On the track: Kodie Conner quickly establishes himself as PASS Pro Late Model contender

At age 13, Kodie Conner has quickly established himself as a victory contender in the Pro All Star Series, finishing fourth two consecutive years in the Pro Late Model standings and making his super late model debut in September with a fourth-place performance.

His 2014 performance included five Pro Late Model victories, two poles, seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 10 races. Overall, the Kannapolis resident has amassed 145 victories and 12 championships since he began racing quarter midgets at age 5.

“From age 5 to now, it’s what I love and want to do for the rest of my life,” the third-generation driver said about racing.

In Conner’s first quarter midget season, he collected four victories in 26 starts and set one track record. In 2007 and 2008 he competed in 101 quarter midget races with 48 victories, five championships and nine track records.

In 2009, Conner moved to the INEX Bandolero division and totaled 13 victories at Concord Speedway. He also earned the track’s Beginner Bandits championship despite racing half the season with a broken right arm.

Conner continued to race a Bandolero at Concord Speedway in 2010, winning four events and the Mid-Week Mayhem championship. He also placed second in the standings.

Conner continued racing a Bandolero in 2011 and 2012 finished second in the nation in the INEX Bandolero division. He also won championships at Auburndale, Fla., Rockingham and Concord, and finished second in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Summer Shootout standings.

He ended the 2012 season with 30 victories at seven different tracks along the East Coast. Conner also picked up his first INEX Legends car victory in his first attempt at Rockingham.

In 2013, the then 12-year-old Conner advanced into late model racing.

“That first year in late model, I thought it was pretty successful,” said Conner, a student at Corriher-Lipe Middle School in Landis. “It was basically my learning year because there were a lot of older fellows in my class. I was watching them to see how they drove. A lot of people looked at me like I was not going to be fast; that I would be in the way. Then after the race they had respect for me because I was running with them.

“With me being 12 years old at the time, I thought, ‘This is pretty cool to be racing with the older fellows … and them saying I could learn and advance my career.’”

In Conner’s inaugural season in the PASS Pro Late Model division, he had four top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in 11 races.

He didn’t get his first Pro Late Model victory until this year at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw. Conner then notched victories at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway, two at Southern National Motorsports Park near Kenly, and Orange County Speedway in Rougemont.

He missed only one Pro Late Model race in 2014 after a blown engine in the car. He and his dad, Shannon Conner, work on at their house at night after Conner has completed his homework.

Conner’s father, who works at the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience, formerly raced street stock and modifieds in New Jersey at Wall Stadium, Flemington and New Egypt. His grandfather, Jerry Conner, also raced at the same tracks as did the young Conner’s uncle, Pride Conner.

When Conner’s father moved to Kannapolis in 1999, he sold all of his racing equipment. When the family decided to re-enter racing with Conner they had to start from scratch.

“My dad really helps me out in my racing,” Conner said. “If I have any questions, I go right to him.”

Conner said the biggest struggle for him in the Pro Late Model Series was going from a half-size car to a full size, “just how to drive one of those cars.”

“My second year Jeff Fultz started helping me,” Conner said. “I learned a bunch from him. He really helped us in the 2014 season. Without him, I probably would have finished fifth in points or something like that. He helped with setups.

“My first race in a super late model was in September at Hickory. We went to him and asked if he would help us. He got the car setup. Out of 33 cars we qualified 12th. Lee Faulk and his team (also) helped us out. We finished fourth out of the 28 cars that started. I thought that was pretty interesting. I learned how to drive 150 laps instead of just the 50 I’m used to doing. It was a very good learning experience.”

For 2015, Conner plans to continue in the PASS Pro Late Model Series full-time and add an occasional super late model event when finances allow.

“It’s about just putting your heart into what you love,” Conner said.

Action Express personnel changes

Chris Mitchum has been hired as the director of race team operations for Action Express Racing, while veteran mechanic Chad Gordon has been promoted to crew chief of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Corvette.

A Virginia Beach, Va., native, Mitchum brings more than 20 years of racing experience to the Denver-based operation. He has served as a crew chief, driver, team manager and team owner. Mitchum’s success as a team owner reached its culmination last season in the IMSA Lamborghini Super Trofeo Series when he collected the team and amateur driver championships with Mitchum Motorsports.

Gordon is a Berlin, Vt., native and a 2009 NASCAR Technical Institute graduate. He has been a mechanic at Action Express Racing since December 2009. Gordon’s promotion comes as veteran crew chief Keith Johnson announces his retirement from racing. Johnson was the longest tenured member of Action Express Racing, having started with Brumos Racing 13 years ago. Johnson plans to focus on the new indoor rock climbing gym he and his brother Kris are opening in the Charlotte area.

Hickory banquet deadline

Anyone planning to attend Hickory Motor Speedway’s awards banquet on Dec. 20 must order tickets by Dec. 12. The tickets are $30 per person, $50 per couple and $15 for children ages 12 and under.

The banquet will be at the Newton Expo/Pin Station in Newton. The reception is at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. and the awards ceremony at 8 p.m. To reserve tickets, call 828-464-3655.

GoPro Motorplex helps soup kitchen

In only its second year, GoPro Motorplex more than tripled the amount of food its Thanksgiving Food Drive provided the Mooresville Soup Kitchen. By offering a reduced $15 rental race rate with each donation of five cans of food, the facility collected 2,745 pounds of food. Last year’s inaugural food drive provided 857 pounds.