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Auto racing: A race up the standings

Valencia grad and his team are close to a series title

Posted: September 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Valencia High graduate Connor Cantrell races for Team Nine Motorsports and sits atop the NASCAR King Taco Truck Series standings with just three races remaining this season. Valencia High graduate Connor Cantrell races for Team Nine Motorsports and sits atop the NASCAR King Taco Truck Series standings with just three races remaining this season.
Valencia High graduate Connor Cantrell races for Team Nine Motorsports and sits atop the NASCAR King Taco Truck Series standings with just three races remaining this season.
Connor Cantrell and Team Nine Motorsports have dedicated the rest of their season to Chris Summerell, a former team member who passed away in his sleep on Aug. 18. The next race in the NASCAR King Taco Truck Series is this Saturday. Connor Cantrell and Team Nine Motorsports have dedicated the rest of their season to Chris Summerell, a former team member who passed away in his sleep on Aug. 18. The next race in the NASCAR King Taco Truck Series is this Saturday.
Connor Cantrell and Team Nine Motorsports have dedicated the rest of their season to Chris Summerell, a former team member who passed away in his sleep on Aug. 18. The next race in the NASCAR King Taco Truck Series is this Saturday.
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Connor Cantrell and Team Nine Motorsports want the chance to move up in the world of NASCAR truck racing.

For starters, they’ve spent the season moving up the NASCAR King Taco Truck Series standings.

With wins in the last two series races, Cantrell has a 10-point lead over defending series champion Ryan Partridge, who finished second in both races. Only three races remain this season in the series, which runs at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale.

“It’s kind of a funny industry,” says Cantrell, a Valencia High graduate. “It’s not like baseball where you can go from high school to college to minor league to the majors. It’s a very big jump to the higher levels. All I can do is try my best and try to attract some sponsors or someone who’d like to partner up with me to get to the next level.”

The next level would be the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the highest truck racing series in the world.

It would be quite an achievement for Cantrell and Valencia-based Team Nine, which just returned to truck racing this season after a two-year hiatus. The team finished second in the series in 2008, but when the economic downturn hit, sponsorship money ran out and the team couldn’t secure any other sponsors.

That all changed before this season began, when Apecs Motorsports offered to sponsor the team’s truck. The team has also secured sponsorship from Powder Coating Plus, CarterConstructionCompany.net and Cantrell Aire Heating and Air Conditioning, which is run by Cantrell’s father, Jim.

“We had some laurels to rest on from past performance,” says crew chief Jeff Latimer, who co-owns Team Nine with Larry Vannix. “We were able to sell that. We were willing to fund the fund the whole thing out of our pockets, if necessary, but they were able to look back at what we accomplished.”

In 2008, Team Nine finished second in the standings despite winning six of the 14 races. Therefore, one of the objectives this season was consistency.

“We don’t have the wins, but we’re focused on being the most consistent and relentless team, getting as many good results as we can,” Cantrell says.

That kind of strategy certainly suits the driver.

“During the race, he hardly says anything,” Vannix says. “He’s not very easily excitable. He maintains an even keel, never too high, never too low.”

Team Nine went through the first nine races without a win, but it finally broke through on Aug. 13. Cantrell led the first 38 laps, but a restart allowed Partridge to momentarily grab the lead on lap 39.

Cantrell overcame Partridge and won by 0.042 seconds.

Five days later, the team was brought back down to Earth really quickly.

Chris Summerell, a 73-year-old member of the team, passed away in his sleep from natural causes. The tight-knit team was hit hard by the news, especially Larimer, who had known Summerell for more than 30 years.

“It was much like losing your best friend and father,” Larimer says.

Moreover, Summerell was the team fabricator and played a major role in the truck’s design and maintenance.

“There is not one part of this truck you can look at that Chris didn’t have some kind of influence on,” Vannix says. “He didn’t really like the attention, but he took the lead without even saying anything.”

So Cantrell and the team decided to dedicate the rest of the season to Summerell’s memory.

On Aug. 27, they honored him the best way possible.

For the second race in a row, Cantrell beat Partridge and boosted his lead in the points standings. This time, Cantrell trailed late but passed Partridge on the last lap.

“That was our tribute to Chris,” Cantrell says. “This one’s for you, Chris.”

Latimer says that racing has provided a welcome distraction from dealing with his passing.

That’s three more races for the team to not only honor him, but try to move up the professional ranks, and maybe even join the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Until that happens, Cantrell has a serving job at a restaurant in Valencia. Two months ago, he also started his own company called Nyne Designs, which is a graphic designing company specializing in logos and vehicle wraps.

Cantrell says he’s been getting business from friends and acquaintances so far. Still, he says the next step for him and his team is unclear.

Here’s what is clear: If the team puts together three more solid performances, it will likely win the King Taco Truck Series.

The next race in the series is in Irwindale on Saturday. Coincidentally, that happens to be Cantrell’s 21st birthday.

“A win would be a great gift,” Cantrell says.

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