of the season, (the trucks team) pulls the plug on us.”
Carswell wasn’t on the ropes long. He reached out to Kenseth almost immediately, and the two friends ironed out an agreement in time for the Redbud 300 last weekend at Anderson, Ind.
Kenseth made his new owners beam with pride by swiping the pole against a loaded field that included Hemric, who was a last-minute replacement for another team.
“Both have tons of experience,” Carswell said of Kenseth and Hemric. “The biggest concern was can Ross goes fast? Will it feel right to Ross? So far, one race out, the similar setups work just fine.
“We’ll have a better feel after this weekend. It might take some adjustments for Ross to compete for wins, but we know we can run in the top-five this weekend. We’re just fortunate to have such a good driver like Ross.”
Kenseth, the one-time Clemson engineering student, is optimistic about his chances this weekend despite angering the racing gods in previous stops at the famed half-mile asphalt oval.
“I feel like we’ve run good there numerous times,” said Kenseth, who boasts one top-five in six Snowball Derby starts. “A lotta years, we just had bad luck or something broke. Now, I’ve got guys that are great to work with and build real fast cars. So, I’m happy to be the one driving.”
So are the Carswells.
-By Chuck Corder/Five Flags Speedway
-Photo credit: Speed51.com