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Kendall Brothers Make Fast Drive Up Auto Racing Ranks

June 02, 1988|SAM FARMER

It is not unusual for an auto racing fan to approach Bart Kendall, congratulate him on his second International Motor Sports Assn. GTU championship and ask for his autograph.

"Thanks, but I'm Bart ," says Kendall, 23, who is often the victim of mistaken identity on the race track "You want my brother Tom."

It wasn't difficult to distinguish between the two on the La Canada High basketball court--Bart had the 15-foot jump shot. Tom was the guy at the end of the bench.

But after high school, Tom, 21, found that driving for finish lines, not for layups, was his forte. He won two consecutive IMSA crowns in the GTU division, which includes production-based grand touring cars with engines under 2.5 liters, and bumped his brother out of the sports spotlight.

This season, however, Tom's car troubles kept him out of the opening race of the series, the 24-Hours-of-Daytona in Daytona, Fla. That enabled Bart, who began racing one year after his brother, to move into third place in IMSA standings.

Tom won both the Miami Grand Prix in March and the Mid-Atlantic Grand Prix in Summit Point, W. Va. on May 22 for his fourth-place ranking.

Bart, who graduated from Stanford in January, is confident he can climb out of the back seat this season and foster his own identity in the racing world.

"I know in my heart I can do just as well as Tom's done when given the chance with the right equipment," said Kendall, who drives the car his brother raced last year. "Now I'm finally getting that chance."

Two years ago at Sear's Point Raceway in Sonoma, Kendall wasn't so lucky with his equipment--his rear axle snapped while his car was coming out of a corner at more than 100 m.p.h.

"It happened so fast," he said. "I really didn't have time to get scared. All of a sudden the left rear tire was off, I was backwards and I hit the tires." His car was damaged but Kendall escaped injury.

But Bart's good luck at Sear's Point is little consolation to his mother, Claire, who watches the races from the sidelines with white knuckles.

"I pray a lot and have tremendous faith in their ability," she said. "They've brainwashed me sufficiently about the dangers."

She may, however, have to bite her nails for years to come because her younger sons Mike, 20, and John, 14, also plan to pursue racing careers.

The boys' interest in racing stems from their father, Chuck, who was a tailback for the UCLA football team before playing safety for the Houston Oilers. In 1981, he began racing in the IMSA GTO (engines over 2.5 liters) series.

Bart and Tom have a close relationship away from racing and their on-track rapport is often advantageous in crucial situations.

"Tom will be coming up behind me, and I might be back a few positions while he's dicing for the lead with another guy," he said. "I will move over and let Tom by. I'm not going to block the other guy but I'm not going to make it real easy for him to pass, either."

When the brothers are traveling for races, some of their most competitive driving takes place in rental cars. The two find empty parking lots and put the cars through rigorous tests.

"You'll get your basic economy car and it's got a nice hand emergency brake," said Bart, who said their exhibitions usually draw a crowd. "You'll get up some speed and yank the brake and do a 180 degree turn or a 360. Tire smoke goes everywhere."

For now, the Kendalls are concentrating on smoking the field at Mid-Ohio in Mansfield, Ohio, on Sunday.

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