Wilden a driver with a plan

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:01 AM ET

BOWMANVILLE - BOWMANVILLE,Ont. - If all it took were confidence, Kenny Wilden already would have an IndyCar championship and maybe even a NASCAR championship to show for his two decades of racing.

Wilden exudes a belief in himself and his talent that makes anyone who has watched him on the track wish for his success.

And he has had success at the top levels of racing throughout North America.

Wilden’s resume consists of a championship in the seminal Player’s GM series, a Motorola Cup championship and a Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge GS class championship.

Wilden has also won in the Atlantic series and the Trans-Am series.

So why isn’t the 41-year-old native of Oakville on the same career path of his contemporaries like Scarborough’s Paul Tracy or Mississauga’s Ron Fellows?

“Right place, wrong time,” Wilden said Friday as he prepared to qualify Saturday for the Trans-Am Championship Series in the No. 99 Derhaag Motorsports Corvette.

He was among that core group of young Canadian talent that developed in the mid-1980s like Tracy, Fellows, Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier.

At one point it looked like all of them would make it to the top of their racing series.

“After I won the Player’s championship in 1992 I did a test for Ford that I hoped would lead to a ride with their factory Trans-Am team,” Wilden said. “Everyone at that test told me that I had blown away the competition. I felt sure I had the job.”

But it went to another, lesser driver whose dad owned a string of Ford dealerships.

All Wilden did to atone for that slight was go out the next season and win the Motorola Cup — emblematic of top tier sports car racing in the U.S.

The next season he switched to the Atlantic series — just one step down the IndyCar ladder from Tracy, Villeneuve and Carpentier. But just as he mastered that series, the uncivil war between IndyCars and the CART series was beginning. It shrank the fields and divided the sponsorships leaving Wilden out in the cold again.

“I never, ever lost confidence in myself,” he said. “I knew then, like I know now, that I can beat anyone out there given the right equipment.”

Proof of that came last season when he went out and captured the ultra-competitive Grand-Am sports car crown in, ironically, a Ford Mustang.

Sometimes fate comes full circle.

That victory also whetted the appetite for team owners to start calling Wilden to drive their cars.

His arrival at Mosport Friday was a prime example.

“I got a call like just two days ago from (team owner) Jim Derhaag asking if I was doing anything,” Wilden said. “I knew whenever a team owner phones and asks that question, something good is going to happen.”

The something good was that Derhaag was bringing an extra Corvette race car to the Victoria Day Speedfest at Mosport and wanted Wilden to team up with him.

“I hadn’t been in a Trans-Am car since 2002,” Wilden said. “But it only took a couple of shakedown laps around Mosport’s 3.95 kilometre road course to get comfortable, however.”

Saturday he will attempt to qualify the No. 99 Corvette and maybe even win on Sunday.

In any event, Wilden believes there is still more to come for him. One series where he would like to have his name among the winners is NASCAR.

He said he is actively seeking sponsorship to run in the NASCAR Nationwide series at either Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve or at Watkins Glen.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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