Derek Kneeland spends the majority of his weekends standing high above race tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit, but on the last weekend of August he will be the one strapped into a race car for the biggest race in his home state.
Kneeland, a native of Windham, Maine, who serves as the eye in the sky for 2014 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson, will return to his home state for the third straight year and attempt to qualify for the 42nd Annual Oxford 250 on August 30.
Unlike the past two seasons, this year Kneeland will not be renting a ride from well-respected car owner Gary Grooks. Instead he decided to go a different path. With the help of his parents and a host of others, he purchased a family-owned car with hopes of making the prestigious Super Late Model race for the second time in his career.
“With not owning a business and really getting a lot of help from Kyle (Larson) and the rest of the drivers I spot for on the NASCAR side, it’s still hard to do that rental program with Crooks even with him giving me a great deal,” Kneeland told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It’s awesome, but if I were to have bad luck and end up getting wrecked, not only would I have to come up with the money to rent the deal, I’d also have to pay to fix the car. That’d be an extra 10 or 15 thousand dollars. That’s just not money that I have right off hand that I’d be willing to spend.
“This year I took a step back and talked to my parents a little bit about it and ran some ideas by them to see what they thought about the idea I had. We decided to buy our own car this year.”
In between his busy schedule traveling with NASCAR’s top-three series, Kneeland tested the new car during a weekly Super Late Model race at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) on June 20. He finished 12th in the race and was very pleased with how well the car performed right off the trailer.
“We ran it on my birthday, June 20 this year at Beech Ridge to shake it down and give me time to get used to it,” Kneeland explained. “It went really, really well. I was going to run it a few weeks ago again when we were in Loudon. After I spotted the XFINITY race for Brennan (Poole) I was going to run up to Beech Ridge and run again, but the race (on June 20) went so well that I didn’t want to take the chance of wrecking it and only having a month’s time to get it fixed before the 250.”
Last Tuesday, Kneeland found the time to test the car at Oxford Plains Speedway in preparation for the Oxford 250 and once again he was very pleased with the car’s performance. Using tires with 50-plus laps on them, he said he was turning 15.6 second laps around the 3/8-mile oval right off the trailer.
At this point he feels optimistic about his chances, but continues to have his sights set on the tough task of just qualifying for the race.
“If it wasn’t for Kyle, Michael Annett, Brandon Jones and his family, Jamie Rouleau and Auto Works Maine and all the sponsors that have come on to help me it wouldn’t be possible,” said Kneeland. “I feel really good about our chances. I told my crew chief (Ted Musgrave, Jr.) while I was running some laps out there at Oxford, I was like, ‘This car feels just as equally as good as the car when I made the 250, if not better.’ I’m hoping when we unload come 250 time that we won’t have to practice too much Friday and Saturday and we’ll be damn good come Sunday.”
Since choosing his career as a spotter, Kneeland has accepted the fact that he isn’t able to do as much racing on his own. But when he does get a chance to race, which lately has been just once or twice each season, he gives it everything he has out on the track and expects drivers to treat him with the same type of respect as they would someone who races full-time.
“When it all comes down to it, I picked my career and stuck through the spotting deal,” said Kneeland. “Now I’ve been able to be successful with it and make it to the top ranks and now I’m cool with just racing once or twice a year but any time I do get that chance I give it 110-percent and I want to be treated just like any other driver out there. If someone is going to beat and bang into me, I’m going to give it right back. Just because I don’t race every week doesn’t mean that people can run all over you.”
Because he spends a lot of his time guiding others around a race track from high above, Kneeland believes he has a unique perspective when he does get back behind the wheel of a race car. But even he admits that sometimes his racing style doesn’t exactly match up with his spotting style.
“Even like my parents after Beech Ridge they’re like, ‘If you just raced like you spotted for people,’” Kneeland said with a laugh. “Thankfully I’ve been able to spot and help out a lot of guys with Kyle and with Brandon (Jones) and those guys. But obviously I didn’t make it far in my racing career. Evidently I just have the eye for it and I’ve been successful to make it this far helping them.
“Once I am able to get in the car it is really neat to think about things like, ‘alright don’t get too anxious on this point’ or ‘make sure you back up your corner.’ I’m always talking to myself about it but sometimes your brain goes to your foot before it goes to your hands and what you need to do. I really try to calculate everything as much as I can and think everything through because it is only one or two races I get to do a year, so you try to do as well as you can with it.”
Like he does whenever he gets the race chance to strap into a race car, Kneeland will attempt to make the most of it and make his second career Oxford 250 start on August 30.
Ticket information and more information on the event can be found by visiting www.oxfordplains.com.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Derek Kneeland Facebook