By Justin Boyd
Killeen Daily Herald
Few people can say they've beaten P.J. Egbert and Keith White in a race at Texas Thunder Speedway.
Kenneth Adams can.
Winning a race, however, wasn't Adams' goal. Simply getting behind the wheel and driving was all he wanted. And for nearly a year and half now, that goal has seemed almost unattainable.
On Jan. 17, 2004, Adams' life changed forever. While stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Adams, a scout with the Apache 3-17 Cavalry 10th Mountain Division based out of Fort Drum, N.Y., was shot by friendly fire. As a result of his injury, Adams lost his eyesight and his ability to smell and taste.
Since returning home to Houston, of all the things the 23-year-old missed, driving a car ranked high on the list.
On Saturday night, with the help of track promoter Pat Wilson, The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes (a non-profit organization that helps severely wounded and disabled veterans) and group volunteer Daniel Vargas, Adams' wish came true.
TTS even took it one step further as Adams was put in a special five-lap, match-race with two of the track's best drivers, Egbert and White, who were blindfolded for the event.
Driving Thunder Stock cars, Adams, Egbert and White took to the dirt track with only a co-pilot on board to serve as their eyes.
With I-Stock and Modified driver Doug Lorenz in the seat next to him, Adams passed White and Egbert on the high side in turn 3 on the final lap and then rolled across the finish line to a thunderous standing ovation from the season record crowd of 1,710 fans.
"It was great," Adams said. "It was such a good feeling to go out and to be able to drive again. I know it was in circles, but hey, I don't care. It was just wonderful.
"It means a lot to me and my wife, Katherine. For one, it shows that just because I'm blind it doesn't mean I have to stop doing things that I love to do. It also shows that I can do whatever I want as long as I set my mind to it."
An avid race fan, Adams said he would love to come back to TTS and drive again, but in the meantime he has another goal, albeit a little more adventurous one.
"I think I might try to fly a helicopter or something," Adams said with a laugh.
For White, just being a part of Adams' special race was something he said he'd never forget.
"That was an awesome deal," White said. "I'm glad he got to do that and the fact that he really wanted to do it here, that's pretty neat."
Driving blindfolded around a track he has dominated so many times in the past gave White not only an appreciation of what Adams has to go through on a daily basis but a sense of perspective.
"It sure makes you think about and appreciate what we do have and appreciate what we get to do," the Academy driver said. "We take a lot of things for granted. I'm glad I got to be a part of that."
As usual, White was busy Saturday night as he competed in both the IMCA Southern SportMod race and the IMCA Modified feature in addition to Adams' special event.
His bid to win both features for a fourth straight time ended in the Modified feature.
On lap 17, race leader Hardy Henderson lost his drive shaft and White, running in fourth at the time, ran over it cutting his right rear tire and forcing an 11th-place finish.
Danny Gribble picked up the lead from Henderson and then topped Kenny Stone by a nose at the finish line to garner his first win in 18 months.
White didn't leave the track empty-handed, though, as for the fourth straight week the National SportMod points leader won the feature; however, judging from post-race comments, he wasn't proud of how it happened.
Trailing Mike McDougal for the entire race, White briefly took the lead on lap 12. McDougal then charged back to the front and he and White were neck-and-neck for a full lap. As the two headed into turn 3 of lap 13, White looking to take the lead, went low and the two cars touched, sending McDougal off the track and bringing out the caution.
McDougal never fully recovered. White, meanwhile, rolled to the victory.
"It's the part of (racing) that you don't like," White said. "I got there beside him and I tried to ease in there, and if I would have run in there like I had been it probably would been fine and we would have never touched. But when you ease in there, in these cars, it kind of makes them push. It was all my fault and I just messed up. I hate it for him. He's a super-nice guy and he had led the whole race.
"I want to win, but I don't want to win at all costs."
With the victory and a second-place finish at Heart of Texas Speedway in Waco on Friday night, White is off to a good start in the Southern SportMod Summer Challenge, a special two-track, six-week racing series that debuted at TTS on Saturday night.
In other racing action, Street Stock points leader Robert Simmerman led all 15 laps but had to endure a number of cautions and a late charge from brother Andrew Simmerman to win the feature.
"The cautions liked to have killed me tonight," Simmerman said.
Jacob Dunn led flag-to-flag to score his first career I-Stock win. The race, however, was marred with a crash on lap 1 as Chris Ochoa's No. 13 car flipped in the front stretch. Ochoa climbed out of the wrecked car under his own power. With a third-place finish, Cham Savage Jr. took over the top spot in the I-Stock points standings.
Thunder Stock points leader Bobby Norton ran away with the feature and Kevin West won his second Mini-Stock race in three weeks.
The always-popular demolition derby concluded the night's festivities. Killeen native Kevin Myers won his first-ever derby, outlasting 13 other competitors to get the victory.
Contact Justin Boyd at email@example.com