Day Motor Sports Driver Profile: Michael King Jr. soldiers on despite rough luck

EL DORADO, Arkansas — While most of us tend to look at wins, top-five and top-10 finishes when forming an opinion of any driver, how well he (or she) faces adversity may be the better way to judge them overall. You see, those who forge ahead despite a little tough luck are the real winners in racing.

For 22-year-old second generation racer Michael King Jr., that ability to stay positive has been tested in 2023. The Kentucky native struggled through more lows than highs this year; with two wins, six top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 29 starts. King competes in Crate Late Models and Limited Modifieds. 

“The numbers don’t really tell the whole story,” King said. “We fought a lot of issues with both cars all year. It seems like every night when we unloaded, we’d start the night in a hole. We’d climb from 20th up to fifth or so and be running strong, but then anything you could possibly imagine would go wrong. 

“We started the year off really fast everywhere we went; but in the middle of the season it all fell apart. We got to a point where we just had to reset mentally and get ready for the end of the year.” 

King has racing in his blood, and has already learned a ton in only five years behind the wheel. 

“My Dad raced back in Kentucky back before I was born,” King explained. “He raced all the way up until I was nine or 10 years old. We moved down here to El Dorado a few years later. I had always been interested in racing, and did the iRacing thing when I was a teenager.  

“When it was time to get into a real car, I started out in a 4-cylinder. The first year, we won 14 features at six or seven different tracks. So the next year we moved up into a Sport Mod, and I finished fifth in points during my rookie season at Boothill.”

Once he started to get things figured out in open-wheel, the oval track career was off and running. 

“The next year, I won three races and the points title at what’s now called Super Bee Speedway in Chatham, Louisiana. In 2021, we continued with the Sport Mod program and won a couple of races at Sabine Speedway. That year we also got hooked up with Kevin and Brandon Hightower at APE Engines in Natchitoches. At the end of that year, I got to drive in a couple of Crate Late Model races. 

“The Late Model was owned by Dennis Gardner and his son, Dennis Jr. That continued over into early 2022; so we had two cars in our shop at that point. The Carters sold their car, so we were on our own.” 

His working relationship with Hightower led to an exciting opportunity, one that he’ll treasure for life. 

“We were just kind of kidding around one night with Kevin on the phone about going to the Dome,” King explained. “He said, look, I’ve got this motor we can use, so lets put it in there and go. So at the end of 2022, we put his 370 cubic inch steel block motor into my Late model and went to the Dome. 

“We were 16th fastest in Hot Laps, even though that doesn’t pay anything. I didn’t get to post a lap in qualifying thanks to a broken brace, so we started dead-last in our Heat race. That didn’t go as planned, and we almost transferred in through the LCQ but missed it by one spot. That was hard to swallow.”

King loves driving his beautiful No. 14Jr. Late Model entry, and says the division is gaining traction. 

“I really think Late Models are growing in popularity around here right now,” he said. “You look at the 2024 World of Outlaws schedule, and they have two races in this area. Those shows at Rocket Raceway and at Boothill are going to be insane. There is going to be so many people at both of those events. 

“People who love Late Models are loyal beyond words, so they’ll support any race with a decent car count and healthy purse. I hope the division continues to grow, since it’s a big part of my future plans.”

When King puts on his safety suit and gets ready to race, he climbs into two very well-built machines. 

“The Late Model I’m driving now is a 2019 Rocket XR1,” he explained. “It’s powered by a 370 steel block motor, and is really a great handling car. My Limited Modified is a 2020 IRP chassis, powered by a 350 small block built by Kevin at APE. 

“I’m lucky enough to be one of their ‘House Drivers’ I guess you could call it. In fact, we’re going back to The Dome in St. Louis next week with one of his motors. The Gateway Dirt Nationals is a big deal, and I think we’re going there with a legitimate shot.” 

King is not only going up to St. Louis to compete, he’s doing so with a special look and good cause. 

“We’re running a special wrap on the car that pays tribute to Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 championship paint scheme. As some may not know, Kevin was Alan’s engine builder in those NASCAR years. His bond with the Wisconsin-born racing legend was strong, while his engines were powerful and bullet proof.”

Along with his two top-notch cars and driving experience, King has ample support in his corner. 

“I want to thank a lot of good people and companies for their support, including APE Engines, Advanced Specialized Services, LLC; Black’s Metals of El Dorado, Arkansas; Club 20 Suspension, DJ Superman, Joey Brown Plumbing, LLC; J&J Motorsports, and M&A Wrecker Service.

“I also need to thank Mathew Logan Shocks, Next Level Designs, PPG Paints, Rogers Lawn Service, Team 5 Enterprise, Team 48 Motorsports, Thrifty Liquor and Thurmon’s Heat and Air. I appreciate what these folks do for my program, couldn’t compete at this level without them.”

King’s upcoming trip to The Dome later this month has more to it than another chance to race. 

“We’ll be auctioning off a door panel from this car with proceeds going to the Union County Animal Protection Society,” King explained. “They are a No-Kill shelter near and dear to our hearts. We love Cats in this house, so raising funds to support their cause was a natural fit. We’re happy to help out.” 

After returning from St. Louis and enjoying the Holidays with family, King will focus on 2024.  

“First off, I really need to thank my Dad for keeping my head in the game this year,” King said. “Everybody gets a little down when things don’t go well for months at a time. But Dad has us excited and well prepared for this trip to the Dome, regardless. Staying positive is the right thing to do now. 

“I have a very positive outlook about our chances in St. Louis. Honestly, it may sound stupid, but I think we can go up there and win the thing if everything goes smoothly. We’re working on an Open Motor so I can do a few SLM races in 2024, as well. I’m enjoying this sport with my Dad right now.” 

By Phil Whipple, Staff Writer

Photo by Scott Burson