Growing up in her hometown of El Reno, Oklahoma, Kenzie Ruston never really experienced the feeling of having to try out for a sports team. So when she went to the NASCAR Drive for Diversity combine in October, she didn’t really know what to expect.
Not only would she be evaluated based upon her on-track performance during the combine held at Langley Speedway (VA), but she would also be evaluated on things such as physical fitness and media relations. Despite her lack of experience in a tryout atmosphere, Ruston impressed those watching with her performance during the combine and earned herself a full-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East ride with Rev Racing for the 2015 season.
For Ruston, who has competed full-time on the K&N Pro Series East circuit during the previous two seasons, the opportunity is one that she is “super excited” about.
“I think it’s really cool what Rev Racing has in mind for this program and I think that it’s really cool that they give us an opportunity to race for free,” Ruston told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. They spend a little bit of money with some help from NASCAR and I think it’s just an awesome opportunity that they give to kids who aren’t quite privileged enough to make it to the next level. I’m really excited to be back in the NASCAR K&N East program.”
Throughout the three-day combine in Virginia, Ruston found herself second guessing herself on occasion. Prior to the combine, she had never driven the type of car (Late Model Stock) that the program would be using to evaluate the drivers on hand. Although she had experience piloting heavy cars with more horsepower, the Late Model Stock Cars presented a challenge to her.
“It was a fun process and I liked it,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of media training with the NASCAR Next program, so I felt like I was pretty good with that stuff but I’ve never been behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock Car before. That was totally different for me. I come from Super Late Models, so driving a Late Model Stock was totally different for me. It got me a little bit out of my comfort zone.”
Overall, the process of the combine was one that Ruston enjoyed significantly despite the pressure that she felt at times. With 20 talented drivers competing for just five spots, she knew that one mistake could make or break her chances of returning to a K&N East ride this year.
“It gives you a little bit more added pressure,” Ruston said. “Maybe with me it’s just because I’ve been in the K&N East Series for the last two years. I feel like I’ve set all of these goals for women in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and it felt like an added pressure for me. It felt like I was expected to do well and maybe I was one of the frontrunners going into it. I’m really competitive, so that really drives me to do better.”
Heading into the 2015 season with Rev Racing, Ruston is hoping for a breakout year with a team that puts a heavy focus on taking diverse drivers to victory lane. She has seven top-five finishes in 30 career starts and hopes to improve on that with the support of Rev Racing and crew chief Mark Green.
“This team is just really cool because of how much they want female and diverse drivers to win,” said Ruston. “I feel like that’s their biggest goal to have females and diverse people win in NASCAR. I think that’s a really cool aspect for their race team.”
Ruston will kick off her first season with Rev Racing on February 15 during the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East opener at New Smyrna Speedway (FL).
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com