Residents in south Chatham were probably looking skyward for a low-flying jet when a loud roar was heard for a few minutes last Friday afternoon.
It wasn’t a plane … just a NASCAR driver firing up his engine for the students at St. Ursula Catholic School.
D.J. Kennington, a two-time champion on the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, visited the school as a part of Sobeys ‘Fuel For Kids’ program.
The 35-year-old St. Thomas native gave a safety talk for the entire St. Ursula student body, comparing the safety measures that go into auto racing to children riding their bikes.
The visit was highlighted by Kennington firing up his Sobeys/Castrol Edge Dodge and doing some donuts on the school’s playground area.
“That was pretty cool, a lot louder than I was expecting,” said Zach Dick, a Grade 6 student.
“I liked how he made the smoke,” he said of Kennington’s burnout on the pavement.
The 11-year-old said he follows NASCAR and racing at South Buxton Raceway.
“Darryl Hoekstra is my favourite driver … he’s my hockey coach,” Dick said of the 2013 Schinkels Gourmet Meats UMP Modified champion at South Buxton.
Kennington has been visiting schools across southwestern Ontario over the last month as a part of his sponsor Sobeys program, which wraps up with a swing through the Toronto area this week.
“The local Sobeys stores adopt a school in their city, we go to the school and do a safety talk for kids about NASCAR, talk about the race car and put on a little show for them,” Kennington said.
“Then we go to the local Sobeys and do a barbecue for that school.
“Sobeys supplies all the food and all the proceeds go directly to the school.”
St. Ursula principal Kelly Van Boxtel said proceeds from Friday evening’s barbecue will go towards the Grade 7 leadership camp.
During his talk, Kennington stressed the importance of safety in NASCAR racing.
“Our helmets cost $3,000, but there’s no price on safety.
“We wear fire suits, gloves and shoes … and that buys us about 30 seconds to get unhooked and get out of our car if it ever catches fire.
“I’ve been in a lot of accidents in racing … none of them were my fault of course … but I feel safe because of all of the safety equipment that goes into my car, my helmet, seat belts and neck restraints.
“You guys don’t need fire suits to ride your bikes, but you should always, always wear your bike helmets,” he told the students.
“Some of you may think it’s silly and uncool to wear a bike helmet, but it only takes a second to have an accident, and your head is the most important part of your body you need to protect,” he declared.
Kennington, the 2010 and 2012 NASCAR Canadian Tire series champion, just missed a second straight and third career title by a mere two points this season.
While he would love to get a full-time ride in Nationwide or Trucks, he is content to race in his homeland series.
“I’m at the point in my career where we’re trying to build the Canadian side of things, trying to build NASCAR in Canada and we’re concentrating on our race team,” said Kennington, who runs three Canadian Tire series cars out of his DJK Racing shop in St. Thomas.