This is the second half of a feature on Kevin Huntley from the August 2020 edition of Sprint Car & Midget Magazine. To read part one, click here.
Sometimes it is hard to fathom why a team suddenly clicks. At other times, it is relatively easy to pinpoint the turning point.
Kevin Huntley thinks he knows what made the difference for he and Marshall Campbell.
“One thing that really helped us,” Huntley said, “is we did a lot of tire testing for Goodyear at Fremont. We were able to learn a lot there together. It really helped us. Especially on slick tracks, because we struggled on a slick race track for so long. I remember starting on the pole at Attica and the car was so terrible, it was like I was on ice and everybody else was on pavement. They were driving by me like I was sitting still. It was awful.
“After we did the tire testing, we got really good. At that time Fremont was always slick, so if we were at a track where it got slick I would come in and say, ‘Put the Fremont setup on it.’ We just got the car into the race track better. We also helped Goodyear build a better race tire, because at the time McCreary was waxing everyone.
“I got better on a slick race track and Marshall got better at setting up the car.”
The tire testing was also pivotal to another process: the always-fragile relationship between a driver and the chief mechanic.
There were still moments. Campbell loves to discuss those times, even in the middle of a hot streak when he couldn’t get Huntley to give him an ounce of feedback.
Perhaps he had not figured out a secret Terry Winterbotham uncovered years before.
“I learned with Kevin,” he said, “if you got the car right, you didn’t need to change stuff. You just let him do his thing.”
However, it all worked out. From his perspective, Huntley feels, “I think we taught each other a lot during our time together.”
While things were decidedly on the uptick, with Skinner as the car owner, there was a measure of chaos and drama. As Campbell recalled, “At some point Kevin just couldn’t put up with it. So, I said, ‘If you quit, I’m quitting.’ And we did.
“We didn’t know what to do, and that is when I put the (Gary) VandeMark and (Jim) Wahlie deal together.”
The split came in October of 1991, and Marshall Campbell remembered how it all began.
“The first time we rolled out in the VandeMark and Wahlie car, it was embarrassing to me,” he admitted. “Jim was quite the showman. He liked everything to look nice, and he wanted everything perfect. It didn’t bother him to show off a little bit. The very first night we rolled that car out was at Bloomington, and I remember some guys saying, ‘That’s a beautiful rig and that’s a beautiful car, but I have seen a lot of pretty race cars that don’t run worth a hoot. Then Kevin went out and chased Doug Wolfgang down, passed him, and won the race. So VandeMark and Wahlie thought this was easy.
“The next night we went to Eldora, and Doug Wolfgang ran us down and passed us and we ran second. After that, Wolfgang came down and said, ‘Who in the crap are you guys?’”
What would follow from there would be one of the great chapters in the history of the All Star Circuit of Champions, and sprint car racing in general.
The All Stars were a proud group, and they were led by the incomparable Bert and Brigitte Emick. There have been few finer people in racing or human beings in general. In the time they were at the helm, the vast majority of top drivers in the land raced with them.
In the early days, Hall of Famers Fred Linder and Lee Osborne had vied for the series championship, but now a new duo was about to emerge.
Frankie Kerr, who had experience in east coast modified racing, made a smooth transition to sprint cars. His Hall of Fame career took off when he famously replaced Jeff Gordon in Stan Shoff’s sprint car.
In 1991, Kerr was the All Star champion, and he did so by being a model of consistency. Over the course of the season, Frankie netted five wins but, more to the point, he finished in the top five 47 times.
Rickey Hood was the runner up, while Huntley netted seven wins and finished in the third spot.
With a solid year under his belt, and now with a new ownership team in his corner, Huntley put Kerr directly in the crosshairs.
Bert Emick remembered it as a remarkable time, but what made it so peculiar is that Kerr and Huntley remained great friends.
Putting it succinctly, Bert said, “You just don’t see that very often; not with competitors like these two. Kevin was a fiery guy. When he was at the race track, he had his mind on one thing, and that was winning.”
As for Kerr, Huntley remembered a little wheel-banging at Ocala, Fla., early in their relationship, but said, “We got through that pretty quickly.”
Reminiscing about those days, Frankie recalled, “There were great battles, but we were really good friends. He would come to my house, we would go to his house, and his wife Lisa and my wife were best of friends. Off the circuit was one thing, but when it came to closing your helmet and going out there and racing, he was just another guy. But he was the one to beat.
“I was probably a more methodical driver, and he was a Jac Haudenschild, gas-it-up type.”
To continue reading, advance to the next page.