No Change Of Heart For Kasey Kahne

Kristina LaFountainContributor IJanuary 9, 2010

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13:  Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, waits by his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 13, 2009 in Avondale, AZ.  (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)
Darrell Ingham/Getty Images

As he was embarking on his racing career at an early age, Kasey Kahne was given some very important advice from the person that knows him best. “Don’t ever let your heart change,” said Tammy Kahne, mom of driver Kasey Kahne. Today the advice remains the same although much has changed for Kahne upon becoming one of the most popular drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

We all know that mom knows best, although NASCAR representatives would probably disagree. In light of the current economic downturn, along with declining television ratings and ticket sales, it is perhaps more important now than ever to find new ways to keep fans interested.

Several sports media outlets as well as NASCAR drivers and personalities have eluded to the fact that Jimmie Johnson’s stagnating fan base is due to the lack of personality in NASCAR – that is, what you see in pre- and post-race interviews is all that you see. This is pretty much the only place where fans are allowed a glimpse into the personality of their favorite driver.  

However, it seems as though drivers and those who back them are finally discovering that in order to gain and maintain fans, this is simply not enough.

The release of “The Rise of Kahne” is perhaps a prime example of a new way of reaching fans.

The documentary DVD, narrated by country music star and friend of Kasey Kahne, Dierks Bentley, follows Kahne’s strives and struggles as he races his way through the ranks from short-track racing to the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.

“What I like most about the DVD is that it made me reflect back about all the things that happened over the years trying to make it to NASCAR,” said Kahne. “It captures not only the good times, but also the bad times that are a big part of what everybody in this sport experiences.”

Mom, Tammy Kahne, echoes this saying that Kahne does not try to be someone who he isn’t. “Everyone has a bad day,” she says and that is something with which everyone can relate.

Kasey Kahne has no doubt experienced the ups and downs that come with being one of the most recognizable names in NASCAR. The 2009 season marked a year of great change in his career, his team, as well as in Kahne himself.

Kahne’s talent and love for motorsports became apparent at a very early age when he began racing in his home state of Washington. Such accomplishments as becoming the USAC Midget Series Champion and National Midget Driver of the Year would not go unnoticed by NASCAR, as well as former crew chief Ray Evernham.

In 2009 and what was his sixth full season in NASCAR, Kahne found himself in the Chase for the Cup for the second time, has had a top point standings finish of eighth, four poles in his rookie season alone and was named the 2004 Nextel Cup Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year.

Although this was all accomplished under the same program, the team has undergone several changes since Kahne’s debut.

Before the beginning of the 2009 season, Gillett Evernham Motorsports announced that it would merge with Petty Enterprises to form Richard Petty Motorsports.

Throughout the season, Kahne and his team made much advancement. Kahne made the Chase for the Cup for the first time since 2006 and brought the team to victory lane twice, one of which marked the first road course win of his career. He also managed to earn seven top-five finishes and 14 top-10 finishes.

Perhaps the most notable accomplishment came with his win in June at Infineon Raceway in California in which Kahne brought "The King," Richard Petty, to victory lane for the first time since 1998.

In what seemed to be the most productive season since his rookie year and just when it seemed that Kahne finally got his groove back, RPM announced plans to merge with the Yates team for the 2010 season and make a switch from Dodge to Ford.

In a sport in which relationships hold great value and importance, be it with crew members, teammates, sponsors, or fans, ending his long-time relationship with Dodge will no doubt prove difficult for Kahne.

However, despite all of the change that has occurred throughout his season, career, and even personal life, mom Tammy Kahne is quick to explain that some things have always remained the same – Kahne’s heart and humbleness.

“He is who he is,” she says.

Perhaps these very qualities, in addition to his obvious talent, are what have helped Kahne to attract such a loyal fan base.

And with the release of “The Rise of Kahne” DVD, fans have been given the rare opportunity to catch a 90-minute glimpse into Kahne’s life on and off the track and learn what it takes to be successful in one of the world’s most popular sports, while still remaining humble.    

When asked to come up with her own New Year’s resolution for her son, Tammy Kahne said, “I would want things to be better for him on the track.”

She further explains that she has been around the sport for a long time and stresses that you need a car, a crew, and a racecar driver all working together in order for things to run smoothly. “It’s a team,” she says.

After driving behind the wheel for nearly half of his life, Kasey Kahne, perhaps better than most, knows just how true this is.

Change has been an operative word throughout the past few seasons of his career and it will remain this way even after the possible merge with Yates.

Although Kasey Kahne’s future may seem uncertain, with the possibility of a different team, a different car and a different engine, one thing is certain and that is that the heart of the driver will always remain the same.