Tonight the spotlight is on one man who has left an impact on all of us in racing.
I'm speaking of Keith Kauffman of Mifflintown. Kauffman has decided to call it a career and will retire at the end of the season. I'm told the Tuscarora 50 program will likely be the last race although Kauffman originally told me he wasn't sure when he would be done.
I watch with mixed emotions - happy for what Kauffman has meant to the sport and the memories he has given us and sad that it's time for this great driver to say enough. No one knows when the time comes in any sport to call it a career. I'm not sure even Kauffman can put his finger on why now is the time but it is.
One telling comment came in a story in the Patriot-News Thursday: "I was going to race as long as it's fun. It's time," Kauffman said.
Kauffman is 63 years young and told me at the start of the year, "You can't do this forever." I replied I would be sad to see him go and happy if he gets through the year uninjured and is happy and healthy. I wish him an enjoyable retirement.
Still, it won't be the same next season without the man from Mifflintown on the track. Kauffman doesn't plan to be a total stranger - wife Kathy will probably still help out with the speedway novelty stand and he says he'll show up. That's good for all race fans.
Will he take another role in racing, such as promoter? Time will tell. Right now I think Kauffman will relax a bit and go from there. He has nothing to prove to anyone. Think about it: 308 career wins, 24 All Star victories, Eight World of Outlaw wins, 15 track championships, a PA Sprint Car Speed Week title and was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.
Along the way Kauffman raced with the United States Auto Club in their dirt champ car series and won a race at Nazareth National Speedway when it was still dirt. What makes his career even more interesting and special is that he like others from his era started racing later than the kids of today.
Lynn Paxton told me last week, "I was 21 years old for four years," because when Paxton started you had to be 21 to race. How times have changed.
It was similar for Kauffman and others. Had Kauffman stayed home where he could have dominated during his career, his win total would surely be even higher. Instead Kauffman took on the challenge of touring with the Outlaws where he earned additional respect from promoters and competitors alike. Outlaws founder Ted Johnson said, "I never saw a man who could get more out of a 10th-place car than Keith Kauffman." Jeff Gordon told an interviewer on now-defunct TNN that Kauffman was one of his idols while growing up. That's impressive.
One never knows who they may touch in their life but Kauffman has touched many of us with his love of the sport, skills and good nature. Along the way he married the right woman and they have raised a family, toured the country while racing and left their mark on the racing world. Along the way they have made a lot of friends. One of them will join Kauffman this evening signing autographs at Port Royal: Kenny Jacobs of Holmesville, Ohio. Jacobs will fly in for tonight's show and Kauffman will pick him up at the airport. I'm sure it will be a fun weekend.
Kauffman would never say publicly or private what I'm going to say next: I'm not sure it is as much fun for him, Fred Rahmer and others who are rumored to be talking about retirement at the end of this season. These guys don't want or expect a pity party from anyone and have nothing to prove. But today's sprint car racing isn't what it used to be and frankly many late model programs offer more exciting action to watch.
The entire program is dictated by the pill draw in which Kauffman hasn't had any luck so he starts bad on tracks that are possibly too fast to race on without becoming a one lane surface with no passing. Rules, track conditions and other factors have taken the race away from the driver and it's more difficult to use the ability one has. Guys that used to come from midway to three-quarters back to win can seldom do that anymore. When you can't use all your own talents perhaps it's another reason to say it's time to retire.
No matter what the reason the end result will be the same and someone has some pretty big shoes to fill. We'll still see Kauffman, still get that same smile, laugh and language and perhaps he will someday take on a new role somewhere in our spot. I hope he does. The racing world still needs the Keith Kauffmans and Fred Rahmers. We're all better for having met and watched these guys perform.
Kauffman could have won last week's race. I am hopeful he wins at least one more.
Good luck Keith - thanks for the memories and congratulations on what has been a great career.
Craig Rutherford writes about motorsports for The Sentinel.