SALISBURY, N.C. — When the idea for the Keith Kunz Motorsports Giveback Classic was first formed in 2018, its eponymous creator hoped the event would provide opportunities for racers who might not have the means to procure a major-league ride.
The inaugural Giveback Classic did just that, as Jesse Colwell — who won the headlining outlaw kart feature that year at North Carolina’s Millbridge Speedway — earned the grand prize of a KKM ride at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
Colwell turned heads during the 2019 Chili Bowl, putting his name in the spotlight and ultimately converting that one race into a full season with the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League. He went on to capture the series championship and has since raced midgets throughout the Midwest.
The Giveback Classic went on hiatus in 2019, replaced by the TRD Micro Showdown, but returns this year for a second edition Nov. 3-4 at Millbridge.
Kunz hopes that that this year’s running of the Giveback Classic, just as it did for Colwell in 2018, will afford another driver with a similar chance to shine.
This year’s race will feature non-winged 600cc micro sprints, as opposed to winged outlaw karts, and the field is open to drivers from across the nation — regardless of their racing experience.
The winner of Wednesday’s 67-lap feature will receive $5,000 and a seat with KKM during the 2021 Chili Bowl, or $15,000 if the winner declines the Chili Bowl ride.
With a loaded field of drivers expected to compete at the sixth-mile dirt track next week, Kunz is optimistic the action for the second Giveback Classic will be even greater than the first.
“This race is something I think we’d like to do every year, but it’s kind of hard to do that,” Kunz admitted. “We’re glad to bring it back this year, though. After the first year when Jesse Colwell won and we were able to keep him on for the whole year and give him a whole season there, those are the kinds of things that we love to be able to do for young drivers and developing drivers. Jesse ended up winning the POWRi championship, so that was good. Then it was just time to sit back and think about how to do this again and what to do to make it even better.
“We came up with the idea of the micros, which have really, really been growing … and a lot of kids coming into midgets are making that transition from micros to midgets,” Kunz added. “Jeremy and Ashly (Burnett) started a micro program here at Milbridge last year and it really, really grew this year. When we decided to do this, we got some really good response. I think we’re going to have a good turnout.”
Of Kunz’s current crop of midget drivers, five of them — Cannon McIntosh, Daison Pursley, Kaylee Bryson, Bryant Wiedeman and Brenham Crouch — cut their teeth racing micro sprints. All five are expected to compete in the Giveback Classic.
It’s something Kunz has noticed more and more as he’s developed drivers in the past few years and the micro sprint aspect of this year’s Giveback Classic is something Kunz believes will further elevate the event.
“It really has been something we’ve had a lot of recently,” said Kunz of a micro flavor within his organization. “All the way from Daison to Kaylee Bryson to Brenham Crouch now and Bryant Wiedeman … there are just a lot of kids that are all coming out of micros and looking into midgets. The micro thing has gotten so big and has so many big races now that we thought it was just ideal to be a part of that and have a big race.
“I think everybody’s really looking forward to this. Being at Millbridge, you know, there’s a mystique about it, and being here near Charlotte and in NASCAR country, everybody from all over the country is really looking forward to getting down here in front of some important eyes for a big micro race,” Kunz continued. “The micros, they race big everywhere, in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Oklahoma and California. So to be able to come down here and showcase everybody in North Carolina is huge.”
With a healthy field expected for the two-day showcase, as well as a number of micro drivers who are below the minimum age of 16 that is required to compete at the Chili Bowl, Kunz hopes the alternative reward of a $15,000 winner’s payday will help change a racer’s career regardless of whether or not that driver accepts the Chili Bowl ride with KKM.
“We’ve done it a little different this year, because the micros are the headline class and there’s a lot of young kids who are under 16 that can’t run the Chili Bowl,” Kunz explained. “Everybody wants to run this thing, from Kyle Larson to Christopher Bell … so we opened it up this year to everybody and anybody, and we made it a $5,000-to-win race with a $10,000 bonus if the winner decides not to do the Chili Bowl, because some of these guys do already have good Chili Bowl rides. That was why we decided to put both options out there and let anybody be able to run it.
“We think that will attract a few more people and make for a really cool show next week.”