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driver interview

#98 Jerome Kehoe

Jerome Kehoe is the Parts For Trucks Pro Stock Tour 2010 Rookie of the Year. We sat down with him before the start of the 2011 season to find out what his rookie season was like and what path he took on his way to the Parts For Trucks Pro Stock Tour.

We wanted his impression of the Tour, as a rookie driver.

MPST: Congratulations on winning the 2010 Rookie of the Year award. How would you describe your first year on the MPST?

Kehoe: Exciting, new and challenging for sure. Competing at a different racetrack every odd weekend or every weekend was new. To complete all the races and finish in the point standings where we did was better than we expected. When we first checked, I think we had to finish top 20 in points to be invited to the banquet. We said, “geez if we finish top 20 in points we get to go to the banquet and that was our goal” and we ended being 10th in points. We never expected that. MPST: To go backwards in time, how did you become interested in stock car racing? Kehoe: My older brother drove stock cars out at Bud Speedway. I was only eight years old or so when I first went to a race, and from then I never stopped going to the track. MPST: Growing up what drivers did you cheer for? Kehoe: Nelson Petrie, Earl Drysdale, Stan Dicks and of course my brother Jermaine Fitzgerald. They were the guys who were the “hot dogs” I guess. They were the guys I rooted for. MPST: What class did you start racing in? Kehoe: Street Stocks at Bud Speedway and I won Rookie of the Year.

MPST: Racing MPST takes a great commitment from not only you, but also your entire family. Would you like to comment?

Kehoe: My wife Dawn and my son Tyler support me 110 percent. If I’m not working on the car, they are asking me what’s wrong. Between them and the whole crew who are family really, they are behind me for sure.

MPST: Who are the crewmembers on the team?

Kehoe: The crew chief is Tommy Hayes. He’s family and been my crew chief for the better part of 15 years. So he’s family. Then we have Brian Broussard, Tommy’s right hand man in the pits. Steven Matthews is my spotter. He was also a rookie last year, but you would never think it because he did a fantastic job. But he always had a headset when he went to watch the Pro Stocks for years. So I think he learned a lot listening over the years. Then we have Todd MacLeod who drives the transporter. Ricky Matthews, Steven’s father, and Peter Hiltz help with tires and in the pits. And then of course we have Junior Kelly who coaches us on. He was a big factor for us. If one of these guys didn’t show up, we’d be lost.

MPST: What’s a typical week in the shop like look for your team? An average week without a lot of damage to the car.

Kehoe: On an average week, we get the car out and get it on the hoist. We go right at the brakes; we do a lot of brake work. The trailer gets cleaned out and we reorganize it. Parts are ordered on Monday, as soon as we have a list of things we need. It usually takes a day or so to get the parts. A full maintenance program, brakes, check rear end gears, oil change and whatever the car needed on a general going over, re-scaling, getting your shocks and springs on for the next track. Each track has a little different set-up. Hopefully we’re back in the trailer for Thursday night and Friday. We’re in the shop every night of the week. We don’t miss a night. We learned from our previous Sportsman deal, if you want to compete well you have to work on your car. You need to be dedicated, have lots of luck and good morale.

You know, the crew chiefs don’t really get the recognition they deserve. They say the driver just won this race, when it is driver and crew chief and the crews.

MPST: Sponsors are another essential part of the team. Who sponsors your car?

Kehoe: My sponsors are also the car owners. Ted and John van Zupthen from J&T van Zupthen Contracting and Ideal Concrete. We are going into the third season together.

MPST: Because of your geographic location, what is a typical race day like for you? You may have race days instead of one day.

Kehoe: If we are racing Saturday, we would leave Friday evening after work at five and hopefully pull into the track before midnight. We’re up early Saturday getting ready to get into the track. Most times we stay at the track after the race and camp. Then back on the road Sunday morning and head home. You’re looking at a 12 to 15 hour day at the track.

MPST: What was the best thing about racing MPST this year for you?

Kehoe: I think it was finally getting to compete with the drivers we watched and admired for years. Finally getting to race against them and we didn’t set our goals too high. My crew chief would say the car is going to work good today, but he’d always bet on Shawn Tucker. He’d say Tucker is going to win! Meeting all the drivers and the racing period.

MPST: Were teams accepting of you as a new team and supportive this year?

Kehoe: I think that went half way. The first few events we went to, I think they thought “are these guys just here for one race or two and then they’re going to be gone”, But, I think once they realized half way through the season that we were real, we started to get a little bit of recognition from the other teams and they started speaking to us. Have you tried this or have you tried that?

My goal throughout the year was to get respect and for them to know they can race around me and I’m not going to wipe them out. My biggest goal from the very first race was not to crash those drivers who have been doing this for a while and running for championships, like Wayne Smith, Flemming and Turple. Guys that are going for the points and the championships. Not to ruin their summer, by a new guy coming in and doing something stupid and wiping them out. We waited until the last two races to put the steam on. The veteran drivers treated me very well.

MPST: You mentioned you watched Pro Stocks when you were racing Street Stocks and Sportsman cars. Who did you watch or admire in those days?

Kehoe: Back then it was Scott Fraser and Scott Kelly, more recently Tucker for smoothness and patience for sure. And then John Flemming and Wayne Smith for the hard charging.

MPST: You raced at Riverside Speedway in the Sportsman cars, so you were familiar with that track. This year you went to three other race tracks that you didn’t have a lot of experience on, which one was the most difficult to adapt to?

Kehoe: I think for me it was Scotia, for sure. Our last race there was when I started to figure it out. You need to slow down to go-fast there. Once I figured that out, we caught on to something. It’s really hard to tell yourself to slow down and that you are going to go faster on the track.

MPST: How did you find adapting to the different tracks? Did it come fairly easy or was it difficult?

Kehoe: I didn’t mind going to the different tracks, I had raced on PEI before but the others were new. Scotia was my biggest challenge. I hit the flag stand wall in PEI a couple of times too.

MPST: What do you do when you’re not at the racetrack in the off-season?

Kehoe: Not very much really, everything has to do with the car. Ski a bit. My son is into snowboarding and hockey, so I support him. In the summer he races dirt bikes, so when we leave the track on Sunday, most times we are heading to a dirt track for him to race.

MPST: How long have you been racing?

Kehoe: It would be 20 years.

MPST: What is your best racing memory?

Kehoe: The last couple of years at Riverside in the Sportsman car, we had the most feature wins. We won a bunch of 100 lap features before moving to Pro Stock. We won the Street Stock championship in Sydney about five times. The challenge now is to get a win next summer.

Also the Cape Breton fans that would stop by after the races to chat with us. We were surprised by the number of fans from Cape Breton that followed us, even at PEI and Scotia. We were like “ wow! You came up for the races and they’d say yeah. We wouldn’t miss you racing”. We couldn’t believe it. Makes you feel good.

MPST: Thank you Jerome for taking the time to speak with us today. Is there anything you would like to add?

Kehoe: No problem, my pleasure. I’d like to thank my whole crew. We have a new car coming and we’re looking forward to getting it on the track next year.