Racing group finds camaraderie on the road

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By Kacie Goode

“I’d be willing to bet when Henry Ford built the first two cars, there were probably two guys out there racing ’em.”

Ben Geoghegan, KYSO member from New Haven


Gathered around space heaters in Ben Geoghegan’s garage, Allen Case, Joe Minton, William Smith, Chris Gootee and Junior Riggs reminisce about some of their recent racing experiences, show off their cars and talk shop. For almost two years, the men have explored the racing world a little more with participation in the Kentucky Street Outlaws, a street racing group that travels across the country to take part in various events — including filming with the Discovery Channel.

“We’ve all been racing for years,” Geoghegan said of the group. “I’m 43 years old, and I grew up under a Chevrolet. My dad was into it, and that’s how a lot of guys get into it.”

While some of them have paid their fair share of visits to sanctioned “tracks,” it’s the county’s back roads and some not-so-legal racing nights where their roots lie.

“That’s where most of us got a start, a passion for it,” New Haven resident and KYSO founder Allen Case said.

In their youth, the back roads saw the action with local crews going head-to-head on 1/8th-mile stretches. It's those areas that remain a gathering place for a new generation of racers today, and while the older racers still pay a visit, they've moved on to bigger events. As the local group of racing enthusiasts grew, they began looking for new challenges, and it was Case who suggested they start traveling. The endeavor wouldn’t be an easy one. It would take a lot of convincing and, in some cases, a leap of faith to push the back-road racers out of their comfort zones.

“Pulling crews together was going to be tough, but he did it,” Geoghegan said of Case, who was able to connect different racers from different areas.

When Case first started exploring the idea, he connected with a show called Street Outlaws in Oklahoma, a long-running reality series about American street racing. After taking part in an event with that show, KYSO later connected with JJ Da Boss, a racer and TV personality of the new spinoff series Street Outlaws: Memphis, which was looking to take on its own challengers. Throughout the last year, KYSO members have taken part in events for that series as well.

“It will air on this next season,” Case said, though specific dates have not yet been announced.

Just as with their local races, most of the out-of-town events KYSO takes part in involve 1/8th-mile races and while some events will occasionally be held at a track, the majority of racing takes place on roads that have been temporarily shut down.

When it comes to the actual business of racing, Geoghegan said, there is a lot of negotiating and a lot of terminologies that can determine how a race is measured. With most events, there is a $500 minimum bet, but bets can go as high as the participant is willing. There are different types of racing categories depending on conditions and cars involved, and while cars such as “pro-mods” are built specifically for the sport, a lot of the cars used locally are street legal, licensed and insured.

Even when taking part in other events, certain rules and practices are expected of the local participants. Cars used in races must have factory steel roofs, steal quarter panels and other specifications, such as racing seats, a harness and a roll cage. Drivers are also required to wear helmets and fire suits, as “Safety is key” Case said.

While the television series may have brought wider exposure to the sport itself, street racing comes natural to many in the area. It’s a hobby they learned from a young age and one they will pass on to their own kids. For members of the KYSO especially, it’s a passion that takes a lot of time, money and sacrifice.

“It’s more than a car, it’s a life,” Geoghegan said, adding the racers have spent holidays on the road, and dedicate much of their time outside of their jobs working on their cars.

“I know I couldn’t do it without my wife standing behind me,” Riggs said, adding that family support is important for those who take part.

That idea of family also extends beyond blood, as many of the area KYSO participants say they have found a racing family with the group.

“You meet a lot of good people,” Smith said, people they’d be willing to bend over backward for, despite the occasional rivalry and all-in-good-fun trash talking.

“It’s not just about racing, it’s about helping each other out,” Geoghegan said. “If something breaks down, someone will be there to fix it.”

Geoghegan, who mostly works on the mechanical side of the sport, recalled a time he found himself in a bind with a project. He was asked to drive for an event, but he was working on another racer’s car and knew he wouldn’t have time to complete that work and also prepare his own for the event. Before he knew it, his garage was full of people willing to help get the work done on both cars so that he could participate.

“The atmosphere in the shop that week” was astounding, he said, and a demonstration of what KYSO and street racing is all about.

KYSO’s membership is at around 600, Case said, comprising several enthusiasts from Nelson County as well as others across Kentucky and parts of Indiana. Among the group, there are about 50-60 cars that compete, he said.

“It’s a race family and it grows daily as more hear about the group,” he said.

Those interested in learning more about KYSO or participating in the group can contact them on Facebook through the Kentucky Street Outlaws (KYSO) Racing page.