KNOXVILLE, Iowa – McKenna Haase recently became the latest in a sequence of auto-racing drivers to participate in NBC’s American Ninja Warrior television series, an experience she’s since called “unforgettable.”
Haase, who frequents Knoxville Raceway as a 360 sprint car driver and became the first female in history to win a feature at the half-mile oval, followed in the footsteps of NASCAR and Indy car stars as a participant on the show, which features obstacle courses designed to challenge athletes of all types.
The program boasts a $1 million prize if a Ninja Warrior athlete can make it to the finals of the show and successfully navigate all four phases of the grand-finale course.
Ryan Blaney and Ben Kennedy represented NASCAR on the program two years ago, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. tried his hand at the ninja course twice, in both 2016 and 2017.
NTT IndyCar Series regulars Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan – as well as part-time Indy car drivers Helio Castroneves and Conor Daly – have also tried to beat the clock on ANW.
Haase, however, is the first dirt open-wheel driver to make an American Ninja Warrior appearance.
While that’s a title she takes pride in, Haase was quick to note that it’s not just about being the first to do something for her, much like when she won at Knoxville for the first time. Instead, it’s about passion.
“Obviously I started training to get better for racing, but once I started doing Ninja Warrior training, and getting better at it … my goal became to make it on the show,” Haase told SPEED SPORT. “A lot of that comes down to sacrifice. I know there were a lot of professional drivers who tried going on the show over the last few years, but a lot of them don’t do Ninja as training full time, at least that I know of.”
That’s one aspect of Haase’s journey to the Ninja Warrior stage that makes her attempt unique.
“For me, the sport of Ninja itself is something that I’m really passionate about and really enjoy doing,” she said. “It’s kind of like racing. As a driver, you don’t want to miss the biggest races of the year, and that’s what this show is for Ninja. There are competitions across the country, but American Ninja Warrior is kind of like the Granddaddy of Them All.”
It’s fitting then, that Haase slipped in that Knoxville Nationals parallel into her recollection of her Ninja Warrior experience. She views both sports as having different aspects that aid one another.
“Everyone said that when I went to the show and stood on the platform, my heart was going to be beating out of my chest,” Haase said. “I tried to mentally prepare myself and stay as calm as possible, and I waited six hours in the holding tank beforehand. … A lot of that focus and the knowledge that you only get one shot are things that translate back into the race car, even though we have more races in a given season to get things right.
“I think that focus on hitting my marks, without overthinking anything, is a parallel that I can definitely utilize in both sports. They definitely have different things that cross over between the two, for sure.”
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