The million dollars in prize money posted by Charlotte Motor Speedway for Saturday’s Legends Million short-track race is big fuel for the largely unknown drivers who race Legends week after week with little publicity.
Kenzie Ruston, a former Oklahoma resident who moved to Charlotte, N.C. to be closer to racing’s heartbeat, owns the U.S. Legend Cars International Semi-Pro Asphalt Oval championship. Saying that long name is almost as difficult as winning the title, which Ruston, 18, did last season.
“I can’t believe we’re racing for that much money,” she said. “I still think it’s a dream.”
SPEED will televise the Legends Million from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET) Saturday. The event also includes practice and competition Thursday and Friday.
In many other forms of racing, when a big pile of cash is on the line – first place Saturday night will pay $250,000, an astonishing amount for a short-track race, competitors often “juice” their cars with all manner of expensive add-ons and costly engine parts, in effect investing more to boost their chances of winning more.
That tactic won’t be of much help Saturday. Legends cars race with sealed engines and spec tires, so there is not a laundry list of adjustments to be made. Designers wanted the driver to be the key cog in the car’s success or failure.
“We got a rebuilt motor,” Ruston said. “Other than that, we really haven’t invested any more in the car. There’s only so much you can do.”
Saturday’s plan, she said, is to race with intelligence, conserving her fuel and her car for much of the race so that she’ll have something left for the final 20 laps, when she expects action to pick up considerably. The race is scheduled to be run in two 50-lap segments, with a break in the middle.
“One hundred laps is a lot of laps for us,” she said. “I’m going to just sit and ride for a while and converse fuel. I think everybody is going to conserve and watch for the first 50 laps.
“Then, I think with the last 20 laps, you’ve got to go.”
The final 10 to 20 laps are likely to be filled with bumping and banging as drivers jockey for position for the final lap or two. Ruston and other regulars expect the infighting between lanes of traffic to ratchet up considerably.
“Sometimes you’ll get somebody behind you who’s been running for a long time who will move you and you don’t even know it,” she said. “You learn your boundaries. You know what you can do and how hard you can hit them before you mess yourself up or mess them up.
“I get upset when people just run over you. Somebody can tap you out of the way and it’s OK. I think on the last lap people are just going to run over each other. I would.
“You just have to be cautious. You might want to be running fifth on the last lap.”
Ruston won 36 Semi-Pro races last year and thus was promoted to the Pro level of Legends racing this season. She has found the step up a tough one and says she is more concerned about racing the drivers she faces every week in Legends competition than “invaders” like Sprint Cup drivers David Ragan and Geoffrey Bodine, who also will be in Saturday night’s race.
“I’ve raced with David Ragan before, and I’ve learned a lot just following him in practice,” she said. “The guys I think you have to worry about most are the one who run out here every week. They’re used to this and to the track and to the other drivers.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.