(Special to Lyndal Scranton)
For now, Kaeden Cornell is content with bouncing a basketball, balancing school work and getting his driver’s license as a newly minted 16-year-old. In other words, living the typical life of a high school sophomore.
But the roar of a race-car engine – as is the new race season at Lucas Oil Speedway – isn’t all that far away. So it’s not surprising that Cornell, a soft-spoken teen from Willard, Mo., is thinking of warmer and faster times.
“The winter’s going good, but … hopefully (the race season) will be here soon,” Cornell said of the 2017 season, when he will again campaign his USRA B-Mod.
It’s little wonder why Cornell is eager to get going again. He solidified his place as an up-and-comer on the Ozarks’ racing scene with a solid third-place finish in the Lucas Oil Speedway points standings. This in arguably the deepest, most-competitive division where track champ J.C. Morton was also crowned USRA B-Mod national champion.
“Just never stop learning and never stop driving hard,” Cornell said of what he learned the most last season, just his second in a B-Mod. “There were some nights I never thought we’d come close to having a good run and we’d keep working hard and end up pulling out a top-five finish.
“Every week it seemed like we were in the B-Main and it just sucks we were in the back of the A-Feature every week. But most time, we wound up in the top-10.”
Cornell, who began his racing career in go-karts when he was five years old, showed remarkable consistency and patience on the track, traits uncommon for most young drivers. His older peers noticed.
In fact, veteran Modified driver Mike Striegel thinks so much of Cornell that his Outlaw Race Bodies is helping sponsor the youngster’s race team this season.
“That’s what this sport needs, is young kids,” Striegel said. “He’s not as aggressive as a lot of them. Sometimes that’s bad and sometimes that’s not. But all in all, he’s classy. He gets in a wreck or has a problem, he comes in the pits and doesn’t throw crap and his parents don’t want to fight.
“I think a lot of him. Andy Bryant, another young driver, I sponsored (in 2014). Not that I’m a scout, but I think I have an eye for somebody who’s gonna go somewhere. (Cornell) has a chance to go somewhere.”
Cornell said Striegel’s belief in him is a boost financially and emotionally with those confident words.
“You go to a race and Mike knows everybody,” Cornell said. “And you watch him as a driver, you look up to a guy like him. For Mike to recognize me, as a kid, it’s pretty unbelievable. It’s very nice of him to help us this year and we appreciate it.”
Cornell’s other sponsors include Cloverleaf Auto Repair, Signature Wood Floors and D.R. Racing. Hid dad, Aaron Cornell, does most of the mechanical upkeep and grandpa Glen Cornell, who used to do mechanical work for some ARCA teams, supplies helpful advice.
Team Cornell envisions a similar schedule this season with track points at Lucas the main objective. Occasional trips to other tracks for special events are slotted.
Kaeden Cornell said he “just wants to keep learning, keep getting better” as a driver. An obvious goal is to fine victory lane for the first time in the B Mod.
“We wanted to win last year, but it was such good competition,” he said. “Everybody says the competition in their class at their local race track is real tough, but I don’t think anything comes close to what Lucas has to offer. If you run top-five there, you’ve done something.”