Liam Kenney of Cascades loves speed. What other 17-year-old can claim reaching speeds of 175 mph legally? The son of John and Shanna Kenney started out racing go-karts 12 years ago in Las Vegas then gradually moved to the Formula Car rank. After the family moved to the East Coast, he discovered the Allsports Grand Prix race track in Dulles.
And last year, he switched to the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup, which is a VW Jetta that you can purchase off the showroom, but with some racing modifications. The races are basically 30 people driving Volkswagens.
"It's such a huge mind game," Liam said of racing. "A lot of people describe it as a chess game at 200 miles per hour."
What he loves most about the sport is "being pushed back in the seat when you press on the gas," said the homeschooled teen. "I love going around the corners. You're in perfect sync with man and machine. To me it's this crazy bond I have with the car."
THE AGE THING has always been an issue for Liam. "I've always been the youngest everywhere I've gone," he said. "For me, the age is almost a mixed bag because you look at it as an advantage, but at the same time, people who are older always look down on you."
After much success here and in Canada, he won the Formula Renault Series Worldwide three times â€” known as the breeding ground for road racing for Formula One and world champions. He was also the youngest winner of a Formula Renault Two Liter Race.
On Feb. 6, he will depart for Europe to compete in the prestigious
2009 ADAC Formula Masters Championship. It's the German series called Marian Hamprecht's Ma-Con Motorsport April 11-13. "I've gone all over the country from the time since I was 11 years old. We've hit all over the U.S. and Canada .â€¦ That's one of the things I find really awesome about racing. You get to see all of these places."
He said financially, he was steered out of the Formula Car and
gravitated to the VW Jetta TDI Cup Series, where he won the runner-up spot, courtesy of two wins and four podium finishes.
"It all kind of happened last year," he said of his transition. The VW Motorsports manager from Europe was at a race and said, "Germany is the place you need to go and you need to be back in Formula cars." He was invited to run the final race in the Formula ADAC Masters at Hockenheim and finished seventh out of 27th. His car: a Dallara-built open-wheel race car powered by a 1.6-litre Volkswagen engine.
"It was a huge step forward," said Liam of competing for Ma-Con Motorsport.
"It's phenomenal to see his success," said dad, John Kenney, who ran with the VW Golf GTI in the 1980s and now works for Trax International, a defense and energy company. "It's come with a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice."
"We're very excited to see Liam compete full-time in Europe with us," said Marian Hamprecht, owner of Ma-Con Motorsport. "He showed great potential when he raced for us at Hockenheim last season, beating over 20 drivers who had raced in the ADAC Formula Masters Championship all season long. Having reviewed his performance that weekend, both in and out of the car, we know Liam has the talent and ability to excel in Europe."
"In Europe they have a whole different culture in racing," Liam said.
"They have driving contracts," which he's about to sign in Florida.
ONE OF THE things he's done to improve his racing is he's hired a
coaching service called Speed Secrets out of Vancouver, B.C., which helps sharpen his mind through mental preparation. "I'll have an image of the track in my mind. I almost even time myself as how close I can get to the perfect lap time," he said. He said he also does "cross crawls" where he practices lifting up one leg and placing his opposite hand over it. "It helps link up both sides of your brain," he said.
The sport is expensive and will cost about $130,000 Euros to sponsor Liam for the season. He and his dad are always looking for to find sponsorship partners. "The race is exciting and glamorous, but there are hundreds of hours to get spent putting together sponsorship proposals," John Kenney said. "We'd love to find a local company that might partner with him in his move to Europe."
Liam Kenney currently has backing from Trax International, Allsports Grand Prix, Speed Secrets and Zeffirelli Ristorante Italiano in Herndon. To help sponsor Liam, go to www.liamkenney.com. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.