Ken MacIsaac’s popular ‘KenZone’ series continues this off-season starting off with this interview with Sydney Nova Scotia’s Jerome Kehoe. Most recently a regular with the Maritime Pro Stock Tour, Kehoe was noticeably absent from the track this past summer. In this interview, Ken talks to the driver about that and lots more, with a great photo gallery following…

KM –  This past summer was the first time in years that I didn’t see you at a track.  And now I see you have your whole pro stock operation up for sale.

JK – I know. It’s the first year we didn’t run at all with the pro stock.  A lot changed in the last couple of years.

KM – Before we get into that, I want you tell me about the early days.  How did you get interested in stock cars?

JK –  My brother Germaine Fitzgerald raced with Everett Mader in the 70’s.   I was just a kid back then, but seeing the stock cars everywhere around town, all painted up with chrome rims.  I mean they looked so cool.  Who didn’t want one?

KM – And you eventually did get one?

JK –  In 1986, Vance (MacDonald) and I went down the street to Joe Broussard’s Shell.   Joe was selling his stock car for $150.   We wanted it.   But the gauges didn’t come with the car, so we backed out.   Looking back on that, it’s like “what were we thinking?”   The car came with the transmission, belts, wheels, tires…what a deal that was.  But we were young.  Just teenagers.

KM – So you didn’t buy it after all?

JK – No.  We ended up buying BillyCann’s Pontiac LeMans.  It was more money too.  Vance only drove the car once, before building his own car.  I raced that car for all of ’86 and won rookie of the year with it.

KM – I remember you racing a Laguna in the late 80’s?

JK – I guess that was ’88 or ’89.   Oh man that was a nice car.  Factory 400 in it… leather seats…but we gutted it and made it into a stock car.  That was a good car.  I also ran a Lada in the 4-Cylinder class for ½ a year around that time.

KM – How long did you race that Laguna?

JK – Just a season I guess.  Think I smashed it.  I ended up buying Wes Mader’s street stock for the 1990 season.  He was moving up to Sportsman, and bought Wayne Smith’s car.  We did well with that car too.

KM – Were you and Tommy Hayes partners back then?

JK – No, but he helped me a lot.  I met him around this time, or the year before.   He was racing with Nelson Petrie at the time, and then Mel Burton.  I remember he came over to our pit looking over the old car.  He said “there’s not enough pipes in this.”  He gave me some advice on adding some bars to help strengthen it, and it worked.

KM – I guess it wasn’t a surprise  when you two partnered up in later years?

JK – He always helped us back then and gave us good advice.  In 1991, I bought Mel Burton’s old street stock that Tommy worked on.   Tommy and Mel were still partners but moved up to Sportsman.  They bought Merrill Kerr’s car to run that year.

KM – You travelled to a few tracks with that old car?

JK – We did.   I remember we took it to PEI at the end of the ’92 season.   They thought we were there for the demolition derby.   I pulled up to the pit gate and the woman said “you guys are here for the derby?”   I said “No. Street class.”  She said “Really?  That’s interesting”.   I wasn’t much for pounding the dents out, so the old car looked pretty rough.   Another time we went to Scotia Speedworld.   They ended up giving us our money back.  There was over 40 streets stock that day.  Sharp cars, all painted up.  Beautiful looking Chevelles.  Went out in practice and was 2/10ths quicker than their fastest car.  Ernie Ledwedge said to us “I’m going to get killed if I let you guys run today.”   When we went to tech, we had a hole in the firewall where the heater box would go. You could see the engine.  And the rear firewall had an opening where you could see the gas tank. We really didn’t know any better.   And we were only running an old 305 too.   Scotia had more safety rules than we had, which was a good thing.  Anyway, Ernie gave us our money back.

KM – In 1993, you built a brand new car?

JK – We did.  Tommy Hayes and I built it.  We ended up junking the old one, and built a Pontiac Grand LeMans from scratch.  I ordered the cage and mounted it on a metric chassis.   I won some races with it, but it just wasn’t the same as the full size cars we ran.  I sold it to Thomas Moore.  And I think CurtRozicki ended up with it.

KM – And then back to a full size chassis?

JK –   Yes.  Tommy and I built the next one.  We had that one for a few years.  Won a lot of races with it too.   We were planning on building a sportsman car in the late 90’s, and were going to use that chassis (frame).   We changed our minds.   Vance (MacDonald) had taken his Sportsman to Fraser’s to get work done to it.   When he came back with it, we looked at it, and it was totally different than what we had planned.   The cage was ‘back’ and ‘over’ on the frame. Completely different than what we were planning to do.      We realised that our frame wasn’t going to work.   So, we called Fraser’s and ordered a brand new chassis.   And that was our first Sportsman.   We put it all together in my garage, and got the body from Gary Jones’ old Mascar.

KM – In the late 90’s, you ran Riverside a lot with the Sportsman?

JK – We did. Also ran some races on the old Snap-On Tools Sportsman Tour.   I had that car for 10 years.  There was a couple of years we weren’t running it all.  I had it stored.

KM – In 2003, you built a sharp looking street stock for Sydney?

JK –  Island Speedway started to get more street stocks going  so we decided to build one.  We just put the sportsman away for a few years and built that Buick Regal bodied car from scratch.  That was some car.  And it’s the same  car that Mike Duskey is running now.   So with what we learned over the years up to that point, we put a lot into that car.  It was an excellent piece.   Dave O’Blenis gave us some tips on that car too, and it made all the difference in the world.

KM – At Island Speedway, you won the points championship  for four years straight, from 1995 to 1998. And again in 2004.

JK – We had it figured out back then with the street stocks.

KM – I was at Center For Speed in 2005 when you were  leading the street stock race.

JK – That had to be the day we blew up.  Leading the feature and … ‘boom’.

KM – So let’s fast forward a couple of years to Riverside.  John Chisholm rebuilds the place, and you’re now running your Sportsman.

JK – We took it out of storage, and began winning with it right away.   We got Alan Armstrong to freshen the motor, and changed the body on it.  We got rid of the old Lumina and put a new one on.  I couldn’t believe the difference.   Day and night. Over the years, we learned more about shocks, which also helped.  Anyway it handled perfect.We couldn’t do nothing wrong for a few years there.

KM – I remember you leading a race one night, and you broke a wheel maybe?

JK – A rotor. That was in ’07.   We were running stock rotors back then, and didn’t know the difference.  After that, we switched to the Coleman rotors.  Never had a problem again.

KM – Another incident that stands out for me is when Mike Power flipped in that huge wreck in ’08.

JK –  Never forget that one.  Craig Slaunwhite was leading the race in Billy Beaton’s car.  I was running him down.  Only around 18 laps in and someone crossed up in front of us.  I got into Slaunwhite, someone got into me, and they all started piling up behind me.  Mike Power crashed into me and flipped. He landed upside down on my trunk.  I remember looking in my mirror and all I could see was the underside of his car.  Then I think they were still wrecking, but all I could hear was “Fire!”.    Gas was leaking from Power’s car  and it ignited.  I climbed out, and the officials, Slaunwhite and myself were trying to get him out.  Man it was scary.  I lost one of my driving gloves and my radio in that mess. Never did find it.  So they cleaned up the track, and hauled my car back to the pit.  Really wasn’t damaged that bad.  The crew  ducttaped the rear up and I think it went even better after that….

KM – This was the same night as Dale Richardson’s fire?

JK – Oh ya.  I stopped on the front stretch when it happened. I was going to try and get Dale out.  Someone hollered “No, he’s out”.   I remember trying to get close to the car, and the heat was so intense.   But we won a lot of races and features during those years.  They were always trying to find stuff wrong with our car.  Trying to slow us down.   But we just got faster.

KM – So this takes us up to the pro stock.  Tell me how you got hooked up with the VanZutphen’s?

JK –  Jerome Tracey from Port Hawkesbury called me one day. He said, “would you be interested in driving Ted’s (VanZutphen) pro stock?”  He actually called me a few times, and I really didn’t take him serious.   Tracey said “Ted is looking for a driver from Cape Breton to drive his car.  I can make it happen”.   He said “if you’re interested in talking to him, he can come to Sydney and see you”.  I said “well, we’ll be in the garage working all day if he wants”.   Sure enough, Ted showed up.

KM – But at that time, Dean MacInnis (#01) was driving Ted’s car?

JK – He was.  But they were done.  Ted was at Fraser’s picking up the car after a wreck, and Frank also suggested me as his driver. So Ted showed up at my place that day and we chatted.  Basically he said “I’ve got the money to fund this.  I’m almost retired and this is my hobby.  So if you’re interested, let’s do it.”   So we made the deal and we agreed that we’d look after the car, which is exactly what Ted wanted.

KM – 2010 was your first year running the tour?

JK – Yes, and we won Rookie Of The Year that year too. We still have that car.  Ted got it from Danny Eddy.  We put a Hamke front clip on it a few years ago. It’s a great chassis.

KM – Junior Kelly was a big help to you and Tommy.

JK – I really miss Junior.   He had the experience with these cars that we didn’t have.   He’d call me every Sunday, and throughout the week.  He’d say “what did you do to the car? Did you do what I told you to do?”    I felt bad that I never won a feature for Ted,  Tommy and Junior.  Junior and Tommy had us going good in a lot of races. Scotia and Pettywe had some strong races there. Riverside, not so much.   We just couldn’t get going there.

KM – In 2013, you bought a mini stock for your son Tyler to run in Sydney.   I was impressed with his driving, but he didn’t stay with it?

JK – Tyler likes the bikes. Motocross is his thing.  What you put into stock cars compared to what you get out of it wasn’t worth it to him. The first time at the track with him, he didn’t even practice the car.  The first time he sat in it was in his heat.   He was 3rd fastest of all the minis that day.  He came in from his heat and said to me “dad, I’m going to hit the wall today”. I said “why?”  He said “I got it right to the edge and I’m gonna touch the wall”. I told him “slow down…your tires are going away”.  But that’s how he is.  Wide open. Fearless.  Anyway, I’m glad he didn’t stay with it back then, because I’d be in it deep with him by now.   But, it’s not over yet.  We may do something together again.

KM – So you have everything for sale?

JK –  The main reason it’s all for sale is because Ted has retired.  Ted was the backer.  His son Leonard loves racing too, but his heart isn’t it now.  He’s too busy with the business.  The rest of the family aren’t interested in racing.

KM – Two cars and the hauler?

JK – We have the original car, which is a Port City/Hamke, and we have a McColl car which we bought new in 2011.   The truck and hauler is for sale too.

KM – Tell me about your crew? I bet they miss racing with you.

JK – We had a great group of guys. Steven Matthews and his dad Ricky, Jason and Kyle Drysdale, Barry and JJ Cusack, and of course Tommy (Hayes). Tommy and I were racing together for along time. But we all got along good. A lot of joking around.

KM – So are you retired from racing?

JK – I’m definitely not retired.  I’m not racing right now, but I’m going to be involved in one way or another. Whether helping, or turning some laps myself. It may not be in a pro stock, but we’ll see.  But I’m not retiring.  I’ll be back.

(click image to enlarge photos)