Today we are inducting a driver, a father, a promoter, a consultant into the Racingkc.com Hall of Fame. If you have been attending races in the Kansas City area you know this person, we have watched his talents on the tracks around the Kansas City area. He has won at Lakeside Speedway both the original track and the new current location, he has won at I-70 Speedway several times including his biggest win, he has won on the Magic Mile of Du Quoin, Illinois, he has won at Heartland Park Topeka, he has won on just about every track he has ventured to race on.
He burst on the Kansas City racing scene in 1987 driving a red Chevrolet Camaro on his hometown track, Lakeside Speedway. A track he and his buddies went to every Friday Night via bicycle, walking, however they could get there and usually, without money, so they pestered folks until they said go on in. He won his first race in the Powder Puff race at Riverside Stadium. He was scheduled to race in the Mechanics race but got bumped out of that ride, so they sent him out in the Powder Puff. He was running a safe third until Mrs. Waitley and Mrs. Withrow began door banging each other and took themselves out of the race. Upon taking the checkered flag, he drove straight to the pit area. Smart Kid!
While racing he managed to complete High School at Bishop Ward and, also graduate from K-State. In 1989, the world changed in Kansas City racing, Lakeside reopened in a new location as an asphalt track and I-70 Speedway had reopened. On asphalt this driver became one of the winningest drivers in the area. In 1989 he claimed two modified victories at I-70 Speedway. In 1991 he won at I-70 Speedway in a Late Model but he was still primarily a modified driver at the time. In 1995 he began driving primarily a Late Model and started the season with a hot streak, winning the first three features at I-70 Speedway and had a four-win streak at Lakeside Speedway in the month of April.
A young up and coming driver we all thought was headed for a full-time career in NASCAR. The problem was a young Jeff Gordon burst onto the NASCAR scene and started winning races. Those who had to bide their time and enter the NASCAR ranks in their 30s after building a great resume at their home tracks were suddenly being passed over by anyone who might be the next young Jeff Gordon. This driver fell into that category along with an unfortunate accident.
Opening Night 1997, I-70 Speedway, the unfortunate accident happened which changed everything for this driver. The Late Model race was, actually boring, because this driver had a full straightaway lead on everyone, but there was a 12-car battle for second, and track announcer Bob Libbey was making it super exciting for that second-place battle when all the sudden the pack is passing an upside-down car coming off the banking in turn 2. Who was it, what happened, it was the leader and our inductee. Hall of Fame inductee Butch Smeltzer advised on the radio they were calling in Life Flight. New General Manager Marc Olson, at the time the driver’s wife Trish, and I headed over to the turn. Needless to say, the driver was out of racing for a couple of years as he recovered from skull fractures and other injuries. He wore an eye patch for several months. He credits Trish for getting him through this time, but he also credits this accident and some of the struggles from this accident leading to his happiness today with wife Joy and his children Austin and Addison.
By now if you have not figured out the latest inductee into the Racingkc.com Hall of Fame is John O’Neal Jr. We have witnessed his growth in the sport as young man, as an up and coming driver, as a promoter and, in particular, as a promoter of youth in the sport, and now as a father and consultant.
As an upcoming driver he competed in ARTGO, ASA, ARCA, and several of the NASCAR Series Midwest, Southwest, and K&N Pro series. He has raced in competition with current Cup racers Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer and points out McMurray never won against him. He has two track championships.
In 1996 he won the Lakeside Speedway Late Model Championship with 14 wins and in 2001, again with 14 wins, he was the I-70 Speedway Late Model Champion. He has won on dirt and asphalt. He experienced a second wreck at I-70 Speedway in which the back half of the car was sheared off. He won in dominating fashion at I-70 Speedway, that like Jimmie Johnson in NASCAR he was loathed by racers, fans, and even officials who should have been impartial.
On May 21, 2004, John would lead the field to the checkered in the Modified class at Lakeside Speedway. Completing a transition from years of asphalt racing to returning to dirt racing. He has won on the dirt in Stock Cars, Factory Stocks, and Modifieds. On September 1, 2008 O’Neal claimed the victory in the UMP Modified race at the famed DuQuoin Magic Mile. However, when asked what was his favorite victory of his many victories it was winning the 2001 I-70 Speedway World Cup race, a race previously won by drivers such as Butch Miller, Bobby Gill, and Jody Ridley.
A new chapter is opened for John and one he readily accepts. That new chapter is as Dad. He took on the role of promoter for Thunderlake Speedway the former go-kart track located just down the street from Lakeside Speedway. He was quite successful in that role while also getting son Austin involved in the sport. He has steadily supported Austin in his endeavors in racing, moving from go-karts to Mini-Sprints to Factory Stock/Pure Stock to this year Stock Cars. He credits everything that has occurred in his life to the happiness he now experiences as father to Austin and Addison and the love of Joy his wife. This was mentioned four different times in our conversation.
I asked about his relationship with his Dad John O’Neal Sr. and how this has changed over the years from his Father supporting him to him now supporting Austin. He responded victory lane belongs to his son. He sits in the stands with his dad, Sr. and they enjoy watching Austin and his celebration in victory lane.
I will also say his daughter Addison gets her time with Dad. She was with him in one of the meetings on asking him to be a consultant at I-35 Speedway this upcoming season. She is a very sharp Young lady and all the credit goes to the parents John and Joy on how they support their children.
John has been a part of the Kansas City racing history for 30 plus years. We have been blessed to witness this history. We look forward to what the O’Neal family brings to Kansas City area racing. Congratulations John O’Neal on your induction into the Racingkc.com Hall of Fame.