By Lisa Joy
Drag racer Ken Webster has lived a life many only dream about. Now he is helping local youth experience the thrill of racing – for free – after building a race track and buying a fleet of legend cars.
For more than three decades Webster competed in the extreme sport, racing everything from nitro and legend cars to dragsters all across North America. But, offering his expertise, time and resources is more rewarding and a priority.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to act like a Tom Cruise and giving back is important,” he said. “This stage of my life, this is what is exciting, watching these kids evolve so quickly.”
Webster, who owns oilfield service companies, has raced for three decades. In fact, Webster’s driving skills once caught the eye of seven-time NASCAR winner Richard Petty’s racing team while he was at a training event at the Las Vegas Super Speedway. Webster was one of a dozen drivers chosen to participate in Richard Petty’s NASCAR Driver Search in North Carolina.
Over the years Webster owned numerous racing cars and he funded Webster Motorsports himself, which has an eye-catching colourful fleet of cars, equipment and trailers.
In January, after his daughter Shaylene, 13, told him she wanted other kids to have the opportunity to race, Webster put out a driver search on Facebook. The ad stated that preferred candidates were aged 13 to 17, male or female, with no driving experience necessary. He expected a few applicants.
“We thought we would help out a couple of kids and threw the post on Facebook and had 1,500 applicants,” he said. “It has exploded on us.”
After screening, he narrowed it down to 14 youth. They include: Shaylene Webster, Sydney Sullivan, Noah Sullivan, Kylie Charles, Therese Johnson, Kiara Larocque, Jackson Rae, Makayla Stuart, Sara Koch, Jacob Gauvin and Trinity Berlinquette. Three youth have been away.
Webster built the race track on his land in Lacombe County, which is located between Blackfalds and Sylvan Lake.
“I had so much help from friends I grew up with since kindergarten,” he said. “They were so instrumental, three of them, Royal Livingstone, Wes Cromwell and Dean Rosell. They’ve put hundreds of hours in to make all this happen.
“Gary Miller of A1 Autobody was a great help in prepping all the cars and with the overall track design,” said Webster. “Gary raced for over five decades. A wide range of people have helped. We have done this from our hearts. No money has changed hands.”
“It’s coming to be a beautiful track,” he added. “The kids and parents are helping to get it completed. We have one more guard rail to do. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Even Shaylene helped.
“My daughter has been so instrumental in this. I can’t begin to say how much effort she put in it, out there running the ‘dozer.”
She helped run the equipment, wrote the entire program, rules, responsibilities and expectations for parents/drivers. She assisted in painting and labelling the cars. Helped in all aspects of getting the cars in race ready condition, changing oil, bolt checking and tire changes. She fed everyone while construction was on-going.
“She sacrificed two planned vacations we had scheduled in order to make this all happen,” said Webster. “She’s an amazing daughter and person, heart of gold.”
Webster’s sister Kathy Seagrave and his niece Amber Graydon and her husband Jeff, are helping with the scheduling and feeding the drivers.
“It’s been a whirlwind. It feels good.”
Webster bought 10 legend cars for the youth and hasn’t looked back.
“They’re not cheap,” he admitted. “I used my savings. I’m 55 and I’m looking at giving back to my community. I’m getting so much out of this and my daughter is learning so much. It’s well worth it.”
The 2017 kids racing program is also open to any corporate or personal sponsors and donors.
The young drivers hit the track for the first time May 6 where Webster taught them Rookie School and Top Gun School.
In Rookie School they learned side-by-side passing drills to get the feel of the track. The Top Gun School is more intense with side-by-side passing and leap frogging.
“It went over extremely well. Making everything safe is number one. They will test at my track all summer and race in Rimbey in competitions.”
Central Alberta Raceways has offered free entry for cars and drivers for the kids 2017 program. (See sidebar for dates.)
“This is a contribution in itself,” said Webster. “I must thank Chris Evans, oval track manager for this.”
At Central Alberta Raceway, adults reach top speeds of about 85 mph on the straight stretches and 55 to 60 mph on the curves, said Webster.
“The kids are not quite that fast but by the end of the season they should be doing well over 60 miles an hour. You have to turn left as soon as you get to your top speed so it’s a lot of finessing and a lot of thought processing. There are cars in front, beside and behind. You’re looking ahead and in your peripheral vision. There are so many aspects. It’s like driving on Deerfoot Trail in Calgary at 120 mph. It’s bumper to bumper, side-by-side, literally trying to get ahead of everybody.”
Although learning to race is fun, it comes with obligations.
“They have to be responsible,” said Webster. “It’s not a handout.”
Indeed, they learn valuable skills. They learn basic maintenance, repairs and up-keep required for everyday driving. In addition, they are learning theory on high speed driving, accident avoidance and driving in traffic while being in a safe and controlled environment. The program is aimed at increasing the young driver’s confidence level and instill common sense while being behind the wheel of any motorized vehicle or equipment and to save lives.
“So many kids are getting killed in cars and being complacent is a part of it. They are learning the responsibility of driving. I’m hoping this is a good learning process for everybody, including the parents.”
Blackfalds’ youths Sydney Sullivan, 14, who attends Grade 8 at Lacombe Junior High School, and her brother Noah Sullivan, 15, who attends Lacombe Composite High School, are participating in the racing program. It’s only the beginning of their racing career and they’re already learning important lessons.
“I’m learning about driving safety, which I’ll be using when I get my road license and learning to trust my driving instincts,” said Sydney.
Noah said he’s learned “You can’t win a race in the first lap. You can’t always be the best in your first try.”
Sydney said she wanted to participate because it seemed like it would be fun.
Noah said he never thought he would get this opportunity.
“It’s something new that I’ve never seen before. I just heard about it and saw it on TV.”
The most challenging aspect of racing is “learning to trust my driving abilities,” said Sydney.
For Noah, he said it’s “learning to just focus on my own driving and to trust the other drivers to not hit me.”
Sydney said she likes that she’s “allowed to go fast” and added, “It feels exciting and challenging.”
Noah enjoys the “feeling of freedom” he gets while driving describing it as “free and exhilarating.”
By the end of the season, 92 trophies will be handed out to the youth. The awards and recognitions include: 1st, 2nd, 3rd place trophies after each event. The year-end trophies include: Most Improved Driver, Sportsmanship Award, Leadership Award, Most Dedicated Participant Award, Most Valuable Off Track and Volunteer Recognition.
“It’s not all about winning,” said Webster. “There’s a lot more to it than winning.”
And the parents won’t be left out.
“There’s a big monster trophy for volunteering,” said Webster.
The parents – somewhat enviously – watch their children learn to race from a pro but they will get their opportunity to race at the end of the season.
“There will be a driver school for parents only. We may have a beer afterwards. The kids are welcome to come but it will be focused on the parents.”
Building the track and teaching youth to race has been an incredible bonding experience for Webster and his daughter Shaylene. It’s also helped the participating youth bond with their parents. A lot of kids, 13 to 17, don’t bond very well with their parents but that changes at the race track, said Webster.
“They come out to the first test drive and talk a week straight about it.”
The entire group has grown close and there’s a sense of camaraderie.
“It’s just heartwarming for me, watching my daughter gain from this, seeing parents and kids and the group all bonding so well together. These were strangers five weeks ago and now we’re like family, everyone gets along. It’s overwhelming.
“I feel that everything has just fallen into place so wonderfully, the equipment, the program,” added Webster. “It has fallen into place like it’s just meant to be. I’m believing that now.”
Legend Race Schedule
Central Alberta Raceways Rimbey Motorsports Park
• May 26 at 7 p.m.
• May 27 at 6 p.m.
• June 16 at 7 p.m.
• June 17 at 6 p.m.
• July 7 at 7 p.m.
• July 8 at 6 p.m.
• Aug. 11 at 7 p.m.
• Aug. 12 at 6 p.m.
• Sept. 22 at 7 p.m.
• Sept. 23 at 6 p.m.
Training / testing will be ongoing at the Legend track throughout the summer on evenings and weekends.
Updates will be posted on “Legends Racing News” on Facebook.