The list of race winners in a Sprint Car at Iowa’s Knoxville Speedway is basically a who’s who of Sprint Car racing. Steve Kinser, Donny Schatz, Danny Lasoski, Joey Saldana, Kyle Larson and so many more famous names have won at the “Sprint Car Capital of the World.” But something that was noticeably absent from the list of race winners was the name of a female driver. That changed on Saturday night when McKenna Haase crossed under the checkered flag at the legendary race track in a 305 Sprint Car.
“Last year we came so close to winning, but finished second,” Haase told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “So it was my goal to beat my highest finish and win at Knoxville.”
The 18-year-old driver from Des Moines, Iowa achieved that goal in her 15-lap feature, but she’s still having a hard time grasping that fact.
“The further we get away from it the more it’s starting to sink in,” Haase said. “It’s like time is flying by and while I’m all about going fast, I’d like to push the pause button on this one. I feel like I’ve said this 30 times, but I still don’t think I’ve been able to see the whole race or watch it that closely. If I can finally eventually sit down and watch the whole thing that’ll help it sink in.”
Haase started third but got to the lead by the halfway mark in a race plagued by cautions. She explained that all of the restarts were extremely “nerve-wracking,” but the most stressful one came with just four laps to go.
“I just kept telling myself that the race wasn’t over yet and to hang on because I was getting tired,” she said. “I just tried to make the most out of the last four laps and enjoy every second of being out front. And we made it.”
The days since the race have been a whirlwind for Haase. She’s done a number of interviews for newspapers as well as a couple television appearances. She also graduated from Carlisle High School in Carlisle, Iowa on Sunday afternoon as valedictorian of her class. Sleep is something that has escaped Haase since the weekend began, but she’s okay with that.
“I was pretty tired by the time we finally got to graduation,” said Haase. “I was chosen to speak and I was pretty nervous I was going to mess something up from being so tired from the night before and with all that was going on. It went really well and it was a great graduation.”
Haase explained that even though her school is so close to the heart of Sprint Car racing, the topic isn’t too popular inside the halls of her school. But even still, many of her friends knew about the win on Saturday night, and it was the talk of the graduation ceremony on Sunday.
“I had to miss a bunch of parties on Saturday night,” Haase said. “All my friends were crushed that I couldn’t come to their graduation parties, so I texted them all telling them I’d try to pull off a win for them. They were very happy when I texted them that night telling them I’d won.”
For those that didn’t receive a text message on Saturday night, there were some clues at the ceremony that helped them learn what had happened.
“We had two news stations and one newspaper at graduation,” said Haase. “I think that for people that didn’t know what happened Saturday, that’s how they figured it out. My classmates were all really happy for me and were giving me hugs and everything like that.”
Haase has been racing for five years now. She began racing when she was 13 in an Outlaw kart. Winning at Knoxville has been a dream that she has had since the day she started her racing career.
“I screamed as I crossed the finish line,” Haase said. “It was a moment that I pictured every night of my life for the last four years. Every night that’s what I pictured. Not a day went by that I wouldn’t think about that moment and what it would be like making that right turn into victory lane at Knoxville. To actually get to do it, and on the most perfect night is beyond belief. I still haven’t really processed all of it.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor -Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Studio 92 Photo