Our 2009 Spears Srl Southwest Tour Series Champion is also the all-time wins leader in the NASCAR Elite Division Southwest Tour Series. This Frazier Park, CA driver has 22 wins, to go along with 11 more in the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series. His 33 overall wins are second only to Derek Thorn, whose wins are all found in the SRL. This driver holds the all-time record for top-five’s, with 122 (88 NSWT + 34 SRL) and top-10’s with 166 (123 NSWT + 43 SRL) in the combined series stats. The driver is RPM Motorsports chauffer M.K. Kanke.

Despite all the records for Kanke, he hadn’t scored a touring series title until his 2009 achievement. The veteran driver made his first NASCAR Southwest Tour Series start in 1987, making 215 career starts, second all-time. In those years, however, he only ran eight full-time seasons. He came close to championships in multiple seasons, finishing as the championship runner-up in 1998. He finished third three times and fourth another three. His worst full-time season resulted in a seventh.

“We were different from most other teams, as we never ran for championships, unless I was running for a different car owner, because it was a commitment I had to them”, Kanke described. “When I commit to something, I’m 110%, no matter if it’s one race, 10 races or 30 races. I ran a couple of years when (Ron) Hornaday and I were running, where I was running with different people and was able to do it. I remember the year that (Rick) Carelli won the championship, and we quit four, five or six races into the season, because we were out of money, when we were leading it.”

But despite the near misses in the NASCAR Southwest Tour Series, Kanke felt the championship in the SRL was more meaningful than a NASCAR Title.

“It probably meant more to me than it would have in NASCAR”, Kanke explained. “People are probably going to think it is a weird thing to say, but it did mean more. It meant more because of how Steve (Fensler) was running the series and how they were trying to improve it, to make it a bigger national series. I had a lot of fun working with them, and doing things to help them get up to that point. Steve didn’t have the series at that point, but the work was put in ahead of time, and it was just good.”

2009 was the first season in which Larry and Marion Collins as well as Brian Olsen took over the reins of the Flashco SRL Southwest Tour Series, from Steve Fensler. Spears Manufacturing would come aboard as the primary sponsor, and the series was renamed the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series. It is a relationship that is now in its 12th season. The car count increased from 20.4 to 21.6 with 47 drivers scoring championship points, an increase of four. Kevin Callahan was crowned the Rookie-of-the-Year and Craig Raudman was the series last Qualifying Champion. It was also a season in which Jacob Gomes made his first, of 100 consecutive starts.

The 2009 schedule consisted of 10 events at six different venues. Multiple events were held at Madera Speedway (3), The New Stockton 99 Speedway (2), Irwindale Speedway (2) and the LVMS Bullring and Dirt Track (2), with a single event at ALL AMERICAN SPEEDWAY – ROSEVILLE CA. Kanke took home victories at four facilities, and was the only driver to score multiple wins. In ten starts he also compiled eight top-five and nine top-10’s. He won a series record $20,350 for his efforts.

In a season of great memories, and magnificent success, Kanke’s favorite memory of the campaign was overcoming hardship, and coming out triumphant.

“It was one of the Irwindale races that we won”, Kanke recalled. “We broke the ring and pinion in the rear end, and we started in the back and won the race. Everything was clicking that year. We had to take two cars and make one. The team was so awesome that year. They really did have it down. I just had the lucky part of driving it. That night was pretty special.”

Kanke had formidable competition, during his 2009 championship campaign. Kanke scored four victories, with Jim Pettit II, Smittys Voigt, Josh Combs, Mike Mendenhall, Troy Ermish and Auggie Vidovich scoring single victories. The top-10 consisted of Kanke, Voigt, Combs, Pettit, Mendenhall, Ermish, Callahan, Dave Byrd, Brennan Newberry and Todd Bammer, with Craig Raudman just missing the top-10. Kanke enjoyed the battles he had during that season, with several competitors earning special remembrance.

“I really enjoyed racing against (Jim) Pettit, (Dave) Byrd and (Craig) Raudman that year, because they were very hard racers”, Kanke stated. “They would race you hard, all three of those guys, and you wouldn’t need to be concerned about anything except racing for the checkered. There was no dirty stuff that happened, nothing that anybody would pull any funny stuff on you. They would just race really hard and that’s what I liked about. (Greg) Voigt was the same too.”

For the 2020 season, Kanke’s son Cale Kanke will be behind the wheel of the RPM Motorsports Dodge, named “Trampled Under Foot”. Kanke loves the appeal of the “Tour”, now that the rules packages across the country have become mostly aligned. It allows the teams to crisscross the country, to participate in the biggest events. He sees a parallel with the NASCAR Elite Divisions, from a few years after their formation.

“What happened when NASCAR formed the Southwest Tour, it took all the champions from all over the country”, Kanke began. “The bigger races have all the champions, like when the tour first started. They got rid of the wedge cars and they went to this particular car, and after a few years we all had the same rules. What happened was, all the champions from all the tracks, from all over the country, started racing in it. Now I see the same thing starting to come back to where we do have guys coming from Colorado, and guys coming from Utah, and guys from up north, and Tucson, and back in North Carolina. That is what is happening, and what happened when NASCAR started (the tours). It has basically gotten to this point through all these years of working to get to there again, in coordination with the drivers and teams.”

Kanke continued, as he recalled getting involved with the SRL and with Steve Fensler.

“That’s how I got into the SRL. Fensler and I were talking about it after the “Tour”, when NASCAR decided they were going to stop. Steve wanted to take the SRL, and make it into what it is today, really. I credit Fensler for really doing the big stepping-stone, and taking confidence in Hoosier and American Racer and really taking it to the next level. Then of course the Collins took it after that, and made it even better. It had to get through those steppingstones from when Fensler started though. To get to the point of having rules that are uniform across the country.”

The SRL’s Larry Collins recalled the contribution that Kanke made along the way, to help take the series to the next level.

“M.K. was one of the winningest drivers in West Coast short track racing. So, with his team competing the in the SRL, it raised the bar of the quality of competition the series had to offer. As with all the championship teams of the SRL, the 33-team brought a high level of professionalism and commitment to the series, that set the standard for the series.”

But what ultimately made Kanke decide to participate in the Southwest Tour? His answer was most likely the same as many other successful drivers.

“The competition, more than any other division I raced!”

The next event, on the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series schedule, is a trip to Roseville, CA. Last year’s event at All American Speedway was a thriller, with the 2020 edition promising to be just as exciting. The “JM Environmental 127 presented by 51 FIFTY LTM.” will take place on May 16th, and will pay a minimum of $7,000-to-win. A $5,000 bonus will be available to any driver who qualifies in the top eight, and elects to start in the back. If that driver wins, they will head home with a $12,000 victory. In addition, John Moore will give each driver who makes the feature race, a “black bad a** cowboy hat, made by Lonestar. It’s a hat that makes you look handsome and sexy at the same time”, commented Moore.

PC: Thank you to Dan Nikolai for sending photos from the 2009 season taken by David Misco.