Full-throttle experience for race driver

It’s good to be The King. Sylvan Lake-area drag racer Ken Webster got a first-hand look at racing Richard “The King” Petty style last week and came away impressed by the operation put together by the 200-race-winning NASCAR legend.

Ken Webster of the Sylvan Lake area says the experience was ‘amazing from start to finish.’

Ken Webster of the Sylvan Lake area says the experience was ‘amazing from start to finish.’

It’s good to be The King.

Sylvan Lake-area drag racer Ken Webster got a first-hand look at racing Richard “The King” Petty style last week and came away impressed by the operation put together by the 200-race-winning NASCAR legend.

“It was really good. Their system and their equipment and their people are just phenomenal,” he said. “You know, they stock 18,000 tires. They had a warehouse full. Every round we go out, a brand new set of stickers for every person, every car, every round.

“It was just amazing from start to finish. The best of the best for everything.”

Webster was one of 12 drivers picked to match skills in Richard Petty’s Driver Search, a four-day contest that wrapped up last Thursday where the top prize is the opportunity to man an 850-horsepower NASCAR ride in a real race at North Carolina’s Rockingham Speedway.

The 48-year-old, with more than three decades of pedal-to-the-metal experience, got the invite after impressing Petty racing team members at a training event at Las Vegas’s Super Speedway in May.

He joined 11 other drivers from eight U.S. states, Barbados, and fellow countryman Tom Hynes from Hay River, N.W.T., in a test to see who had the combination of grit and polish to run with the pros in NASCAR.

The title went to an 18-year-old from a community just down the road from Petty’s hometown of Level Cross, N.C.

While he didn’t land a NASCAR shot, Webster, who is in the oilfield service industry, was pleased with how he matched up against competitors, nine of whom were teens or in their 20s.

Drivers got behind the wheel of a variety of rides, including midgets, Dodge Viper SRT10s, and Nationwide-style and NASCAR’s Sprint stock cars, which are run by the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. They were tested on short tracks, a road course and a super speedway.

Considering he hadn’t behind the wheel of a stock car in years — he usually runs local businessman Geoff Goodwin’s Synoil Fluids Top Alcohol Funny Car — it was a thrill to run the cars on high-banked ovals and the road courses, where touch had to be light.

“You really have to treat the throttle like an egg. You can’t just throw it down or you’ll go sideways. There’s so much power for those types of tracks. It really comes down to finessing the car.”

The only discouraging side was scoring seemed tilted to younger drivers, said Webster, who didn’t stick around on the last day to see how he placed. Instead, he went to a track next door and got ready to race his funny car for the next three days.

Event organizers are trying to turn the Driver Search into a reality TV show and the next one is already scheduled for November.

“The problem they have is the lack of drama,” he said, a reference to the squabbling and personality clashes that fuel most successful reality TV programs.

“I said, ‘If you want drama, I can start a fight anytime you want,’ ” he said with a laugh.

As an older driver, he tended to relate more to the instructors, mechanics and crew members and he made some firm friendships. The chief instructor has already invited him to race for him if he’s down that way.

“I’m definitely going to go down and take him up on his offer and do a little testing, for sure.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com