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Larry Ott’s WNY Auto Racing: Watkins Glen race will turn Albion cousins into competitors

WATKINS GLEN – The community of Albion is well represented this weekend at Watkins Glen International in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage. Two members of the Walter family have engineered fine careers for themselves and both hope to do well in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 At The Glen.

Kevin Walter is an engineer with the Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Thrivent Financial Chevrolet, driven by Michael McDowell. Following a strong qualifying effort Saturday, McDowell will start Sunday’s race in a competitive 11th position.

Chad Walter, Kevin’s older cousin, is an engineer/crew chief with the Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 7 APC/Dutch Hoag Tribute Chevrolet, driven by Regan Smith. Smith will take Sunday’s green flag from the 29th starting position.

Saturday’s Cup Series qualifying for the Cheez-It 355 At The Glen consisted of two rounds. In the first round, the top 12 from the 40 participants advanced to the final round, with the fastest driver gaining the pole.

McDowell made the final 12 for the first time this season, timing a sensational seventh in the first round. In the final round, he was 11th with an effort of 70.352 seconds at 125.370 mph. By comparison, Carl Edwards earned Sunday’s pole at 69.689 at 126.562.

“McDowell did a good job getting everything we had out of the car,” Kevin said of the team’s qualifying effort. “It should be a good start for Sunday. I think the car is good everywhere but I think we had some braking issues there where he couldn’t really hustle it. We’ll get that tuned up for Sunday and we’ll be all right.”

McDowell is appreciative of all that Kevin contributes to the team.

“Kevin’s a great asset,” said McDowell. “He’s played a major role over the last few years. Last year we had some personnel changes and he stepped in as a crew chief. He’s done a great job and is a very talented young guy. He’s got a bright future in this sport.”

Kevin says his love of racing was instilled in him as a young boy watching his father, Butch Walter, race at Lancaster Speedway.

“My dad got me interested in racing and when I was at Albion High School. Chad let me go to North Carolina and stay at his house so Chad got my foot in the door in NASCAR,” said Kevin, 26. “I got my engineering degree at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.”

Like his cousin, Chad has molded quite a noteworthy career for himself.

“I graduated from college on a Sunday in 1993 and I was working in NASCAR on Tuesday, three days later, so it’s been a long time,” said Chad, 44, who graduated from Albion High and Cornell University.

Chad explained that as the years have gone by, engineering has now become a more prevalent core of each NASCAR team.

“When I first started in this sport, I was almost afraid to tell people that I had an engineering degree despite how great an accomplishment that was,” Chad said. “Now, you can’t live without them due to the cars, the team, the wind tunnel data, vehicle dynamics and the aerodynamics.”

Both Walter cousins were extremely busy here this weekend in preparation for Sunday’s big race. The work began well before this weekend, especially due to The Glen’s newly repaved surface.

“We were up here testing last week and got the chance to get some laps in, which was pretty helpful for us being a small team,” Chad said of the TBR test. “Overall, new pave or not, at a road course you really are just trying to find a good left to right balance, which normally isn’t something that we have to deal with.

“Then we just overall are trying to get the front to turn without unhooking the back of the race car and that is the biggest challenge we’ve had so far this weekend.”

While they are each supervising a different team in the Cup Series, both men acknowledge the importance and closeness of their Albion family roots.

“I don’t even know if you call it a rivalry,” said Chad. “We’re blood first, we’re family. As much as we work for other teams I think that with the two teams that we deal with we have a small affiliation, both of us are tied in with RCR so we’re able to in a business-like manner talk about what we’ve done and what they’ve done sometimes and try to help each other out.”

Kevin enjoys also seeing family back home when he gets the chance.

“I see them in the offseason, although we don’t have a very big offseason,” said Kevin. “We take as many opportunities as we can to get back and see the family.”

email: lawrence_o_14075@yahoo.com

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