Kenny Underwood Claims IHRA Hot Rod World Championship
Kenny Underwood added a new chapter to his illustrious sportsman racing career
by Luke Bogacki
Tampa, FL: Longtime bracket standout Kenny Underwood added a new chapter to his illustrious sportsman racing career last weekend when he held on to a season-long lead to claim his first IHRA world championship in the Hot Rod category. Underwood, one of the most accomplished big dollar bracket racers in history (in addition to countless big dollar victories, Underwood is a three-time Moroso 5-Day points champion), won the championship when the last remaining competitor with a chance to surpass him, Michael Schiberl fell in the quarterfinals.
To sportsman racing insiders, Underwood’s title run cannot come as a surprise. In a joint venture with longtime friends Anthony Bertozzi, Mike Fuqua, and Jeg Coughlin, Jr., Underwood combined his driving talents with the winningest car in IHRA history--Anthony Bertozzi’s multi-time Super Stock championship winning Camaro. Add in primary sponsorship from Nitroplate and additional backing from Jeg’s Mail Order, and Underwood had a force to be reckoned with in the 10.90 category.
“I feel extremely fortunate,” said Underwood of his championship run. “Anthony Bertozzi provided me with what is undoubtedly the best Hot Rod car in the country. Junior Carter at Outlaw Motorsports actually completely rebuilt the car last season, and it’s been awesome all year long. Anthony’s continued support, along with Mike Fuqua at Nitroplate and the entire staff at Jeg’s Mail Order have been a huge help. There’s no way I could have done any of this without them.”
Underwood held the Hot Rod lead for the majority of the season, claiming victories at the IHRA Spring Nationals, and at two IHRA Pro-Am events (in Clay City, KY and Byron, IL), as well as a runner-up finish at the Douglass, GA Pro-Am. Coming into the final event of the year (the IHRA World Finals at Rockingham Dragway) Underwood led the standings, but had a handful of competitors with an opportunity to take the championship from his grasp with a strong showing at the season finale. That put him in a familiar position--one that he did not have a particularly fond memory of.
“The only other season I had an opportunity to chase the IHRA points, I drove for Mike Bloomfield in Hot Rod, back in 2003. That year was pretty much the same deal--I had a big lead for the last few months of the season. But coming into Rockingham there was one racer, Tony Fuller, who had a chance to catch me. He ended up winning the race and the championship. So, with three guys still in the hunt this season I’ll admit it got a little stressful for me toward the end!”
At Rockingham, Underwood was defeated in the first round of eliminations for the first time in his entire Hot Rod career--and was relegated to a spectator as Tim Schuck, Jimmy Raper, and Schiberl took their shot at the title. One by one, each of those competitors was dismissed from competition, and with Schiberl’s loss to Glenn Ferguson in the quarterfinal round, Underwood knew he was the 2006 IHRA Hot Rod World Champion.
“I’m not sure it’s sunk in yet,” said Underwood. “It’s a huge accomplishment, and I know there are a lot of really good racers who try their entire life and never win a national title--so the significance of it isn’t lost on me. I’ve just got to thank the people who have made it all possible: First off, my girlfriend Michele Perry, who has put up with my co-existence between Tampa (home) and Delaware, OH (home of the Jeg’s race shop, from which Underwood based his racing operation throughout the season). I also have to thank Jeg Coughlin, Jr. In addition to all his help and that of the entire Jeg’s staff, Jeggie basically put me up for a year, without rent! And I need to thank Tracy Lewis and RevXtreme for his support and backing through the final few events of the season. Those folks, along with Anthony, Mike, and the staff at Nitroplate and Jeg’s--they’ve been instrumental in any success I’ve had.”
In addition to his world championship, Underwood also claimed the Division 3 Hot Rod crown, so his two IHRA Gold Cards mean he’ll likely be back on the circuit in 2007, which can’t be good news for his competition. “I’d like to add a second car for 2007, to chase a title in two classes,” said Underwood. “But we’ll see what the future brings.” Right now, Underwood can be happy to live in the present, where he will hold the title of IHRA World Champion for at least one year.