For McKenna Haase, who sold batteries to fund her dirt racing, a fitting career boost arrives

FORT WORTH, Texas — Full-circle moments are nothing new for sprint car racer McKenna Haase, even beyond making thousands of laps around dirt tracks.

After all, this is a woman who had never been exposed to motorsports until, as a third-grader, she had a random encounter with former NASCAR star Kasey Kahne in a mall. The meeting sparked an interest in racing and sent her on a long, winding path to becoming a driver herself — where she now races in some of the same events as Kahne.

But her latest story has just as much of a Hollywood-like twist. Last week, Haase announced she had gained major sponsorship from Interstate Batteries — whose product she once sold door-to-door as a 15-year-old attempting to fund her race team.

Back then, when Haase was racing micro sprints in 2012, she sent a letter to the company asking if they could look at her marketing deck (yes, a teenager with a marketing deck), listen to her pitch and critique her.

“I know I’m not big enough to be sponsored by you,” she wrote, “but would you be open to hearing my pitch and critiquing me so I can get better?”

They agreed and gave feedback, and then the relationship paused for more than a decade.

But last year, as Haase continued to seek sponsorship for her sprint car, the now-27-year-old followed up with a letter to Interstate CEO Lain Hancock. She shared the story of her earlier experience with the company and added: “I’m not sure I’m any bigger now,” but asked if executives would consider talking for real this time.

After meeting with Interstate at their Dallas headquarters, a deal was struck: Haase announced at Texas Motor Speedway she now has enough funding to run 40 sprint car races this year and hire a crew chief — a role she was previously doing herself.

“Hopefully she’s able to hire somebody who is really good and manage not only race-day stuff but during-the-week stuff,” said racing star Kyle Larson, who has been familiar with Haase’s journey. “I’ve always had that (support) and it’s always helped me stay focused on driving. That’s going to be beneficial for anybody to take some load off.”

With a limited budget for most of her career, Haase has truly been doing it all: Driving, being the team owner and securing funding for the team, building the cars, setting them up for the races, and making changes to the cars in between her on-track activity.

When The Athletic caught up with the Iowa native at the 2021 Knoxville Nationals — the world’s most prestigious sprint car race — Haase was thrashing on her car in the pits. She ended up winning a heat race that night and made it to the C-Main as a Nationals rookie, all without a crew chief.

“I don’t even think people realized the past few years we didn’t have (a crew chief) just because the car would show up at the track and it would look the same,” she said. “But I was the one calling the shots on that.”

McKenna Haase at NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Combine in 2017. After years as a do-it-herself racer, Haase secured a sponsorship from Interstate Batteries. (Jerry Markland / Getty Images for NASCAR)

In the 14 years she has raced, particularly since doing it at the top level of sprint car racing, she has had many stretches with a backbreaking schedule. One week in July 2022, she recalled putting in 99 hours of physical labor while working on the race car; her longest day at the shop was 23 hours and 30 minutes (she allowed herself a 30-minute nap).

And that’s just working on the cars themselves. Racing requires money to even reach the track in the first place, and Haase has also been the lone person seeking sponsorship for her team. One year, she contacted more than 300 companies in hopes of striking up a partnership (even one on a much smaller scale than her new Interstate Batteries deal).

Despite the relentless grind with little payoff, she said, giving up on her dream never felt like the right thing to do.

“When I’ve looked for an out or thought about, ‘Should I pursue something else?’ that door has never opened,” she said Thursday. “It just seemed like I’ve always been pushed back toward where I’m at, and something inside of me has just been like, ‘Just keep pushing. Just keep doing what you’re doing.’ And now I’m starting to see why.”

Haase plans to run a mix of series — World of Outlaws, High Limit and some of the weekly shows at Knoxville, which was once her home track before moving to Indianapolis. She remains the only woman in the history of the venerable Knoxville track to win a sprint car race, which earned her firesuit from that night a spot in the adjacent National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

She also studied business and finance at Drake University, twice appeared as a contestant on “American Ninja Warrior” and is also the founder, executive director and chairwoman of Youth Racers of America (a nonprofit intended to give young race car drivers some guidance and opportunities).

But the end goal — the “vision on my heart,” as she put it — has always been to become a winning sprint car driver. Now she finally has hope, and it prompted her to recently reflect on some posts from her old journal which documented the extreme struggles she endured far beyond the spotlight.

“It’s crazy how you can be so low for so long,” she said, “and then all it takes is that one opportunity or that one phone call.”



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(Top photo of McKenna Haase at a press conference last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

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