Kahne drives in honor of Leffler at Chili Bowl
January 20, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Sprint Cup stars Kahne, Tony Stewart part of 'great tribute' to late driver
Kasey Kahne didn’t win the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals Saturday night in Tulsa, Okla., but he left town feeling as if six-year old Charlie Dean Leffler sure did.
With the help of Kahne, three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, legendary open-wheel owner Bob East and thousands of generous race fans, the trust fund established for the late racer Jason Leffler’s son got a big boost thanks to a unique and heart-felt tribute at the Chili Bowl.
The car started a year ago by the popular NASCAR driver Leffler – who was killed last summer in a sprint car racing accident – was completed by East, fielded by Stewart and driven by Kahne and will be given away later this month as part of a drawing and fundraiser effort through the Tony Stewart Foundation.
"It's pretty neat because Bob East and Tony built a car that was something Jason would build, something he would race," Kahne told NASCAR.com.
"They just basically kept it going and finished it for him and I was able to drive it. It was a neat deal and great how the fans have been supporting the auction and things and that’s what it’s all about: To have a great tribute to Jason in one of his favorite races and also raise some money for Charlie Dean. All of that has happened so far.
"Some things just happened and didn’t go our way in the race," Kahne said. "But I still had fun and everyone that was a part of it did and we accomplished what we set out to do. And the car is in one piece and it looks great."
While Kahne advanced as far as F Features, he watched a handful of other NASCAR drivers compete as the event unfolded. Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson finished 22nd in the Lucas Oil A Feature, which was won by Bryan Clauson. Chad Boat, who will be contending for the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, finished 10th.
This year’s Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Ricky Stenhouse Jr. advanced through three feature races and got to the C-Features finishing one spot shy of the transfer position for the B-Feature. He was awarded the Chili Bowl’s Hard Charger Award with 23 passes in the event.
It was a night both Kahne and Stewart feel certain their late friend Leffler would have enjoyed.
"This program is a win-win for everyone," Stewart said. "I thought that was something that's a pretty cool keepsake that somebody can get from the Chili Bowl this year that has two guys that were really good friends with Jason attached to it."
Beyond the thrill of competition, it was another opportunity for Kahne and Stewart to help Leffler’s young son – an important undertaking they have both consistently committed themselves to in the months since Leffler’s passing.
"To me, the deal behind this is our supporting Jason," Kahne said. "He was a great guy and a great friend to a lot of people. Being able to do some things and have Charlie see -- maybe not today, but in five or 10 years – he’ll realize what Jason meant to so many people in the racing community.
"He’ll have all this stuff to look at and he’ll have money to go to school to help get started in life. I just felt like it was something I needed to be part of and a lot of people have felt like too.
"That’s the neatest part, it wasn’t just me or a couple people, a lot of people have really supported it and make those things real for Charlie. I think Jason would be really proud. I’m just glad I was able to do a couple things and that the fans have supported it the way they have."
While entries for the drawing have closed, donations to the Charles Dean Leffler Discretionary Trust will be accepted through Jan. 31 at this website: http://www.starnetdp.com/Charlie-ChiliBowll/intro.html.
Here's a look at the car Kahne drove: