By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
HARTFORD -- If anyone believes that car racing is a one-man sport, just ask Mike Kekich of Hermitage, who leads the sprint cars division points standings at Sharon Speedway.
Kekich, seeking his first season points championship in six years of racing sprints, said his crew's efficient performance is the biggest reason for his 56 point lead over Jarod Larson of Rock Creek entering Saturday's second-to-last points races.
"I attribute our success this year to the crew's dedication and hard work," said Kekich.
His team includes crew chief John Demuthe of Hermitage and crew members Kenny Stafford of Johnson, Dave Kamovich of Sharpsville and Tony Demarco of Farrell.
Kekich, 39, a graduate of West Middlesex High, said that when he is speeding behind the wheel of his 410 (410 cubic-inch engine) sprint car -- with 800 horsepower behind him and reaching a speed of 140 mph for 25 laps -- he feels safe knowing his crew has prepared his car.
"I know that everything has [been] gone over," said Kekich, who has 1,019 points to Larson's 953. "I feel confident that everything has been checked, and the changes we made are right. We are constantly making changes because of the track conditions."
Third place is held by Jeff Schrum (827) of Canfield, followed by Gary Edwards (797) of Boardman and Jason Jacoby (745) of Franklin, Pa., in the 60-driver sprints standings.
Support from family
Kekich, a sprint racer for six years after racing micro-sprints for five years, also is grateful for the support he gets from family and friends.
His wife, Shelly, goes to the races every night along with his daughter Lindsey, age 12, and son Adam, 9.
"My son does help work on the car," he said. "He is learning at an early age. We are hoping to get him started in go-karts next year."
Kekich learned from his father, Paul "Putzy" Kekich.
"My father started racing when I was two years old," Kekich said. "I grew up around racing and it's just something I wanted to do."
His father still is an important part of his experience.
"He is down in the pits with me and he gives me advice," Kekich said. "My mother, Ann, comes once in awhile."
Likes car, engine
His car was manufactured by J & amp;J Auto Racing in McKenzie, Tenn., and his engine built by Kriner Racing Engines in Chambersburg. Pa.
"Last year was our first year that Kriner's started doing our engines," he said. "They are reliable and putting out a lot of horsepower right now. J & amp;J cars have always been good for us."
Cars in the 410 sprint cars division cannot weigh less than 1,200 pounds and cannot have an engine with more than 410 cubic inches.
"It's a car built for speed and quick acceleration," said Kekich, whose best sprints season was second place in 2000.
The winning purse for the 25-lap feature races is $1,200. The final sprints points races will be held Aug. 24.