BY ALLEN GREGORY BRISTOL HERALD COURIER
The traditional way to earn respect in the world of motorsport is to work long hours and make personal sacrifices on the short circuit.
Bluff City’s Alex Keith knows the grueling process of paying dues, but this Kingsport Speedway competitor’s story has a twist.
From age 17 to 28, Keith juggled two jobs while learning the basics of speed through the world of karting.
“Thank goodness I only have one job now, but I always stay busy,” Keith said.
As well as working as a business consultant at Wallace Imports of Bristol, Tennessee, Keith, 33, races in the Sportsman class at Kingsport and owns the Late Model car driven by Kingsport’s Glen Peery.
“I love sports,” Keith said. “When I was growing up, my dad and I would watch NASCAR races on TV and the colors of Jeff Gordon’s car really caught my eye. Things took off from there.”
At 18, Keith made his karting debut at Beechnut Raceway in Blountville.
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“I started out going on the track alone,” Keith said. “I raced at Beechnut for two years before it closed, then went to various go-kart tracks. I even drove a front-wheel-drive car on the dirt at Wythe Raceway.
Keith followed this learning routine on the go while creating a success story with the McDonald’s restaurant chain.
An entry-level position as a crew member at the Blountville site turned into a management position a year later. Keith was only 17 at the time.
“I worked at McDonald’s for 14 years and spent time in all of the Tri-Cities locations,” Keith said. “I was eventually promoted to a corporate supervisory position in Asheville.”
Keith said he was forced to take a three-year break from racing due to a lack of finances. Inspired by his rise at McDonald’s, Keith has since charted an ambitious path.
He finished third in the Sportsman Division points standings last year at Kingsport and has been a regular part of the show this season along with two of his colleagues.
Perry is the shop foreman at Wallace, while crew member Teddy Testerman is a sales and rental consultant with Keith.
“Racing takes a lot of dedication and time,” Keith said. “But I love coming here every Friday and seeing all the fans.”
The main obstacle for Keith this season concerns a case of the new car blues.
“We just haven’t been able to figure out what my car likes in terms of handling,” Keith said. “I guess my biggest flaw is that I’m a bit too patient and way too nice on the track. I have to find a way to be more brutal.
Keith’s winning personality and fluid marketing skills paid off. He was able to attract 11 sponsors between his two cars.
“It’s important to network and reach people, especially in races,” Keith said.
Part of Keith’s outreach process has been to give back to the sport. He helps sponsor go-kart prodigy Everett Larson of Mendota.
And Keith recently expanded his own efforts by purchasing a car to compete in Wythe Raceway’s modified division.
“It would be great to move on to the ARCA or NASCAR Truck Series one day,” Keith said.
For now, the former basketball player and Sullivan East High School graduate continues to pay his motorsport fees.
“I’ve come a long way from karting and those days of watching races with my dad,” Keith said. “I want to keep pushing forward and I will jump at any opportunity that comes my way.”
PIT STOPS: With over 400 competitors from across the country, the NHRA Junior Dragster Eastern Conference Finals at Bristol Dragway ranks as the equivalent of the Little League World Series drag race for the baseball. Teams actually started arriving in Thunder Valley last Friday for the Mike Box Chassis Craft event, which will continue through Thursday with some fun racing. The Eastern Conference Finals, which officially begin today, wrap up Saturday with championships up for grabs in eight age categories from 6-17. … Friday’s schedule at Kingsport Speedway includes a pair of late model races. Current Kingsport point guards are Kres Vandyke (Late Model) of Abingdon, Austin Walters (Sportsman) of Greeneville, Rob Austin (Street Stock) of Castlewood, Kevin Canter (Mod 4) of Abingdon and Brayden Powers of Church Hill in Pure 4. … The mighty Super Late Model class will be on show at Wythe Raceway on Saturday with the Food Country USA Schaeffer Summer Nationals. The $10,000 event up for grabs is part of a 12-race series that opens Friday at Beckley Motor Speedway in West Virginia and continues through July 30 at Tazewell Speedway in Tennessee. … Kingsport motocross racer Kevin Walker added to his record-breaking legacy last Sunday at the Tennessee State Championships at Muddy Creek Raceway in Blountville. Ignoring the lingering rain showers and mud, Walker, 52, won the 35, 45 and 50 age categories. Sixteen-year-old prodigy Matti Jorgensen Jr. (Pompano Beach, Fla.) swept the 250 and 450 Pro divisions. The list of local winners included Clay Shelton (450D) from Coeburn and Eddie Branch, 62, from Bristol. At Saturday’s Mega Series event at Muddy Creek, Walker recorded four wins. Hans Neel of Piney Flats took the 450 Pro victory while Cory Thornsberry (Bluff City) finished second in the 250 Pro behind Caleb Carter of Leicester, NC.
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