Kade Brown

Florence champion Kade Brown ready to battle Dale Jr., more in South Carolina 400: ‘I’ve never been this excited for a race’

Editor’s note: NASCAR Roots will profile local drivers in advance of this weekend’s South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. will compete. Click here to learn more about the track or watch Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FloRacing.

There aren’t many drivers who can win a track championship in the top class at a NASCAR-sanctioned short track before their 18th birthday.

Kade Brown did it at 16.

Brown, driving a late model stock car prepared by AK Performance, was the driver to beat all season at Florence Motor Speedway in Timmonsville, South Carolina.

In 17 starts at the 0.4-mile asphalt oval, Brown won six times and finished outside the top 10 just once. If that weren’t impressive enough, 2022 was Brown’s first full season racing late model stock cars after he dabbled in the class last year.

RELATED: Watch the South Carolina 400 live on FloRacing

“I started in late model stocks at Florence in 2021,” said Brown, who also claimed the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series South Carolina state championship in addition to the Florence track championship. “I ran about half the season, and I had one or two top threes. We were OK. We went into the 2022 season with really no idea how we were going to do.”

Part of the uncertainty was because of some bad luck late in 2021 that saw Brown crash his team’s primary car during the South Carolina 400 at Florence. The team built a new car for the 2022 season following the crash, a decision that immediately paid dividends.

Kade Brown
Kade Brown pictured during practice for the Fall Brawl at Hickory Motor Speedway on Nov. 12, 2022. (Adam Fenwick/NASCAR)

In his first race in that new car during Florence’s IceBreaker in February, Brown drove to a third-place finish. It was at that point he knew he had a car capable of competing for the track championship.

“We knew we were good,” Brown said. “From there on out we kept getting better and better each time we were out there and learning. We ended up with six wins.

“We were confident enough to where we could go race for a championship after those first few races and how they played out.”

Brown is not a South Carolina native; he moved to the region two years ago from Fulshear, Texas. The move was the result of his father’s employer transferring him to the East Coast.

When it came time to pick exactly where in he region the family would land, Brown said they chose Denver, North Carolina, because of its proximity to the motorsports industry.

Brown had taken an interest in motorsports long before the move to North Carolina. His father, a former motocross racer, didn’t want his son to follow in his footsteps as a motorcycle racer. That’s when Brown, then just 5, got his first go kart.

He’s been off to the races – literally – ever since.

Kade Brown
Kade Brown (right) helps his crew push his car at Florence Motor Speedway earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Kade Brown)

“I raced that go kart until I was 7,” Brown said. “Then I got a Bandolero and raced that until I was 12. Then I got in a legend car, raced it for two years, and I’m still in and out of that. Then I got in a late model when I turned 14.”

While the regular season at Florence may be over, one big event remains on the schedule. The South Carolina 400, scheduled for this Saturday evening, is expected to attract one of the biggest late model stock car fields of the year.

Brown, as the reigning track champion, will be one of more than 50 drivers looking to qualify for the race. He’s looking forward to the challenge, which would include battling NASCAR Hall of Fame Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is returning to race to Florence for the first time since his formative years in racing.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Brown said about competing in the South Carolina 400. “I’ve never been this excited for a race. I’m a little nervous because I really want to do good. I know it’s going to be a stacked field. Dale Jr. is going to be racing. I just want to do the best I can, and however it plays out is how it goes.

“It’s going to be the best of the best there. You can’t get any better. I’m really looking forward to it. These guys are the best there is. I’m hoping we can stack up well against them.”