Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – BATAVIA, NY – James Gayton had the late Mackenzie Kulesza riding with him Thursday night on the #10.
In a different look from the original red with yellow trim #10, Gayton added blue door panels and had Mackenzie’s name on the entire door.
It had a beautiful finish as Gayton scored the win in “Light Up the Night for Kenzie” at Genesee Speedway. This event took place the night before Mackenzie Kulesza, who was killed in a car crash end of 2020, would’ve turned 13 on June 17th.
An incredible event father Tony Kulesza put on, along with promoters Kurt and Bonnie Stebbins, to sponsors of the event Jim and Pam Johnson. From a fireworks show, a live cover to “Wagon Wheel,” a Le Mans style starting lineup, and a four-wide salute with Tony pacing the field. This event never disappoints.
“Tony is always a great guy. His daughter was always a good person. Tragically lost too young. Try to do what I can for Tony. He’s a great dude and loves racing,” Gayton commented to RPW post-race.
Gayton would waste no time getting to the front. Starting from P4, he immediately got past Robert Knapp II and Curtis Rung on the outside in the first half of the opening lap. Then, he swapped lanes, overtook Brad Whiteside on the inside, and didn’t look back after lap one.
“It felt pretty good. I knew when I was getting into heavy lapped traffic that it must be going well. We’ve been working on her every day, trying to get her faster. I think we’re headed in the right direction,” the now three-time winner this season said.
He left Cole Susice and Olivia Coniber in the dust as the pair battled for second while 6.5 seconds behind Gayton at the halfway mark.
For Gayton, this race wasn’t an easy victory for him, as five cautions in the race stacked the field up, including a yellow after the white flag. Gayton, though, was glad to see it.
“My [water] temperature was climbing through the roof. I needed to get that motor cooled down about ten degrees to get that last push,” Gayton claimed that it was around 260 degrees, putting a new body and not drilling enough holes in it.
This was a big redemption win for Gayton as last year, in Kenzie’s birthday race, he was .056 seconds away from winning, but Ashley Harbison had nipped him at the line.
Tony Kulesza drove track points leader Bill Weller Jr.’s car to a fifth place finish after starting from the back of the field, leading to a roar from the crowd. Kulesza’s car was redesigned to a #36 car, with an M lit up on the roof and a passenger seat carrying the teddy bear that Mackenzie held in her final hours of life.
After the race in victory lane, Gayton undid the right side door panel carrying Mackenzie’s name and gave it to Tony as a gift.
Other winners included Phil Vigneri III in DIRTCar Sportsman Tour competition, Jeremy Wonderling in Crate Late Models, Dennis Lunger in a Pro Mod special, Dennis Cummings in Street Stocks, and Greenley George in Novice Sportsman, and Bryson Hill in Bandits.
Genesee Speedway is off until July 2nd when they host the Brian Ace Memorial.
For more with Gayton, head to the RSN Trackside Facebook page. For more on the Sportsman feature, another article Is out on that.
Light Up the Night for Kenzie Mini Stock Memorial (25 Laps)
10 James Gayton (19:31.079), 2. 198 Cole Susice, 3. 004 Olivia Coniber, 4. 62 Chris Leone, 5. 36 Tony Kulesza, 6. 1 Dante Mancuso, 7. 24r Curtis Rung, 8. 46 Brad Whiteside, 9. 23 Jessica Schleede, 10. 21 Corey Valade, 11. 22 Daniel Valade, 12. 16 Aric Schosek, 13. 8W Cody Wise, 14. 11 Eric Brumsted, 15. 61 Alexis Traxler, 16. 85 Brian Johnson, 17. 16K Robert Knapp II, 18. 27 Andy Schumaker, 19. 73 Ashley Mackey
Heat Winners: 004 Coniber, 62 Leone