COLUMBUS, Ind. – Teenager Jesse Love will take the next step in his growing racing career by joining Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports for a partial POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League schedule.
Love, who will turn 14 in January, impressed many at the Toyota Racing Development Combine in August and capped off his multi-faceted season recently by capturing the overall Bay Cities Racing Ass’n Midget Series championship.
He became the youngest driver in history to achieve that distinction, winning the title after receiving a two-year age waiver to compete.
Earlier in the year, Love also broke Jeff Gordon’s longstanding record for the youngest driver to ever win a full-size midget car race, setting the new mark at 13 years and eight months when he won with the BCRA on Sept. 15 at California’s Madera Speedway.
Now, Love will transition much of his time in a midget onto the dirt as he joins forces with one of the premier teams in the country.
“Just hearing my name in the same sentence as Keith Kunz Motorsports and knowing that I’m going to have a chance to be a part of their team next year gives me goosebumps,” Love told SPEED SPORT. “I remember being at Calistoga (Speedway) to watch my first-ever USAC midget race and going, ‘Wow, who are these guys?’ because of all the cars they brought to the track. They won the race that night, but I realized right away that I wanted to be part of that because they’ve helped build so many of the greats.
“I really want to test myself and see how I’ll be able to do on a more-expanded schedule next year, and I couldn’t be more grateful to Keith, Toyota and everyone with TRD for giving me this kind of an opportunity,” Love continued. “It’s a really big deal and I really feel we’ll have an opportunity to make some magic happen.”
“I’m excited; I really like Jesse and to have someone come through the TRD program so early in their career is special for me to be a part of,” said team owner Keith Kunz. “I believe he’s one of the exceptional guys that we’ve seen in recent years and has a very bright future ahead of him. This is his first step outside of the norm, so to speak, and we’re excited to be a part of that journey for him.”
Love’s program with Kunz will consist of 15-20 races next season, with his exact schedule still to be determined. He will also race full time in the Spears SRL Southwest Tour.
“I’m just a lucky kid from California who got dealt a good hand and hopefully, I can make everyone back home proud when I get out on the road,” Love said. “It’s going to be really cool for me to stay teamed up with Naake-Klauer Motorsports on the super late model side, while also growing my skills on the dirt.
“We’re definitely invested in the SRL Tour, so I don’t think you’ll see us expand the schedule and go for points with the midget next year, but anything is possible. I’m just so blessed and fortunate to be in the situation that I’m in now and excited to get going already.”
Jack Irving, the Director of Team & Support Services for Toyota Racing Development, noted that TRD had an eye on Love’s progress in racing even before his performance during this year’s Combine.
Irving, along with the rest of the Toyota grassroots program, is pleased to have Love entering the formal TRD development ladder with Kunz next season.
“We knew about Jesse two years earlier … I believe he was 11, and he was just special,” Irving said. “He was running different types of vehicles, both in dirt and on pavement, and winning in both disciplines. There would be some times that he would win in a pavement car on a Friday night, and then run a Saturday dirt race and win that too. He had some pretty phenomenal stats for a kid his age.
“The more we got to know him and his family, the more that we saw something different in him, as a driver, a leader and as a young man outside the race car,” Irving added. “What he has been able to do at Madera in a late model is impressive, and every time he’s stepped up into a new class, he’s done really well. His Combine performance just further verified what we already knew statistically.
“When an opportunity opened to do something with Jesse at KKM, our group and his group felt that was the right choice to further his development and we’re really looking forward to seeing him in action.”
Irving said Love’s already large skillset gives him an advantage going into next year. The teenager has already proved to be versatile, driving in and winning races on both dirt and pavement and in everything from late models and Legend Cars to midgets and sprint cars.
“We feel like he has the talent and adaptability to be successful, and his communication skills are very, very good,” Irving noted. “He has that certain swagger that you need in a driver and a team leader, so there’s a lot to be excited about.
“We’re a long way away from full development with him, but we feel that he’s far more advanced than most drivers at his age and I can’t wait to see him get started with Keith and the rest of the team.”