McKenna Haase is only 19 but she has already managed to become a permanent part of the storied history of Knoxville Raceway in Knoxville, Iowa.
In 2015, an 18-year-old Haase became the first woman to win a feature race at the 114-year-old track, widely considered to be the pinnacle of sprint car racing in the United States. This accolade earned her a spot in the Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum located just off of turn two at Knoxville.
Haase started racing go-karts at the age of 11 after she and her father Kevin Haase met NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kasey Kahne at a Des Moines shopping mall.
Kevin Haase said that it was lucky that they were able to speak with Kahne.
“We were late to the event and it looked like Kasey had already left, but as we were about to leave, he saw us and came over to talk,” Kevin Haase said. “It really meant a lot to McKenna and made an impression on her. She really cares about her fans and will take as much time as is needed after a race to speak with everyone who wants to meet her.”
“After speaking with Kasey Kahne I became really interested in racing after that,” McKenna Haase said in a recent interview. “I started racing go-karts in the men’s league at the Slideways Karting Center here in Knoxville when I was 11 and did that for two years. Then we started coming to races at Knoxville in 2009.”
Haase said that she started racing a box stock outlaw kart shortly thereafter before graduating to micro-sprint cars and then finally the 305 sprint cars that she has come to master.
“When I race 305s now I expect to win,” Haase said. “I’m here to win. If I don’t then I’m not happy.”
Haase did say that any negative moods are quickly swept away when she is able to meet with her many fans at the end of each race.
“I sometimes come out of a race feeling down in the dumps but after seeing my fans I’m in fantastic spirits,” Haase said.
Haase drove her 305 and 360 sprint cars during the first week of the 2016 Knoxville Nationals and the fans lined up many people deep after each night’s racing action to meet with their favorite driver. At times, the lines of people waiting to see McKenna were so long that pit area traffic had to wait while people shifted the line to make way.
Haase was the first of three 360 sprint cars involved in single vehicle crashes on the second night of the Nationals on August 5 at roughly the same spot just wide of the apex of turn one. Although she nor the other two drivers were injured in the end-over-end crash, McKenna ended up sore and out of that night’s race.
As always however, fans were greeted by a smiling McKenna after the race as she sat on a Hoosier racing tire next to the trailer that by then held her battered race car. At one point a young girl and her mother walked up to McKenna and wrapped their arms around her in an embrace as a quick prayer was said. It is scenes like this that demonstrate the feelings fans have for this impressive young woman.
“I just started racing 360s last week,” Haase said during an August 4 interview at the Knoxville Nationals. “I’m racing against the guys that were my heroes when I started coming to Knoxville in 2009.”
McKenna acknowledged that her ascent to the ranks of 360 sprint car drivers has not been without its challenges. While acknowledging that sexism does exist in the sport and she has witnessed it first-hand, Haase said that it is not something that she is particularly upset over.
“Part of me doesn’t blame them,” Haase said. “I don’t expect the sport to make special accommodations for me.”
Haase said that she sees herself not as a female who races cars but instead simply a racer like any other racer. On the night of August 5 McKenna brought her 305 sprint car home to a third place finish in a caution flag-plagued series feature race, but Haase, being the competitor that she is, wanted to bring home a win during the Nationals.
Haase is an incredible competitor with the hunger for wins that is so critical to long-term success in motorsports. She is able to analyze each race and determine what can be improved and how that can be accomplished.
I have no doubts that McKenna will achieve whatever goal that she makes for herself and that she will do it in record time.