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January 8, 2019

Lucas Oil Speedway Offseason Spotlight: 12 questions with ULMA Late Model driver Kaeden Cornell

Kaeden Cornell
Kaeden Cornell finished just seven points behind Johnny Fennewald in the 2108 Lucas Oil Speedway Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA Late Model points chase. (Kenny Shaw photo)

WHEATLAND, Missouri (January 8, 2019) - Kaeden Cornell admits that life is good. The 18-year-old is enjoying his senior year at Willard High School, where he's a shooting guard/small forward for the school's successful basketball team. He's also one of the region's up-and-coming race-car drivers and a fan favorite to boot, named in 2018 as "Most Popular Driver" at Lucas Oil Speedway for a second straight year.

As Cornell and the Hoover Motorsports team gears up for the 2019 season, optimism is high. After a near-miss last season - his first full campaign in a Late Model - Cornell is ready to again chase a Lucas Oil Speedway championship in the Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA Late Model division. Some "open" Late Model races also are planned in the Lucas Oil MLRA Series.

Lucas Oil Speedway PR Director Lyndal Scranton recently caught up with Cornell on a variety of topics including hoops, why he's so popular and what else he's good at. Here is this week's Lucas Oil Speedway Offseason "12 Questions" Spotlight:

How's the senior year in high school going and how does it feel different from previous years?

"I backed off some of my hard classes. It's not near as stressful, which is nice for racing purposes. I think I'm going to get to race quite a bit toward the end of the school year. About the time March comes and racing season starts, I'll probably be busy, busy, busy. Senior year, it's been good, though. I know it's coming to an end. Everyone always told me to enjoy it while it lasts. That's a legit statement. It's almost over. It flew by, that's for sure."

Willard's basketball team is having another strong year. What is your role on the team?

"I screwed up my foot, so I missed quite a bit of practice and missed a few games. I haven't got to play a whole lot. But being on the basketball team is a blast. There are five of us seniors and I've known them forever. They're my best friends. I love every one of them like a brother. It's a blast. I'm glad I get the opportunity to be on the Willard basketball team, for sure."

They're different, but basketball and auto racing both require teamwork in order to be successful. In what ways are those sports similar, in that regard, and how does participating in a basketball help your racing?

"They're both very reliant on more than one person. In racing I get a little more control (over the outcome), but if the car's not right, it's not gonna turn out very good. In basketball, if we have a bad practice we won't play good. Like coach says, you play like you practice. We really don't get a whole lot of practice racing like you do in basketball. So I think of the (race) shop as practice. I get to test a few times out of the year, but not as much as those upper-echelon teams do. But how they relate? Everyone has to play their role. Coach always says, 'Do your job.' He's right. If everyone just does their job and doesn't do any audibles or anything like that, everything should go smoothly."

Last year was your first full season in a Late Model, driving for Rick Hoover Motorsports. You finished tied for second in a close points chase at Lucas Oil Speedway. How would you sum up the season?

"It was bittersweet. I was glad to have the season behind us. It was a long season. I really thought we should have won that (points) deal. We blew up three motors last year. There wasn't much anyone could have done about it. I don't have much experience driving for anybody, but I just felt terrible. I know how much those things cost. They're definitely not cheap. When you're going through them like that, you feel like you're doing something wrong. You really aren't, but it's tough on everyone. It's for sure tough on Rick. Tougher on Rick than me. But overall, I got my first two wins at Lucas. It wasn't a terrible year. We had a backup motor most of the year. This year we have Hatfield Racing Engines come on board. I'm very excited about that. That's who built our open motor that we got to run a little at the end of the year. They've treated us great and I'm excited about that."

What did you learn the most about yourself in 2018?

"I learn so much every time I get in a race car. That's what I told Dad (Aaron Cornell) and Rick going into the season, I wanted to race as many races as I could. In go-karts, I'd get to race seven times in a night. That's why when I'd come back home and run local shows that I'd just kill everyone, because I ran so many races in a year. Seat time is everything. I've raced about the same amount of time as a lot of these guys, just not in a Late Model. I'm still extremely young in the sport. I learned to just keep digging. I never had as many DNFs in one year. There's no fingers to be pointed, it was just unfortunate luck. But I learned so much, especially at the end of the year. I'm extremely excited for this year."

As you sit here in January, what will make for a successful 2019 season?

"I know for sure that I'm going to run for a season championship at Lucas. That's my No. 1 goal, to get that championship. I don't really know who's coming back or if we have anybody new, but I'm sure it'll be as difficult as ever. Any class at Lucas is going to be hard to get a win, let alone a season championship. I'd like to win some open (Late Model) races. I want to win for Rick. He's a wonderful person. I wish everyone had someone like Rick. He supports me in everything I do. I want to run good for Rick and my family and just win some races and that season championship."

You were voted by the fans as most popular driver at Lucas Oil Speedway for the second straight season. What does that mean to you and why do you think you're so popular?

"I really don't know. I'm just a normal, goof-ball kid who says a bunch of dumb stuff. I'm so blessed. That's a very humbling award. I have both of those trophies sitting in my living room. They're part of the family now. I'm so blessed that I got picked for that award. It's a different part of racing, but it's one of my biggest accomplishments. To do it twice is really cool. I don't know why people like me, but I'm sure glad they do. I love the fans. The two times I got to go to victory lane and got to stand up on the hood, I got to see people cheering. I'm not gonna like, that brought a tear to my eye. As a kid, I never dreamed that I'd have fans."

Who were your racing heroes growing up and do you have racing heroes now?

"Oh yeah. I got to race with the one I look up to the most and that's Will Vaught. He did the bodies on my race cars this year. He and Eric Barnes, his crew guy. I raced go-karts with them. It's a long story, but I was about 9 or 10 and racing in the adult class. I didn't know it was Will and it was Eric ahead of me. I was running third and it was a heat race. I bumped Eric in a wheel and I wound up moving both of them out of the way to get the win. Will came up to me afterward. I was just a little kid and I had to look up at him. He was like, 'Good job. I'm Will Vaught.' I was star struck. To this day, my dad always tells Will that if he'd have come up to me before the race and I knew who it was, I probably wouldn't have moved him and Eric out of the way like I did. To this day, if I can run with Will, I'm doing good. Also, Jesse Stovall. He and (crew chief) Tommy (Rogers) have been great to me. I've been lucky. Rex Merritt isn't a Late Model guy, but I've raced with his granddaughter Lexi. Rex is one of the best and knows so much about racing. I consider Rex and them family, pretty much. I can go and talk to Rex about anything."

You passed Will Vaught in the late stages to win a feature race at Lucas last August. Replay that pass and how it went down and what did it mean to you?

"I don't remember much, other than that the race track was really black and really smooth, exactly how I like it. It was just kind of go-kart that thing around there. When it gets slick and smooth I kind of revert back to my go-kart days and just stay real smooth and don't spin my tires. That seems when I'm at my best. When it gets muddy and tacky, it seems like everyone is pretty fast. Everyone is good in the mud. Whenever it slows down and gets slick, everyone has to slow down and drive the race car a little bit. That's when I'm really good. I remember we were under caution, Will was warming up his tires and he drove up to my door. He looked at me and I looked at him and it was like, 'oh boy, I have go, now.' It was nerve-wracking, but I knew if I just played my cards right and kept hitting my marks, I'd be fine. I was right in the middle of the track and they'd have to be a lot faster to get around me. I watched the replay I don't know how many times. I think we definitely had him covered, which is an accomplishment for me to say, that I out-ran Will Vaught."

You graduate from Willard High this spring. What is next after that?

"I'm probably going to go to OTC (Ozarks Technical Community College). I'm in the A-Plus program, so I can get free college. It's kind of hard to pass up free college. I'm going to get my associated arts degree and keep pursuing racing. Me and Dad talk about the future, almost every night. If I can just stay in racing and do that for a living, that is my ultimate goal. The sport is awesome. Just the other night I asked Rex Merritt, if he was going to restart and was my age, what would he do. He said he's go and get an engineering degree and be good at math and stuff like that so he could be good with the shocks and all the technology. All the new technology with Late Models, it's amazing. I don't really know what my plan is. I'm a good student, all As and Bs, but not a freaky-smart kid. But I can at least apply myself."

What do you want to be doing in your racing career five years from now?

"In a dream world? (Long pause) I'd love to be in NASCAR. That would be awesome. I'd love to be dirt late model racing for a living. Anything racing, if I could do it for a living, that would be awesome. When I was in go-karts, the plan was to put me in an asphalt Late Model because it was so similar to go-karts. But a (dirt) Modified popped up and we gave it a try. That's what started it all. I ended up being decent at dirt. Nothing spectacular at the beginning. That's a really tough question. Anything getting paid to race for a living. And even it I don't, if I can't make a career in racing, I think that racing is in my blood and I don't think I'll stop."

We know about racing and basketball. What is another interest or talent of yours, one that might surprise people?

"This is a new subject for me, but I feel like I'm pretty good at poker. I haven't played for any real money yet. I just turned 18 and we just went to the casino this past weekend. They wouldn't let me go to the tables, because they said I would lose all my money. I've practiced poker on my phone, and I feel like I'm pretty good. And, I'm pretty decent at ping pong. One of the seniors on the basketball team, we all go to his house and play and I'm pretty good. I'd like to say I'm good at golf, but I'm a one-hit wonder. I wouldn't say I'm good at golf, but I like go and play it. I just like to go and have fun. I'm a pretty normal kid." 

Kaeden Cornell

Kaeden Cornell won two feature events last season at Lucas Oil Speedway. (Kenny Shaw photo)

The Lucas Oil Speedway season kicks off with an open test and tune on March 30, with the Big Adventure RV Weekly Racing Series opening night set for April 6. The Lucas Oil MLRA begins April 12-13 with the 6th annual Spring Nationals at Lucas Oil Speedway.

Season passes for the 2019 Lucas Oil Speedway season are available. Contact Admissions Director Nichole McMillan at (417) 282-5984 or email her at to purchase a gift card or season pass.

Danny Lorton
Lucas Oil Speedway General Manager
Office: (417) 282-5984