In this era of 24/7 social media, fans know more about their on-track heroes than at any other time in the history of auto racing.
As a result, when SPEED SPORT asked social-media savvy sprint car racer McKenna Haase to reveal one thing fans probably don’t know about her, the 23-year-old Iowa native initially struggled to find an answer.
“Nobody really gets a view of what goes on behind closed doors. Yes, I always try to stay positive; yes, I always try to put a smile on my face and market my sponsors well, and carry myself to the best of my ability. But at the end of the day, this is my 10th anniversary in racing and it’s been the hardest road and biggest battle to fight,” she finally responded. “The one thing people don’t know about me is everything I’ve had to overcome to get to where I am today. There have been a lot of hurdles I’ve had to overcome and challenges I’ve had to face that have been traumatic, heartbreaking and difficult.
“But the fight’s been worth it even thought I think I could have chosen a lot of different paths that would have been a lot more promising — I could have gone into the finance world and probably had a secure job,” Haase continued. “Instead, I’m chasing this crazy dream of being a professional race car driver. I’m 100 percent confident that was God’s plan for my life. It’s shown to be true with the incredible people I’ve met and how things have fallen into place since I moved to Indy. At the end of the day, it’s never been easy and I think I’ve had to work a lot harder than some people realize.”
That hard work began after a chance meeting with NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne at a Nashville shopping mall when Haase was in third grade.
“After meeting Kasey, I fell in love with NASCAR. I went to watch Kasey race at Iowa Speedway and there was a display for Slideways Karting Center in Knoxville. I started going to Slideways and that’s obviously how I found out about Knoxville Raceway. I started going to watch at Knoxville in 2009 as a fan and kept doing the Slideways thing,” Haase recalled. “I joined the men’s league there when I was 11 years old and we’d compete every Thursday.
“I grew up in a small town called Carlisle and there was a little ice cream shop there. In the ice cream shop, there was a picture of a little boy in a race car. My cousin at the time had started racing junior sprint cars, so it caught my attention,” she continued. “But my parents had told me the only race track in the world for kids was in Oklahoma where my cousin raced. They basically lied because they didn’t want me to be a race car driver. I believed them until I saw this picture in the ice cream shop and that’s when I thought there was more than one race track in the world.
“I did this six-month investigation at the age of 12 to track down this race track. I could never figure out exactly where this track was or what it was called. One day, I was at Slideways and my grandparents were talking about my cousin’s track in Oklahoma and the guy working at Slideways said, ‘That must be like English Creek Speedway.’ I said, ‘What did you just say?’ He said, ‘English Creek Speedway that dirt track south of town where the kids race,” Haase continued. “I went home, googled it and started going there to watch. It was an outlaw kart race track south of Knoxville.
“I eventually met the track owner and he was really impressed with my knowledge of the race cars and how much I had learned on my own. He told me I could drive his grandson’s car. I went down one night after the races and did that. I pretty much went full throttle and ran the thing out of gas after like 40 laps. I had saved up $800 cash when I was 12 and put that toward buying a race car. My dad helped me get the rest of it and then I went out and got a bunch of sponsors to fund my first couple of seasons.”
At age 13, Haase became a team owner, marketing representative and race car driver. She worked her way through the outlaw kart ranks and then found success in micro sprints.
In 2014, Haase advanced to the 305 winged sprint car division at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway, where she was an instant fan favorite. The following season she became the first female driver to win a feature in the long and storied history of the legendary half-mile dirt track. After multiple feature victories in both the 305 and 360 divisions at Knoxville, Haase was a rookie in the track’s 410 class this season.
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