United South Central grad shifts gears

Published 8:55 am Tuesday, August 5, 2008

If you see Ned Kalis rubbing his eyes constantly, you’ll have to excuse him because everything can appear in a blur for him at times.

Kalis races stock cars at Fairmont Raceway every Friday and has done so since he was 15. He is just 18 now and graduated from United South Central in June, but if you blink you might not even get that much information from him because he is constantly moving fast.

Whether it’s on the racetrack or gridiron or the diamond, Kalis always has something occupying his time.

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Three weeks ago Kalis was playing baseball for the United South Central American Legion baseball team in the district playoffs in Sleepy Eye — he was also in the middle of the racing season at Fairmont Raceway. Instead of making a decision on whether he would race or play baseball he opted to do both.

“We played in Sleepy Eye at 2:30 p.m., got to Fairmont at 6:30, jumped into the race car at 7 p.m.,” Kalis said. “Then I went back to Sleepy Eye that night, slept in a hotel, got up early the next morning and played baseball at 10 a.m.”

The stock car season begins in April and ends in September, coinciding with baseball and football season, leaving Kalis little time to run from games to the racetrack.

“It’s a little different because we didn’t play a lot of Friday night games,” said USC baseball coach Pat Frank. “It was kind of an understanding that he would hit the road (after a game).”

There was a close call during the baseball season when the Rebels played Blooming Prairie. The game started at 4:30 p.m. and Kalis had to cruise to Fairmont to make the race in time.

“We made it just in time to get in for the heat race. It was a tight fit,” Kalis said. “I have to give a lot of credit to my mom and my sister for getting there and getting me there on time and a lot of credit to coach Frank for letting me get out early.”

Once Kalis hops in the stock car he’s off again, competing against drivers twice his age often times, and doing quite well.

He was the 2006 Rookie of the Year and finished ninth in points out of a 52-person field. He finished seventh the next year and won two races. This year he has already won a race and is currently sixth in the standings.

Success has come quickly for Kalis, who burst onto the racing scene in a 1988 Buick Skylark. Kalis competed with the car in the Hornet division, a four-cylinder class, and won 14 of the 25 races that year.

Kalis is quick to credit much of his success to the work of his family and friends. His father, Paul, and brothers Nick and Nate help with the upkeep of the car while Ned fulfills his obligations to the baseball team.

“My brothers understand that baseball is one of my high priorities in high school,” Ned said. “They knew I wasn’t going to give up sports. They helped me out, fix up my car during the week and then I jump in the car and go.”

One would expect the thrill of racing and the adrenaline rush to rank as the greatest satisfaction an 18-year-old would get from racing, but not so with Kalis.

“I like how it brings my family together,” Kalis said. “Every week we’re together. We’re never apart.”

Kalis and his parents carefully made sure not to prioritize one sport over another and that impressed Frank.

“He balanced it pretty well,” Frank said. “They didn’t take one thing bigger than the other, they didn’t play any favorites.”

The transition from baseball to racing isn’t always the easiest, but Kalis has found a way.

“When you’re going 95, 100 mph after a baseball game you kind of have to switch your mind,” Kalis said. “It’s kind of hard. If you take it seriously it’s going to be as intense as any other sport.”

Kalis got his start in racing with go-karts, then he and his family decided to build a car. After putting together an impressive season in the Hornet class, he and his family decided it was time to put together a stock car. They have plans on moving up to modified cars in a few years.

“It’s crazy,” Kalis said. “But you have to be crazy to run this stuff.”

Oh, by the way, Kalis is up by 7 a.m. every Saturday morning to help with work in the fields the family farms — even after getting home at 1 a.m. after a race night.