By Phil Whipple. Photo By: Matt Townsend
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
MINERAL SPRINGS, Arkansas — Within the fast growing Factory Stock division across the Lone Star State, a handful of drivers have risen above the rest in on-track performance. A few have bagged some big-money wins, and one, along with his driving success, has become a leader in racing shocks.
For 36-year-old Neil Kemp, the short track industry has been very kind in recent seasons. In 2020, he made a whopping 45 starts, with 13 wins, 31 top-five and 34 top-10 finishes. When you look up 'model of consistency' in the dictionary, there's a picture of Neil Kemp next to the text. He's really that good.
“I was pretty fortunate to only have three races that I finished not be inside the top five,” Kemp said. “I didn't win my first feature until May 31. I raced four of five nights before it started coming together. In mid June, I won both nights at 67 and Ark-La-Tex. The next week, I won at 67 again and at Boothill.
“That's clean sweeps on back-to-back weekends. The night I won the $10,000 at Boothill was win No. 7 on the year, and I won my 13th feature on a Wednesday night in November at Ark-La-Tex. It was a fun season and brought a great deal of success, for which I'm truly grateful.”
Kemp's background in the sport dates goes back to when he first climbed into a car at the age of 22. It was a slow start his first season, but once things started to gel – the wins and titles started to come.
“When I was a kid, my step-family had a Late Model, so I helped out as much as I could,” Kemp explained. “I went to the track with them every week. I took care of that car like it was my own. I didn't have much growing up, but I watched all kinds of kids get things handed to them. I never had that.
“I started racing in 2006, and did not own my own car until 2018. I raced for 12 years and never owned a race car. A buddy of mine built a car for me, and I won some races in it. It was a good piece. I've won 114 features since I started racing, and around 80 of them were in a Street Stock.”
Not only is Kemp known as a gifted and winning racer, his skills at rebuilding racing shocks have taken the market by storm. His club 20 brand now services customers all over the Ark-La-Tex region and points beyond. He is a one-man show, but the number of shocks he handles will leave you breathless.
“It was really a very humble, small start to this thing with shocks,” Kemp said. “I started out in 2014 with just a couple of my buddies putting my logo on their car. I didn't really advertise. I had built 230 shocks from 2014 until April of 2017. And then, I won the Factory 50 at Timberline, and it took off.
“I worked in the logging industry all of my life, from high school through 2019. That year, I was three months behind on shocks. I had a great boss, but I was leaving my house at 4 a.m., getting home at 5 or 6 and working on shocks until midnight. I took a chance to go full time, and it hasn't slowed down yet.”
Kemp has truly become a “shock scientist” for the most part. More than his job, it's an obsession.
“Every shock has a number on it,” the reigning suspension guru expained. “The next one that I'll start will be number 3,952, and I am still way behind. When I started this deal, I treated everybody like I wanted to be treated. I still do my best at that today, but the volume is much higher. It's a challenge.”
Steve Sims is a Factory Stock racer and former points champion at the famed Cotton Bowl Speedway. He says when it comes to suspension, Kemp is the authority and his shocks helped him a great deal.
“Neil is the guy you go to when you want the very best,” Sims said. “He's a great driver, and he wins using his shocks and setups. He proves what his products can do for your performance. I have a new car for this year and can't wait to get my Club20 shocks on it and put it into Victory Lane.”
In his Street Stock days, Kemp started a unique trend. He developed a style that inspired announcer Zach clark to begin calling him “three-wheel Neil.”
“In 2013, I tried some wild, crazy stuff on a chassis setup,” Kemp explained. “It started picking the left front tire way up off the ground, and I started winning races by a huge margin. The picture of this car with the tire up in the air, on its way to another win, spread all over social media. It became a thing.”
When it comes to choosing a brand of chassis, Kemp says there's only one smart choice.
“I have an Outlaw chassis now from my good friend Justin Whitehead,” Kemp explained. “His cars are the best there are out there right now. I had tried that big race at Boothill before, but I didn't even make the show. He builds a great car and is a huge help to me, as he's been to several racers in Texas.”
While Kemp has a rather limited crew (he often travels alone to races, when his son, Dextin, can't go), he does have several businesses contributing to his efforts on the ovals.
“I really need to thank all the great companies who support my team, including Outlaw Race Cars, Team 5 Enterprise, Best Engines, Farmer’s Tree Service, Club20 Suspension, Swift Springs, Harold’s Transmission, Pure Max Racing Oils, Neeley’s Service Center, Ralls Racing, A&T Delivery, LCC Trucking, Afco, QA1, Southern Roofing, Laxton Electric and Dirt Defender. I appreciate all they do.”
As the 2021 season openers draw closer, Kemp, the 2020 winner of the $10,000-to-win King of the Hill at Boothill Speedway, has a few goals in mind. One is a no-brainer, the other may surpsise you.
“Of course, I want to win races myself like the King of the Hill again, but what I really want to see this year is my Club20 customers having success,” Kemp added. “I love seeing guys who run my shocks in Victory Lane. If I run second every night to one of my customers, I'm perfectly ok with that.”