JACKSONVILLE, Ill. – The end of May traditionally signals the start of summer, but over the weekend at Jacksonville Speedway, it also marked the start of a big learning curve for Toyota Racing Development driver Jesse Love.
Love, the 14-year-old native of Menlo Park, Calif., who was tabbed by Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports for a partial midget slate at the start of the year, finally got his summer stretch with the team underway during the kickoff to Jacksonville Speedway’s Summer Midget Series on May 31.
The teenager had previously attempted to kick off his KKM tenure at Jacksonville on April 20, but that attempt was washed out by rain as part of a series of weather-related postponements and cancellations that plagued Love through the middle and latter stages of the spring.
Love eventually made his first start in a KKM midget on May 10 at Belle-Clair Speedway, but failed to finish after issues during the feature. Friday at Jacksonville was his second appearance with the team.
“We were just glad to get a whole night in without a worry about rain,” Love told SPEED SPORT. “It’s been so bad, weather-wise … we had 10 midget races on the schedule already and eight of them have rained out. It’s been difficult to get track time, so just to be at Jacksonville for a whole show was vital.”
The race at the quarter-mile bullring ended in a solid finish for Love, but it started off with a wild moment during hot laps after his No. 97k JBL/Bullet-Toyota flipped in turn one on his first lap at speed.
Love was uninjured in the spill, but the team had to put together a backup car for the rest of the night, a moment that he reflected on with a brief chuckle after the fact.
“Honestly, my first thought was, ‘dang, I’m getting pretty high up,’” admitted Love of his airtime during hot laps. “It was all on me, though. I just messed up trying to prove something, over drove the car and got in the fluff. From there, it was on. It was a big tumble, one of the bigger ones I’ve had, but I wasn’t about to let it get me down. I knew we had to get right back on the horse and keep getting after it.”
Love did exactly that, rallying back to a fourth-place finish come feature time and running as high as third late in the race, behind only eventual winner Jason McDougal and teammate Jesse Colwell.
“I missed a slide job for second in the final laps and gave away a few spots; if I’d been able to complete that move the right way, I honestly think we had a shot at the win,” said Love. “This is still a confidence-building race for me, though. It’s only night two with this team and we’re already getting comfortable with one another, so the more we keep building that rapport, the results will come, I believe.”
All in all, the California teenager is simply happy to finally be able to start building his midget notebook after an early season stretch filled with Legend car, late model and sprint car racing on the West Coast.
“It feels good,” said Love of starting to learn the midget. “I had to rally pretty hard at Jacksonville, so I’m pretty happy with the results. I was a bit timid at first, but once we got the car going, I felt like I could really get after it. I learned a ton, so I’m happy.
“I learned a lot of great lessons at Jacksonville, and I’m looking forward to continuing to get better every time out with this team.”
Love’s next challenge with KKM will be POWRi’s annual Illinois Speed Week, which runs from June 12-16.