SOUTH BOSTON, Va. – A bad case of racing fever last winter propelled Kenny Mills Jr. to his first track championship.
Mills captured the Budweiser Hornets Division title at South Boston Speedway behind three wins and a near-constant presence in the top five all season.
“We weren’t even planning on running last year,” the 24-year-old driver said. “I got the fever about a month before the season started. We bought a car and threw it together and took it to the track like it was. We didn’t even have time to paint it.”
Mills, in his second full season in the Hornets, won the fifth race of the season and wound up with three victories and eight top-five finishes in 13 starts on the way to a 16-point win over Todd Garnett.
“We were never the fastest, but it’s not always about speed; it’s about the choices you make on the track,” said Mills.
Mills is a fan of the Hornets Division. He ran in the Pure Stock Division earlier in his career, but when the track opened this affordable, entry-level class a couple of years ago, he moved to it.
“We started running the Hornets at the end of the 2014 season. We had been running in Pure Stock before that. They created this class and we tried it,” said Mills. “We won the first race I tried in the class in 2014. That was actually the first win I had in anything.
“On the average, it’s pretty cheap … if you stay out of wrecks.”
And it can be difficult to avoid wrecks in the Hornets Division.
“If you win in this class, you have to start in the rear in the next race,” said Mills. “You never know what you’re getting into starting in the rear or even in the middle of the pack. It can be chaotic. Anytime we were near the front on the start, we were really good.”
During the stretch run he managed to avoid any serious trouble.
“Eric Winslow (a fellow driver) told me to keep my nose clean and things would be OK. That worked out as the points got closer and the other guys at the top were fighting like mad dogs. We stayed out of it,” said Mills.
Victories and championships are always sweet, but this season was especially sweet for Mills and his family.
“My dad had a big heart attack two years ago. It’s been rough on him. It was good to see a smile on his face this season,” said Mills.
Mills had solid sponsorship support from J and J Farms, Fair Winds Farms, Back Porch Store and Grille and Commonwealth Driver Improvement. One of his biggest supporters and backers wasn’t around to enjoy the season’s successes, though.
Clark Daniel, who backed lower division drivers for years at South Boston, was killed in a tragic ATV accident early in the season. He had been Mills’ mentor from day one.
“Clark had been there the whole way for me. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be in racing; he’s why I got started in racing. I started in racing working on cars with him. He was always there for me. It was difficult when we lost him, but it made us work harder. We wanted this for him,” Mills said of the championship season.
South Boston Speedway will kick off its 60th season on March 25 with the Danville Toyota NASCAR Whelen Late Model Twin 100s, featuring two 100-lap races for the Late Model Stock Division, a 50-lap Limited Sportsman Division race, a 30-lap Budweiser Pure Stock race and a 15-lap Budweiser Hornets race.