SALISBURY, N.C. – Fifteen-year-old Tanner Holmes is riding a huge wave of momentum into this week’s inaugural Keith Kunz Motorsports Giveback Classic presented by Toyota Racing Development at Millbridge Speedway.
After picking up his first three full-size sprint car wins in consecutive starts during the month of September, the Oregon native went out and grabbed an outlaw kart victory Saturday night in the second race of the season for the Red Bluff Outlaws.
That success in the Tyler Wolf Memorial, combined with the big-car experience he’s picked up through the summer and fall, has Holmes fired up and ready to contend for a Keith Kunz Motorsports midget ride on Wednesday night in North Carolina.
“We’re on a huge roll right now; this has been an amazing stretch for me and for our teams,” said Holmes.
“You can never count out how important this kind of momentum is and we’re really hitting on all cylinders right now. It’s game on and we hope to come out and contend this week at Millbridge.”
Holmes qualified for the track’s first crown-jewel race of the season – the QRC Speed51 Open – in May, but had a mechanical issue derail his efforts, relegating him to an 18th-place finish.
Despite the disappointing result, however, Holmes does feel that his past experience at the sixth-mile dirt oval gives him a bit of an edge on many of the other drivers who will be seeing the track for the first time.
Tanner Holmes at speed at Millbridge Speedway. (Kara Campbell photo)
“I do feel like it definitely gives me a head start on lots of the competition,” Holmes noted. “We have made the big show the past two years at Millbridge in May and started making some great laps around there, this year especially. Lots of my competitors haven’t even been there before, so I’m excited to hit the track and get after it.
“As far as what makes the track tricky, you have to really perfect your line,” he continued. “If it’s right on the wall, then you had better be wide open on the wall. If it’s on the bottom, you have to keep your left front on the bottom and not make a mistake or get off it. Another thing is that, when you throw sliders, you have to keep your foot in it because of the high speeds around the top side of the track. It’s a really tough place and there’s lots of things involved with being fast there.”
Holmes also believes that his sprint-car experience will help him improve his own skillset and contend for the victory in Wednesday night’s 50-lap, $2,000-to-win feature event.
“I think how straight you have to keep the sprint car will help me in trying to be smooth at Millbridge,” explained Holmes. “On the top side, you really do want to be dead straight (off the corner), so I’m hoping some of my sprint car experience will help in that regard. I also think that racing the sprint has made me more aggressive than maybe I was before, and that’s another big key in any form of racing.
“All in all, I’m just excited to get there and get behind the wheel again.”
Should Holmes be the victor on Wednesday night, he won’t be able to claim the ultimate prize of a Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals ride with Keith Kunz Motorsports, as he won’t turn 16 before the event begins on Jan. 14.
However, Holmes would be eligible for a KKM ride at a different event, something he said would be “career-changing.”
“Man, if I could win the Giveback Classic … that would turn everything upside-down for me,” said Holmes. “It would give me the opportunity to drive in a top-notch midget on a big stage, and if you do well on the big stage that you’re in, it could open up even more opportunities down the road.
“It would be very cool if I could get it done and would help move me on to the next step of my career.”
But make no mistake, even as he’s focused on moving up, Holmes doesn’t want to leave his outlaw kart roots behind.
He plans to complete the 2018-19 Red Bluff Outlaws season and anticipates still running select kart races next season as his schedule permits.
“I’m hoping to still race these some, because they really are a blast!” Holmes grinned. “It’s some of the most fun you can have in racing, I feel like.”
First, though, is a date with the Giveback Classic and a shot at the biggest moment yet in his young career.