|March 11, 2010||TERRY EVANS||no comments|
|March 03, 2010||BEN SMITH||no comments|
|March 01, 2010||CRYSTAL HARDY||1 comments|
|February 22, 2010||BEN SMITH||no comments|
|January 27, 2010||QUINTEZ SMITH||no comments|
|January 12, 2010||ERIK WALDEN||no comments|
|December 19, 2009||QUINTEZ SMITH||no comments|
|October 30, 2009||ANTHONY JOHNSON||no comments|
|July 31, 2009||EDWARD WHITEHEAD||1 comments|
|July 26, 2009||LEH KEEN||1 comments|
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
"It's really the first Spring Training where I feel like I'm in the mix, competing for a [roster] spot," the Angels' outfielder said. "The last couple of years I could see what was happening. Coming into camp this year, it's a little more exciting."
With Gary Matthews Jr. in New York, at least one and possibly two Halos outfield roles are available, depending on how many pitchers the team carries into the season.
Evans, infielder Brandon Wood and catcher Bobby Wilson -- teammates in recent years at Triple-A Salt Lake -- are out of Minor League options, meaning the Angels must have them on the 25-man Opening Day roster or risk losing them to another club.
Evans, a 28-year-old Georgian acquired in a 2006 deal with the Cardinals for Jeff Weaver, was 2-for-7 with the Angels in 2009 as a September callup.
After lining out and grounding out in two at-bats on Wednesday against the Reds while playing center field, Evans is 3-for-12 (.250) this spring.
"He has the ability to play in the Major Leagues," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We have some talented guys who are competing for jobs, and it will probably come down to the end of Spring Training to see where it goes."
With his size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds), grace and athleticism in the outfield and his powerful stroke, Evans has drawn comparisons to Dale Murphy, the Braves star whose humility made him one of the game's most popular players.
When he's locked in, Evans has been known to launch baseballs. He went deep 26 times last season in Salt Lake while driving in 90 runs, career bests in both departments. He batted .291 with a .520 slugging percentage.
"Fortunately, I was able to stay healthy in a very important season," Evans said. "I pretty much missed 2008 [with shoulder injuries]. I might have come back too soon and re-injured it.
"It feels good to come into camp healthy and able to do some things I wasn't able to do in 2008."
Evans has the range to play center and the arm to handle right. He also has speed, having stolen 28 bases last season in 33 attempts.
"Right now, my ideal situation is that I want to play here," he said. "I like the staff, everything about the organization. It is exactly where I want to be. I'm competing for a spot here. I want nothing more than to be in this clubhouse."
Having played alongside Reggie Willits and seen the superb spring of Michael Ryan, another outfielder playing his way into the picture, Evans knows it won't be easy nailing down a spot.
Evans also knows there figure to be a number of clubs intrigued by an athlete who can hit, run and field the way he can.
"No need to worry about it," Evans said. "This is a tough club to make. It's just part of it. Reggie and I have joked around this spring. Every time he does something, he looks at me. We're having fun with it.
"If anything, it makes us both better. We're competing but we're also supporting each other. That takes some of the pressure off. We're such different players, we really have different roles."
Willits' skills are those of a leadoff man. He works counts, bunts, goes the other way, steals bases. Like Evans, he can play all three outfield roles.
"I just want to stay healthy and keep working," Evans said. "Things always have a way of working themselves out."
How much longer Lehmon Colbert and Ben Smith are college teammates is an unknown, but if their union ends in the next few days, it will come in a city that sits between their hometowns.
And it’s fitting that friends and family are closer for this curtain call and get one more chance to watch them play. Jacksonville basketball fans have seen one of the program’s best duos lift the Dolphins since their arrival, when Jacksonville wasn’t on overly attractive program.
“It’s changed so much,” said Smith, the all-conference senior point guard from Dublin. “Now, it’s almost expected for us to win. There’s a lot more enthusiasm and excitement about basketball on campus.”
The Dolphins went from 16-13 in Hugh Durham’s final season as their head coach to 1-26 in Cliff Warren’s first season. But Colbert saw promise.
“The games they lost, they were basically in every game,” he said. “I felt like I could come in and make up that difference.”
The two had known each other courtesy of AAU play with the Smyrna Stars, but that was for less than a year. Still, they kept in contact during the recruiting process.
Colbert committed first, and that eventually swayed Smith.
“I loved playing with him,” Colbert said. “I needed a partner in crime, so I kind of pushed him a little bit.”
What was Colbert like back then?
“He was much more skinny,” Smith said with a laugh. “He played more on the wing. He ran the floor, caught a lot of lobs. He’s put on at least 20 pounds.”
Indeed, the transition from GHSA Region 4-AA to college basketball had to be dealt with.
“I had to bulk up,” Colbert said. “I was the biggest person on my team in high school. It was a lot faster, and I had to get a lot stronger.
Colbert also looked at Kennesaw State, Wichita State and Northeastern. Kennesaw State was closer to home but was just starting the process of going from Division II to Division I, so Colbert would have no chance at any postseason. At Jacksonville, Colbert got to play in last season’s NIT, thanks to winning the A-Sun’s regular-season championship.
That’s a pleasant change from the debut of Colbert and Smith at Jacksonville as the Dolphins lost to Savannah State. And they entered that Christmas break at 4-6, with the wins coming over St. Leo, Division II Florida Tech, South Carolina State and Coastal Carolina.
Smith picked Jacksonville over Tulsa. Amazingly, he wasn’t highly recruited, although Georgia came in late but talked about automatically redshirting. Both Smith and Colbert saw the facts: Jacksonville was a one-win team a years earlier with youth, walk-ons and stopgap players. A good freshman would get serious minutes immediately, but Smith actually had a crisis of confidence as a freshman.
“I think everyone thinks that your freshman year,” he said. “The ups and downs from playing well to not playing and going to class, I was like, ‘This may be too much.’ But I got through it, and we got through it as a team.”
The Dolphins rallied from their scary start, won seven of eight late and finished 15-14.
Colbert averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds on 28.7 minutes as a freshman, and he has a career average of 12 points and six rebounds while playing 28 minutes per game.
Smith enters the tournament as Jacksonville’s all-time leader in games played, minutes played, steals and made free throws, and he is second in assists (six behind the leader) and 3-point field goals.
Together, they have scored 3,287 points, comprising the top scoring duo in Jacksonville history in reversing the Dolphins’ fortunes.
Macon has been good to Smith as a senior basketball player. He scored 28 points to lead Dublin past Thomasville 96-84 in the AA title game at the Macon Coliseum on, yes, March 4 back in 2006, one day short of four years before the conference tournament opener.
After he was smothered by teammates on the court, he ran tearfully to the front row to hug his parents.
“I can remember my state championship game like it was yesterday,” Smith said. “It is crazy that our (conference) tournament is in Macon our senior year. Hopefully, it won’t end there, and we can have the same result we had in high school in college.”
The city has been good to both in college. Smith and Colbert are 3-1 at Mercer, winning 76-64 on Feb. 20. Regardless of their fate this week, Smith and Colbert leave Jacksonville on the opposite end of the spectrum they found it.
The Dolphins have had four straight winning seasons, the second-longest such streak in program history. They are the first four-year seniors to depart Jacksonville without going through a losing season.
Warren is already the fourth-winningest head coach in program history, and Jacksonville is two victories away from a 20-win season.
Jacksonville is 69-52 with Colbert and Smith in uniform, and the Dolphins definitely will have support tonight when they battle North Florida.
But they know the clock is ticking.
“Since I’ve met Ben, he’s been that type of player,” Colbert said. “He takes the big shots; he makes the big shots.
“I know he’s going to find me when I’m open. Four years later, I’m still playing with him. I love it.”
Carrying a Torch for Recycling
by: Heather O'Neill
@ Moving Traffic, Inc.
March 1, 2010
Any fan of the Olympics has had the fantasy of being a part of it. Crystal Hardy made it happen, not by training but through recycling.
Hardy, 20, was chosen by Coca-Cola's Positive Living initiative to be one of 20 young people selected as official Olympic Torchbearers, thanks to her work in the green arena.
After seeing an announcement that applications were being accepted for the program, Hardy reached out to her former Girl Scouts leader and asked for a recommendation. Within three days, the forms were signed sealed and delivered and within a month Hardy got the call she was waiting for; she had been accepted.
Hardy, now a student at Georgia Southern University, co-founded Laurens County Green Teens as a high school student. The program encourages every middle and high school in the county to collect PET 1 bottles, which were then donated to a local business that recycled them into carpeting. The school programs, headed up by two student leaders from each school, earned money on a pound-per-pound basis to help fund school programs. The group also went from school to school, educating students on the importance of recycling, which items Laurens County, GA collected and how and where to recycle each item.
When Hardy wasn't talking recycling, she was volunteering. Hardy, who grew up in Dublin, GA, organized the Playground for W.I.N.G.S. Project, dedicated to building a playground at a local women's shelter. Crystal obtained all materials and managed 150 volunteers.
Off to Calgary
Coca-Cola was impressed enough to offer her a spot as one of several Torchbearers who would carry the flame through Calgary. Hardy was overjoyed.
"I received a phone call one morning and they told me it was Coca-Cola [calling] and as soon as they said that I knew what it had to be because I won," she said, her voice as excited as if it happened yesterday. "I couldn't think of any other reason why they'd be calling. It was so exciting."
After being chosen, Hardy was sent a list of the other winners as well as several packages of gifts and information. In January Hardy and Peggy Green, the Girl Scouts leader from Laurens County who nominated Hardy, were whisked off to Canada compliments of Coca-Cola. Hardy's mother and a friend also joined them.
Pumping Iron to Carry the Flame
Hardy arrived a day before her big run, which wasn't actually that big. At only 300 meters, no training was involved for Hardy. She did, however, pump some iron to prepare for the big day, which happened on January 18th.
"I had to make sure I could lift the torch and just make sure I didn't pass out," she said with a laugh. "I exercise anyway on a daily basis anyway, but I did have to lift some weights. The torch weighed about four pounds but I don't have much upper body strength so I did have to make sure I could hold it for that amount of time. But it was fine. And I switched hands so that I could wave at everyone."
Hardy says the excited started to build as soon as she was dropped off at the point where she would collect the flame from the previous runner. Wearing her official Torchbearer uniform and holding a torch, passersby soon realized that they were in the presence of someone special.
"There were a few people at my point when I arrived but then people started gathering around, taking pictures, asking me where I was from and how I got chosen and what this meant to me," she said. "When the time came for me to run, a police officer came and pulled me into the middle of the road and he turned on the gas canister on my torch, pointed out where the [television] cameras were and reminded me that I had to run in the middle of the road and to enjoy myself and take my time. And that was it."
Partying Like It Was 2010
Once the run was over, Hardy celebrated along with the rest of Calgary at the city's celebration, which coincided with the torch leaving the city.
"I actually still had my uniform on and was holding my torch so I stood around for about an hour taking pictures with a lot of the citizens of Calgary just because they were so excited and elated," she said. "I don't know how to describe it. It was like everyone was unified just to see the torch and when they found out that was one of the torches that had been run that day, everyone wanted to take pictures and ask questions about how I got chosen and how it felt.
"It was a spirit of unity among everyone that ran as well as all of the residents of Calgary," she continued. "The [final Calgary] torch came through down the middle of the road. There was snow on the ground and everyone was standing back on the sidewalks. When the last person came through with the torch they ran it into the middle of the crowd. There was music playing, they sang [the Canadian] National Anthem. There were lots of little venues there and places to play games. It was just a gathering to celebrate the honor and privilege of having the flame coming through the city."
Her friend and mentor, Peggy Green, thinks that Hardy very much deserved the honor.
"She deserved to participate in the Olympic Torch run due to her many accomplishments, including earning her Girl Scout Gold Award, planning and building a playground at a local women shelter and starting a countywide recycling program that not only recycles but also pays money to the local schools for the bottles turned in," Green said. "She also worked with young students, tutoring them, at the local Communities in Schools. These are but a few of her biggest accomplishments. She did all of these before the age of nineteen. Crystal also received the highest monetary award from Coke as a scholarship. She is part of the recycle team at Georgia Southern University, and is a member Oxfam International."
A Fan Is Born
Being part of the longest torch relay in history--the torch traveled nearly 28,000 miles, zig zagging through Canada in the hands of 12,000 Torchbearers--has made Hardy a serious Olympic fan.
"[Before the run] I wasn't as big of a fan as I am now," she said. "I guess you can say that I am a much bigger fan now and I feel so much more connected to it than ever before and I hope that everyone who knows my story feels more connected to it as well."
With the Olympic run behind her, the flame is not out on Hardy's sustainability efforts. She is currently volunteering with the Environmental Sustainability Office on campus and directing her attention on promoting recycling after football games. She is also part of a team that has made Georgia Southern University the first university in the state to exclusively use compact florescent light bulbs.
With a double major in American Sign Language Interpretation and Math, Hardy doesn't see herself working professionally in the green arena but knows it will remain a passion.
"I will continue in my sustainability efforts just because sustainability should be something everybody does on a daily basis," she said. "It shouldn't be something that you even have to think about. And hopefully I have a bigger role to play in it as far as educating others."
If you haven’t made it to a Jacksonville University basketball game this season, put it on your to-do list this week because a player the likes of Ben Smith must be appreciated by being there.
The senior point guard might be only 5-foot-10, but he is, in fact, Big Ben.
I’ve covered or watched JU hoops for 28 years. I can count on one hand the players whose game, character and presence are so special, the total package literally uplifts a program.
Let me put this in a context most people will understand: Ben Smith is in a league with the school’s most famous Smith, Otis (now the Orlando Magic general manager), for overall impact. Not necessarily as an NBA prospect, but for his ability to ensure that a team maxes out its talent.
It’d just be wrong for Ben Smith’s last two home games at Veterans Memorial Arena — Thursday against Campbell and Saturday against East Tennessee State — to pass by without acknowledging the biggest difference-maker in a generation of JU basketball.
No disrespect to any of Ben’s teammates, especially fellow senior Lehmon Colbert, also instrumental in resurrecting a previously stagnant program. But if there’s one player that illustrates why the Dolphins are relevant under fifth-year coach Cliff Warren, it’s the smallest guy on the floor.
Smith is third on JU’s all-time scoring list (1,842 points), a nice statistic. But these numbers truly demonstrate what Big Ben means to the Dolphins: he’s been on the floor for 4,238 of a possible 4,805 minutes. Plus, JU’s Atlantic Sun Conference record is 51-21 during his four years as a starter, compared to 28-48 in four years before his arrival.
Warren recruited Smith out of Dublin (Ga.) High because his skill and work ethic captivated him, including a 96-84 Class AA state title win over Thomasville. The JU coach watched Smith account for 16 consecutive points (scoring or passing) in a second-half surge.
“Ben’s will to win that game was evident,” Warren said. “I said to myself, 'We have to get this guy.’ ”
What JU got is a player of more substance than style. He sets a strong example on and off the court, thanks in no small part to his upbringing from parents Curtis and Brenda Smith.
“I wish I could take credit for something Ben has done,” Warren said. “Everything was instilled in Dublin [Ga.].”
Ben’s mother nurtured most of his spiritual side at William Grove Baptist Church. His father, who played one year of college basketball and works in the Dublin recreation department, served as Ben’s basketball coach until junior high. That produced a gym rat who never strayed from his value system.
“Toughness, hard work, doing whatever it takes, those are the things my Dad taught me,” Smith said. “He said, 'Son, you’re little, and when you’re little in basketball, you got to be special.’ He wouldn’t allow me to get complacent.”
There’s not enough column space to fully explain Smith’s value to JU, which can clinch a share of a second consecutive A-Sun title by beating co-leader Campbell on Thursday.
All spectators will be allowed into the Campbell game for free. If you go, there’s a good chance you’ll come away feeling Ben Smith is worth any price of admission.
Dublin's Quintez Smith continues to rack up postseason honors
January 26, 2:43 AM
Black College Sports Examiner
At the rate Quintez Smith is going, he may not find enough space in Dublin, Georgia for all of his awards and postseason honors.
The cornerback for Shaw University was named to the D2Football.com All-America Team, which honors NCAA Division II players. Smith made first team and was the only player from an HBCU to do so.
Smith was also honored by the 100% Wrong Club, an Atlanta-based non-profit organization that has been honoring athletes from historically black colleges and universities since 1934. The group will honor its selections during its celebration weekend Feb. 5-6.
Among Smith's other accomplishments, he played in three all-star games -- the HBCU Bowl, East Coast Bowl and the Cactus Bowl.
He was named to the SBN Black College All-America Team, as well as the BASN HBCU All-America Team, both of which honor black college athletes from Division I and II HBCUs. He also earned inclusion on the American Football Coaches Association 1st Team All-America squad.
Smith set one Division II record and tied two more this season. He set the single-game record for most return yards after interceptions with 194 against Elizabeth City State. He tied the record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns in a game with three against Fayetteville State. He also matched the most interceptions returned for scores in a season with four.
Three cities, three teams, three jersey numbers.
That's the tally of Erik Walden's two years in the NFL.
@Adam Sparks.firstname.lastname@example.org, blueraiders.com, NFL
The former MTSU standout defensive end/linebacker just finished his second NFL season with the Miami Dolphins.The nomadic Walden hopes south Florida is his home, at least for a while. "You always hope you don't have to move around, but it happens quite often in this league," Walden said. "I hope I don't have to do that much more. I want to find a place that I can call home."
Walden has had to adjust at the next level. After setting single-season and career records in sacks as an MTSU defensive end from 2004-07, Walden switched to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round — becoming the first Blue Raider drafted since Tyrone Calico in 2003.
Walden was cut by the Cowboys before the 2008 regular season and claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Chiefs. He played nine games with the Chiefs before being released and playing the final six games of the 2008 season with the Dolphins. He played 11 games with the Dolphins in 2009.
Walden has taken his numerous NFL moves in stride. "You're never ready to move like that, but I'm glad it happened early in my career," Walden said. "It's going to probably happen anyway. You're going to have to change teams, but it would hurt worse later in my career if I've been somewhere for a long time. "If it's going to happen, better that it happen now than later. Hopefully, I can find a home, though."
Walden, a Dublin, Ga. native, said he has not tried to grow roots anywhere until his NFL status gains a better footing. He has spent the last two years living in various apartments and hotels as temporary homes, including a mere three-month stay in Kansas City.
"I didn't really want to buy anything since I didn't know where I was going to be, but that's just part of it," Walden said. "At first, (changing teams) bothered me. But when I thought about it, I decided that I was not going to let an incident like that affect me. I just had to keep on working hard, and that's what I am doing."
In all three of his NFL stops, Walden, a 6-foot-2, 250-pounder, has spent most of his time on special teams, where he rarely played at MTSU. But MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said Walden must make his mark there.
"Each NFL team is so different, and there's always someone there to replace you," Stockstill said. "Early in his career, Erik has got to be a warrior on special teams. He can run and he's been in there for special teams and some situational things on defense. He's got to do things on special teams. If he keeps his nose clean and works hard, he's got a chance."
Walden was listed as a third-string outside linebacker behind Joey Porter and Charlie Anderson this past season.
Walden said his ultimate goal is to start on defense in the NFL, but he's willing to cut his teeth on special teams.
"This year and last year, I mostly did special teams," Walden said. "But I'm an athlete, so I should be able to adjust to that. That's my job right now, so I'm going to work really hard at it."
Walden recorded 10 special teams tackles with the Chiefs, second-most on the team, and five more with the Dolphins in the 2008 season. In 2009, he had eight tackles in 11 games with Miami. He was declared injured or inactive in five games.
The Dolphins' season ended a week ago with a 7-9 record. Walden said he hopes to return to Miami next season.
"It's a year-to-year thing in this league, and I know that," Walden said. "I'm looking forward to having a long NFL career, but all I can do is work hard. I can't worry about what I can't control, so I'm not going to worry. I will just keep working, but I feel pretty good about things so far."
MTSU career (2004-07)
MTSU single-season and career leader in sacks
Two-time All-Sun Belt first team selection
Only MTSU player ever to lead in sacks three seasons
April 2008: Drafted by Cowboys in 6th Rd.
Aug. 2008: Claimed by Chiefs off waivers
2008 season: Played 9 games with Chiefs
Nov. 2008: Claimed off waivers by Dolphins
2008 season: Played 6 games with Dolphins
2009 season: Played 11 games with Dolphins
The senior out of Dublin, Georgia is the first Shaw player named to the AFCA's All-America squad. The AFCA squad has been selected by college football coaches since 1945.
Smith received the highest number of votes among cornerbacks in the Daktronics selection, which is made by sports information directors of NCAA Division II members. This is the 17th year for the poll.
The honors are piling up for Shaw. In addition to being named the CIAA's defensive player of the year and the dual all-America selections, he was named to the East Coast Bowl and the HBCU Bowl, which will pit players from the CIAA and MEAC against players from the SIAC and SWAC Dec. 19 in Montgomery, Alabama.
During the 2009 season, Smith tied a Division II record when he intercepted and returned four passes for touchdowns. He finished the year tied for first in Division II with nine picks. He accumulated 302 return yards, made 49 tackles and recovered two fumbles for scores as well, leading Shaw to a record of 8-2 (5-2 in CIAA).
In the first week of the season, against Elizabeth City State, he set a new Division II single-game record with 194 interception return yards and set the single-game mark of three interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Smith, the AA Defensive Player of the Year, led the Dublin Irish (14-1) to the state championship game and the school's first victory in the Georgia Dome.
UFC 104 Fighter Profile: Anthony "Rumble" Johnson
Oct 22, 2009 - 10:14:05 AM
By: Sam Berkenbile, MMATorch Contributor
Name: Anthony "Rumble" Johnson
Professional MMA Record: 7-2
Biography: Anthony Kewoa Johnson was born March 6, 1984 in Dublin Georgia (age 25). "Rumble" is a welterweight training out of Cung Le's USH Fight Team in San Jose, California. Johnson is a collegiate wrester who likes to keep the fight standing to utilize his incredible speed and power. Also notable is Johnson's size, as he is 6'2". Johnson has claimed to weigh as much as 190 pounds come fight time.
Johnson broke onto the scene in 2007 at UFC Fight Night: Stout vs Fisher, putting Chad Reiner to sleep in just thirteen seconds. This was only Johnson's fourth fight, which he took on less than one weeks notice. The impressive knockout was America's first view of the explosive young striker. Unfortunately for Johnson, like many other young fighters who have an utterly dominating performance, he was matched against a very talented veteran fighter. Rumble lost to Rich Clementi at UFC 76 via rear naked choke. He would then bounce back in great fashion by knocking out TUF season six runner up Tommy Speer in just under a minute.
Rumble would lose his next fight in controversial fashion after Kevin Burns repeatedly poked Johnson in the eye with an open jab. After Burns landed the third eye poke, Johnson fell to thr ground writhing in pain. Unfortunately for some reason the NSAC still lets Steve Mazzagatti referee fights, so the fight was called a TKO for Burns. Johnson would get his rematch with Burns thought, KOing him thirty seconds into the third with a head kick. Rumble also added a little padding to his wallet by winning fight of the night honors
Johnson's last fight was against Luigi Fioravanti, whom he TKO'd at the end of the first round. Thus far, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson has showed to be one of the most exciting up and comers in the UFC. Rumble is slated to face crafty Judoka, Yoshiyuka "Zenko" Yoshida at UFC 104. Rumble is looking to truly make his mark, as he has been quoted saying he wants to fight top ten competition.
FORMER DUBLIN MAN HONORED AS THE OLDEST BOY SCOUT IN THE UNITED STATES
FORMER DUBLIN MAN HONORED
AS THE OLDEST BOY SCOUT IN THE UNITED STATES
On May 9, Edward Whitehead turned 102. As one of eighteen children of Dave and Hattie Whitehead, Whitehead was born in Dublin, Georgia in 1907.
The Arbor Day Foundation honored Whitehead on April 24, 2009 with its first Arbor Foundation Centennial Award at the Dauch Scout Center in Detroit, Michigan. "I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. It seems like I have been collecting awards since before most of you were born," said Whitehead.
The Whitehead family moved to Albion, Michigan, where he joined the Boy Scouts at the age of fifteen in 1922. As a scout, Edward earned many badges, including the Silver Beaver, the highest honor a boy scout can receive.
Whitehead remained active in scouting as a scoutmaster, cub master and adviser after he moved to Detroit, where he lives today. He still is somewhat active as he works in the scout shop of a scout center and occasionally at a day camp. The former truck driver credits his longevity to a good diet and plenty of rest. He estimates he has worked with more than three thousand scouts. "There are a lot of lessons you can learn. You learn about honesty, about doing good works, about helping others," Whitehead said.
References: Freep.com, (Joe Rosseter, Free Press, CNET News.com, photo @ Freep.com
It’s a rare treat in any sport to meet your heroes.
Yet there he was, Leh Keen, on the same infield with NASCAR stars such as Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Rolex GT Grand-Am series was racing at Daytona Motor Speedway prior to the Coke Zero 400,
Keen, who lives on James Island and tunes cars at GSC Motorsports in West Ashley when he’s not racing, let it slip last week who he admires most.
Thanks to NASCAR, he said, “Now I’ve met and co-driven with some of my idols, Wolf Henzler and Jorg Bergmeister.”
Oh. Wolf and Jorg. Not Dale and Jeff.
To be honest, the answer makes a lot of sense in light of Keen’s racing class and make of car. He drives a $200,000 450-hp Porsche GT3 Cup car that reaches speeds of 180 miles an hour, racing primarily on road courses but occasionally on oval tracks as at Daytona. Henzler and Bergmeister are hand-picked Porsche test drivers, who routinely put the carmaker’s new models through their paces.
Keen, who turned 26 on Wednesday, is young enough to be slightly in awe of the Porsche driving professionals. He’s no NASCAR-phobe, either. The license plate on his personal car, a BMW M3, is SHK&BKE, referring to the “Shake and Bake” nickname of the Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly characters in the stock-car racing comedy film, “Talladega Nights.”
While youthful in age, Keen is a mature racer. And after a half-dozen mildly impressive years on the top road course circuit, he has hit the big time so far in 2009.
Splitting time behind the wheel with German teammate Dirk Werner, the Dublin, Ga., native has won four races this year and sits atop the point standings even after a fifth place finish on Sunday in Birmingham, Ala.
Keen is nonchalant about the victory string, which includes wins at Millville, N.J.; Watkins Glen, N.Y.; Lexington, Ohio; and on July 4 at Daytona.
“In this kind of racing, it’s so competitive. Everything has to line up just right. When it’s bad, it gets worse. When it goes good, it only gets better,” he said. The engineer has been really good, Keen said. “He makes all the calls, tweaks the suspension the right way. Now we have so much momentum.”
Keen races for Farnbacher Loles, a Georgia based team. Interestingly, he used to compete for the Charleston-based Autometrics team, partnering with driver Cory Friedman. In 2006, the team finished third in the Grand-Am series. This is Keen’s second year with Franlochler Loles.
A typical Gran-Am race has 20 or so cars including such models as Chevy Corvette, Mazda RX8, Pontiac GXP and Ferrari 430. Most races are 200 to 250 miles, or two to three hours in length. The series this year has stops in Atlanta, California and Florida among other places as well as an upcoming race in Montreal. NASCAR owns the Grand-Am series. The Speed Channel broadcasts all the races and typically repeats them throughout the week.
Along with capturing the series title, Keen’s biggest goal is to win the longest race in the series, the grueling Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona held every spring. He finished eighth this year. Besides the race’s prestige, the 24 Hours was the first race he attended, traveling to Florida as an 11-year-old with his father McGrath Keen.
Like many drivers, Keen got the racing bug from his father, who drove sprint cars as a hobby in the Atlanta area.
The driver, whose full name is Lehman McGrath Keen III,
said he likes road course racing and would like to keep competing in the Grand-Am series at least for the foreseeable future.
Keen has lived in the Charleston area for four years. He thought at one time about attending the College of Charleston.
“I’ve always liked Charleston,” he said. It’s never going to get too big. It has a lot of history. “I’m here to stay,” he said.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or email@example.com