Baranek on Auto Racing: Gentile running to head of Mid-Am class
Tony Baranek email@example.com | (708) 633-5947 July 3, 2012 8:22PM
Updated: August 5, 2012 6:14AM
No sport brings out family ties more than local auto racing.
Friday night Mid-American feature winner John Ventrello is the nephew of two-time late-model champion Pat Kelly, who is the father of street stock points leader Nathan Kelly.
Late-model legend Dave Weltmeyer is the crew chief for his son, D.J.
The Schuler brothers, Larry and Tracy, still race together at Grundy, carrying on the tradition started by their father, Lee.
Former Raceway Park spectator champ Bob Wall can watch his daughter, Bobbie Jean, mix it up with the guys in the turbo stox class at Illiana.
Paul Shafer Sr., a dirt king in the 1990s, races a Legends car at Illiana, while his son, Paul Shafer Jr., is turning heads as a late-model rookie.
Another family combo at Grundy are the Gentile cousins, Dave and Kevin.
Dave Gentile, 35, of Joliet, is one of the top late-model drivers at Grundy, and makes occasional appearances at Illiana. He was the 2004 Mid-American titlist at Grundy.
Kevin Gentile, 18, of Elwood, is in his third season in the Mid-American class at Grundy. He is the points leader, with three feature victories.
Both of their fathers, Dave and Mike Gentile, raced at various Chicago-area asphalt tracks.
In 2011, Kevin Gentile just barely missed claiming a track title. He won the final feature of the season, but Billy Knippenberg was able to use a third-place finish to take the title by 10 points.
Kevin Gentile is chasing a dream that began when he was 10 years old.
“I loved watching Dave race when I was growing up,” Gentile said. “I remember him winning that Mid-Am title in 2004 and that was really the point where my life when I said, ‘I need to do this. I need to do this now. It looks fun.”
His father, Mike, bought Kevin his first go-kart in 2005. It’s been full-speed ahead ever since.
Gentile was behind Ron Vandermeir in points a few weeks back when he caught a big break. Vandermeir got married on a Friday night and missed the program. Gentile pounced on the chance and won the feature.
Vandermeir might have been better off sending Gentile an invitation.
“I wouldn’t have gone,” Gentile said, laughing. “Fortunately, we’re not that close. I graduated on May 28 (from Joliet Central), and I was here racing while they were graduating. I made it here, with much protest from my mom.
“(Vandermeir missing) was a big break, it really was. And you hate to take the lead like that. But at the end of the day, you work hard in the shop to be here every Friday night. If they miss, you have to take it.”
He got bounced around hard Friday night. Contact with Tommy Knippenberg during the heat ended with Gentile slapping the wall. He was fourth in the feature. Still, he came out of the night in one piece, and he’s still comfortably ahead of second-ranking Ron Willems.
A lot can change, though, during the next nine weeks.
“It is a grind, and it can be kind of a pain (chasing points) when you’re running second and you want to move the guy and win a race,” Gentile said. “But you’ve got to be smart about it. You’ve got to finish second, and get your points.
“It’s fun to race that way. To have those heart-jumping, heart-pounding moments when you know a championship is on the line.”