Louisiana is known for many things, from good food to college football to New Orleans. But it’s not known for producing many top-line race car drivers.
Mikey Kile is trying to break that trend. Kile was born 27 years ago in Westlake, La., and still lives in the Bayou state. But he’s making a name for himself in the North Carolina-dominated world of NASCAR.
This weekend, Kile will make his Nationwide Series debut, driving Braun Racing’s No. 10 Toyota. Louisiana is home to only a handful of dirt oval tracks – and even fewer paved ovals.
"You have a few dirt tracks and couple of drag strips – nothing NASCAR-related," Kile said recently. "Not too much racing going on."
But Kile started racing early in his life, getting behind the wheel of karts at age 7 at a track about an hour from his home. He was successful in karts over the next five years, winning state and regional championships.
He then drove a little bit of everything, from dirt modifieds to midgets. And it wasn’t long before Kile knew what he wanted to do with his life.
"I knew what I wanted to do," Kile said. "Back in ‘05, I came up (to North Carolina) and started beating on doors and tried to make a name for myself and get some opportunities."
One of the first people he talked to owned a UARA Pro Cup team, but that deal fell through. Still, Kile met driver A.J. Frank through the deal, and the two became best friends. Frank helped open some doors for Kile, and eventually Kile landed a Pro Cup ride.
In 2008, Kile won one race in 12 starts on the Pro Cup tour. The shop Kile kept his race cars was also shared by Wayne Setterington Jr., who was also a crew chief for Brad Keselowski’s fledgling Camping World Truck Series team.
"I guess (Keselowski) was kind of watching me and stuff," Kile said. "He called up and asked me if I was interested in running some ARCA and truck stuff last year."
Kile ran six NASCAR Camping World Truck races for Brad Keselowski Racing, with a best finish of 11th twice, at Milwaukee and Gateway.
"Brad helped me out a lot last year," Kile said. "Being with Brad and being associated with the people he surrounded himself with – it helped me out a ton. We ran fairly good, and it definitely helped make a name for myself."
Kile and Keselowski talked a lot in 2009, and Keselowski was always available to answer any of Kile’s questions.
"As far as an owner, he’s a super, super awesome owner," Kile said. "Really nice, and always first-class everything. He always gave the guys everything they needed. He didn’t want to short-changed anything. Everything he had was top-notch."
Keselowski was impressed with Kile, too.
"He’s a good guy with an awesome family," Keselowski said in an e-mail. "I’m proud to be a part of his career. He has a lot of fire and passion for the sport that can carry him a long way."
Kile has needed that passion to get him from Louisiana. But that wasn’t the hard part, he says.
"The hardest part was learning how to drive the race cars," Kile said. "I come from an open-wheel background, dirt and stuff like that. It took me a good three years to learn what these cars want and how to drive."
But Kile also said finding a ride and sponsorship has been difficult, too. And he knows he’s caught a break with the Braun ride.
"I’m fortunate to get this opportunity with Braun," Kile said. "Hopefully we can make a pretty good showing and get some more people involved and put a full season together for next year."
Kile has never run the 1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway, and he said he wants to remain level-headed and try to earn the respect of Nationwide drivers.
But he has something to prove, too.
"The equipment is second-to-none," Kile said. "I think with my ability, I really feel we can run in the top 10 and make a really, really good showing the first time out.
"I look at it as a way to show what I can do. People have heard about me running ARCA, and some people have seen me run Camping World Truck stuff last year, and people have seen that I can drive. But even the truck stuff doesn’t get the respect or the coverage as the Nationwide Series."