Crashing on the frontstretch during The Rattler weekend at South Alabama Speedway this year hardly does justice to how far 19-year-old Kenzie Ruston has come in just a short period of time. Her rookie season in Late Models last year was more like a ride on a rollercoaster than a trek on the track, but now people are beginning to realize that this girl may just have the talent it takes to be a star in the sport.
Yet, to understand where Kenzie Ruston is right now, one must realize that the girl from Oklahoma only began her racing career a mere five years ago.
At 14-years-old, admittedly a little later than most of her competition, Kenzie Ruston stepped into a Bandolero for the first time at Texas Motor Speedway for the 2006 Summer Stampede Series. Since then, she has not let her “late” start in the sport hinder her in anyway. In fact, she’s overcome it with stunning accomplishments that far surpass many drivers who were seemingly behind the wheel from birth.
“We actually started kind of slow,” recalled Ruston. “We ran Bandos at Texas for about three years and finished third and fifth in national points. From there we made the obvious step into a Legends Car and won the national points championship in only our second season.”
Along with her 2009 Semi-Pro Division National Points Championship, Kenzie also brought home six other awards that year, including Texas Motor Speedway Winter and Summer Stampede Championships and Driver of the Year Award, as well as the title of Youngest Female to win an Asphalt National Championship in a Legend Series.
After two decorated years in the Legend Car ranks, Ruston took up residence in “Race City, USA” - Mooresville, North Carolina - and made a full run at the 2010 PASS South Super Late Model schedule as well as several other select Late Model events throughout the year.
“It was hard last year,” said Ruston. “We ran PASS all year with a crate motor, so we kind of struggled. We always qualified terrible and then had to start in the back. And from the back you can never go anywhere but forwards. So that was kind of my motto for last year because we didn’t really have the motor to compete with any of them. Towards the end of the races we could hang with them but in the beginning we struggled.”
After some trying times on the track, the naysayers began to run rampant. But then a lifeline was thrown to the young female in the form of NASCAR Southeast Series and Super Late Model legend Jeff Fultz. Halfway through last year, Fultz became her driver coach.
“We started out with Jason Ricker, and we did good with him,” recalled Ruston. “We just weren’t going where we wanted to, so we went over to Fultz’s and he has treated us nothing but nice. It’s nice to have somebody that drives to help you too. I mean, it’s just been great all the way around that he’s been able to help me like other people couldn’t. Plus having a guy on our side like Jeff Fultz with all that he’s done is a great help too.”
Her 13th-place finish in the PASS South standings didn’t give the progress she had made any justice. However, she nearly stole the show from veteran Mike Garvey in the Pro Late Model regular season finale at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL. Then she topped off her 2010 schedule with an impressive top-10 finish in the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway during Snowball Derby weekend.
“We were running second to him [Garvey] when we got in a tussle with the guy behind us and got spun,” recounted Ruston. “It was heartbreaking, but just to run with him and Bubba (Pollard), I was excited. I had never really run with people that have been that accomplished in Late Models before so it was exciting and I learned a lot. Of course I really wish I could have won that race. You can’t go back now, but it really was an honor.
“When we went back down to Five Flags for the Snowflake, we really expected a lot more since we had been there a month, or a couple weeks, before,” said Ruston. “I really expected to at least be in the top-5. Not that starting in the back and coming to tenth wasn’t an accomplishment, I just still expected a lot more so it kind of let me down because, even though we did have a good finish, I didn’t really get to prove myself like I wanted to in that race.”
Riding high on that momentum, after only five years of competition, the 19-year old has taken the next step in her career and teamed with top ARCA Racing Series team, Venturini Motorsports, for seven select events in the 2011 season.
“It all came about kind of quickly,” explained Ruston. “We’re going to hit it hard next year (2012) and run the full ARCA season and for the Rookie of the Year honors so this year we don’t really have any goals. We just want to get our feet wet and learn the ropes and build a solid foundation for next year. We weren’t originally planning to do this, but when the opportunity came about to do it with the best of the best at Venturini Motorsports, we just had to. It’s an incredible opportunity to get to learn with a team that’s done what they have.”
In addition to her ARCA Racing Series scheduled events this year, Ruston will also continue to compete on the PASS South circuit as well as select Super Late Model events throughout the season.
Just like any other driver trying to emerge from the crowd in this sport, Kenzie Ruston has had many challenges thrown her way and many struggles to overcome in a short period of time. The difference in Ruston is that she’s met each challenge head on and pushed forward accepting nothing less than the best from herself as driver with something to prove.