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February 13, 2018

Teen from Willard ready to chase Lucas Oil Speedway ULMA Late Model points championship

Kaeden Cornell
Kaeden Cornell is eager to move into Late Models full time this season. Driving a Rick Hoover-owned Rocket, the 17-year-old plans to chase the Lucas Oil Speedway Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA Late Model track championship. (Kenny Shaw photo)

Wheatland, Missouri (February 13, 2018) - When Rick Hoover made the phone call last summer to measure young Kaeden Cornell's interest in driving one of his ULMA Late Models, the veteran Ozarks-area car owner had done his homework.

"I had been watching Kaeden for two years in his B-Mod, though he didn't know it," Hoover said. "I knew there was talent there. Not only talent, but he knows how to take care of equipment."

It didn't take Cornell long to accept Hoover's offer to add Late Model driving duties to his regular B-Mod schedule at Lucas Oil Speedway. The Willard High School junior went on to finish fourth in Ozark Golf Cars USRA B-Mod points - all the while getting his feet wet in the Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA Late Models the second half of the 2017 season.

Now the 17-year-old Cornell is turning his sole racing focus to Hoover's Late Models. Yep, that's plural as in two Rocket-chassis Late Models. The Hoover-Cornell tandem plans to dedicate one car to chase the ULMA track championship at Lucas Oil Speedway while using the second to enter some Open Late Model events, such as the Lucas Oil MLRA Spring Nationals.

That might sounds ambitious for some. Cornell, named 2017 Lucas Oil Speedway "Most Popular Driver" in fan voting last fall, looks upon it as an opportunity.

"Gosh, nobody gets the opportunity I'm getting. I'm very blessed," Cornell said. "I thank God. And Rick, he's one heck of a guy who will do anything in the world for anyone. I have to thank him so much."

Cornell, who also plays basketball at Willard High School, isn't bashful in setting goals for his first full season in the Late Model.

"I expect to win the (track) championship," Cornell said. "That's my main goal and my main focus. After that, I want to win a lot of races. Last year, we won only one (B-Mod) feature and I wasn't very happy with that. The equipment Rick puts us in, I need to be winning races."

Hoover said he saw tremendous progress in Cornell's handful of Late Models races last season, including a couple of open Late Model programs that Cornell qualified in the fall with a motor limited in power.

"I knew he had it. I just thought it would take him a little more time," Hoover said. "He took to it really quick. I really think he has a bright future. Racing is opportunity. That's what it amounts to.

"We'll run for the ULMA track championship this year and we're gonna travel to some open shows. Then, maybe next year, we'll move up to Open Late Models" full time.

Hoover laughed about the constant thanks that Cornell gives him for the opportunity. He said the feeling is mutual, crediting the youngster and the Cornell family - Kaeden's dad Aaron is the crew chief - with re-igniting his racing fire.

"I couldn't have asked to get hooked up with a better young man and with a better family," Hoover said. "He's humble. He knows he has to work hard to get where he wants to be. And he works real hard."

It's the polite, down-to-earth demeanor combined with talent that seems to have made Cornell a hit with the fans. He called being voted "Most Popular Driver" a career highlight.

"Without the fans, this sports doesn't happen," Cornell said. "It's extremely cool to me that I even have fans. I sure didn't know that I had that many. Every chance I get, I talk to people if they want to talk to me.

"That was by far the best award I ever got in my life. It brought a tear to my eye when I went up on stage (at the Lucas postseason banquet) and got it."

Kaeden Cornell

Willard's Kaeden Cornell, with Lucas Oil Speedway Assistant General Manager Danny Lorton, after being named "Most Popular Driver" at the 2017 speedway banquet. (Kenny Shaw photo)

The Lucas Oil Speedway 2018 season begins April 7 with the Big Adventure RV Weekly Racing Series opener. An open test and tune is scheduled for March 31.

For ticket information, including season passes for all events and three-day passes for the 26th annual Show-Me 100 Presented by, contact Admissions Director Nichole McMillan at (417) 282-5984.

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