Keith Haney

Interview and photos by Ian Tocher

You know his name; it says so right there on the driver’s door of “Enigma,” Keith Haney’s Drag Radial 2016 Camaro.


The Tulsa-based businessman also campaigns “Notorious,” a second, nearly identical appearing car in Pro Modified and remarkably is the defending champion for both classes in the Mid-West Pro Mod Series. In fact, in addition to being the reigning MWPMS champion(s), Haney also owns and personally promotes the series, owns or co-owns eight new car dealerships, co-owns Tulsa Raceway Park with fellow Pro Mod racer Todd Martin, and still finds time to serve as coach for his young son’s football and baseball teams.


In other words, Keith Haney is a busy man.


He got his start in drag racing by following the example of his father, who in the 1970s through ‘80s used to compete with an old Plymouth Super Bee at Southwest Raceway, now known as Tulsa Raceway Park. Unfortunately, Joe Haney never had the opportunity to see his son race, as he passed away when Keith was just 14 years old. Haney’s own first race car came a couple of years later, a 454-equipped ’70 Nova.


“I was working as a detail boy at a car lot and they knew I liked to race and I was a hard worker, so they told me, ‘Hey, here's this old Ford F100 pickup, old flatbed trailer, and if you'll get them ugly-ass stripes off the side of that Nova we'll let you race that thing.’ So I used Lava soap and gasoline and got the stripes off and boy, I'll tell you what, I went out there and I treated that car like gold.”


Without expanding on what happened, Haney admits, “I basically got fired from that lot and ended up in the car business.” About the same time he’d made up his mind to go racing “real strong,” and made a split-window ’63 Corvette his ride of choice. “It was a nice car when I got it, but I made it even nicer,” he recalls. “Spent a lot of money on it, went racing and then ended up buying a dragster.”


By the mid-‘90s he’d moved on to a GTO and within the next decade ended up with a 2006 GTO previously campaigned by Pro Stock racer Todd Hoerner. From there, Haney purchased a pair of Pontiac GXPs before moving on in the late-2000s.


“Actually, I built a Camaro and John Woods built a Camaro, and I ended up buying both of them,” he says. “But then I got rid of those cars and ended up (in 2015) building the cars that I have now. It just kind of evolved. Along the way, I became a partner at the race track, where I was always a sponsor. Todd called me up one day and wanted me to know if I would continue to sponsor and I said, ‘Hell, let's just be partners,’ and we ended up in business together at the race track.”


Meanwhile, Haney was a regular in ADRL and PDRA Pro Nitrous for several years before venturing in 2015 into the burgeoning drag radial world. Diminutive in stature, but now among the most dynamic personalities and strongest promoters in drag racing today, he recently sat down with DRO for a wide-ranging discussion about challenges facing the sport as a business.


  Can you pinpoint a major turning point in your racing endeavors?


Keith Haney: You know, I knew the online social world was getting bigger and I knew that hey, there was an opportunity there to try and get some sponsorships and I had all these big ideas, but I didn't really know how to do it. So I just kept on and kept learning and kept growing with it and eventually I got ‘Enigma,’ and when I came out to Lights Out that year, that was when I really made notice.


I built the car and my team didn't even know about it. My crew chiefs didn't know about it, nobody knew about it with the exception of the person who was building it (Larry Jeffers). And then when I announced it, everybody was like, ‘He’s not going to qualify; he’s not going to do this.’ And then the next thing you know, I ended up going number one the very first night of Lights Out and Enigma kind of made me what I am today, if you want to know the truth.



  When Todd approached you about renewing sponsorships why did you suggest becoming partners in the race track? Why take on that burden?


KH: Because I loved drag racing so much at that time and I felt like I knew the race track was going to close if I wasn't there. So here it is, I think seven years later? And we're still kicking butt.


So, what's the best part about co-owning the race track now?


KH: The best part about owning the race track will be the day I sell it! (laughs) No, I'm just kidding. Probably the best part about owning the race track is just it's kind of a family deal, especially on the big races. The day-to-day bracket racing stuff, I used to be a part of but I haven't been in a long time. I still support them and they still come and hang out, but I’m not so involved.


You know, I've been asked before, what is it that I ultimately want out of drag racing, because I spend a lot of money doing it, a lot. And I continue to put a lot into it. So I would like to be known as someone who helped to innovate the sport. I would like to be known in the same category—which I probably never will be—but as a Don Prudhomme, or a Tom McEwen, or a John Force, you know, among these guys that made things different and better in the sport.


Today's world is totally different with the social. A lot of the older people and the people that ran the things back in the day, things have changed and they haven't been able to move along with it, so they've gotten out of it. And now they've lost their luster, but in the same case they created a movement back when they did. So mine hope is that one day I can look back and say, ‘You know what? I helped the sport of drag racing. I gave my part.’


  What about on the other side? What's the worst part, or maybe the most challenging of owning and operating a drag strip?


KH: The hardest part about owning a drag strip is trying to please everybody, just trying to make sure that everyone is happy, but you can't. As far as the fan goes, we do a pretty good job with that; Todd has done a great job on that side of it. As far as owning the race track, it’s hard trying to make sure that we're not charging too much, or knowing what we are bringing in and where it’s going? What's new? It's a little time-consuming, so I would say that would be the toughest part about the track. It’s no different than your personal life, it's the same way. Sometimes you have to give up one thing for the other to make it work.


  So, considering all this, would you recommend owning/operating a drag strip as a money-making venture?


KH: Oh, no. But I don't mean that in a bad way. Just not for the headache and we don't make any money. I guess if I was retired and I needed something to do and I didn't have the busy schedule that I have, then yes, owning a race track would probably be okay. But as busy as I am, if somebody came by and offered to buy Tulsa Raceway Park, I'd sell it. But I wouldn't sell it to just anyone; that's the only difference. If I didn't think they could continue to make the place better, then I wouldn't sell it.


  What if it was like a big land developer came in and offered twice what is was worth?


KH: No, and that's already been done.


  What about the Mid-West Pro Mod Series? With everything you've got going on why take on the job, the responsibility, the headaches of running a racing series and trying to keep all those guys happy, too? Why not just go out and race your cars and enjoy yourself as much as you can?


KH: I guess because I ain't got no common sense. (laughs) I would say I just love drag racing, and we need something here in the Midwest to race. Not that PDRA did anything wrong (by not scheduling any Midwest events), because I even said the same thing, if you can't get the support, why come to the Midwest? If you can't get the racers to support, then why come here? At the end of the day, it's not worth it. But what ultimately ended up happening with all the ADRL stuff and then the XDRL and now the PDRA stuff … you know what; this is a totally different model. I'm eventually going to hand the Mid-West Pro Mod Series off to somebody. The way it's set up, it can be very profitable for someone to take it over.


  Do you have anyone in mind right now?


KH: Yeah, I have someone in mind. I have someone in mind that I believe could do it that's an innovator, but this can be a full-time job. You don't need a whole big staff and you wouldn't need a daily job, that's how big the Mid-West Pro Mod Series could be. You wouldn't need a daily job.


  At its core, what makes the Mid-West Pro Mod Series work?


KH: It’s really simple. The way this thing is set up is to help the race tracks survive and I feel like we're the face of the sponsors, of our marketing partners. Basically, we're taking their dollar and giving them what they deserve. We're giving them the exposure; we're giving them the limelight; we're giving them everything at every race track. All we're doing is making sure that Mark Menscer or Frankenstein or VP Fuels or all these great marketing partners that we have, we're making sure that when they give us a dollar, they're getting their money's worth.


The problem is, a lot of times when they give it to a race track or they give it to someone else, those people take the money and they forget what they're supposed to do. With us, it's just great; the whole model is absolutely outstanding, in my opinion.


  So, is there any kind of timeframe in mind for eventually trying to hand it off to someone or sell the series?


KH: You know what, if somebody wanted to come buy the Mid-West Pro Mod Series today, I'd want to be a part of it. I'd want to keep a piece of it so that I can have a say, or maybe not even a say, but to help. There's really no timeframe. I'm sure over the next couple of years I'll want to move it along to someone else, but I can tell you right now, whoever that person is when they buy it, or whether I give it, whatever I decide to do, it'll solely be my deal. I will make sure that it continues for a long time.


  How much do you apply of what you’ve learned in the car business to drag racing promotions?


KH: A lot, because marketing every day is what we do in the car business. Everybody knows, we've all got kids, and they're all on baseball teams, softball teams, bands, wrestling, dancing, whatever program. And people always walk into the car dealership and say, ‘Hey, can you give me $200 for my team?’ So, you give them the $200, they leave, you get a little spot on a banner, and you never hear from them again until the next year.


So, I said when I started this deal, ‘If I'm going to take a penny from you, I want you to make four more pennies. I want you to make four times what you give me. And if I can't do that, I want to try to figure out how can we do it?’ I gripe at companies now and even marketing partners with us now. I gripe because they don't send me enough information. I mean, how am I supposed to promote you if you don't give it to me? You have to do your part, too. And I'm the guy that'll send you an email every day to tell you, ‘Hey, where's my shit? How are we supposed to prove ROI to you if you don't send me something?’


  You make self-promotion a big part of your own racing, too, but how much do you enjoy the trash talking, the making of the videos? Does it make the racing itself more interesting for you?


KH: I think what it does is bring awareness to the sport. For me, it's brought awareness to Keith Haney Racing, and the best part is I like to go and back it up. So yeah, I talk crap on the Internet, I do this, I do that, I do live videos and just regular videos and go live on Facebook and all this stuff, but the best part about it is I go and back it up. Because I'm so confident in my team and the program that we have that I feel like I can talk and deliver from there. I really think the sport needs more of it.


If you remember back in the day, before they started fining everybody for all this stuff, you'd see somebody knock someone out at a NASCAR race. Now anybody gets knocked out at a NASCAR race, they're fined a million dollars or something. You go to a drag race and somebody gets knocked out, the only thing to happen to you is someone is going out the back gate. I just think we need to bring the luster back to the show and have the old Snake versus Mongoose again and the grudge racing and all that stuff.


A good example was me and Stevie Fast at Lights Out this year. If you were there at the start line in Q3 and saw everyone crowded around us there and in the stands and on the Internet, hell, we broke it. We broke it. We broke the frickin’ Internet, ol’ Stevie and I did. People wanted to see that so bad they couldn't see straight. And Stevie got lucky for now, but it'll come back on him. He got lucky. And you know what? They're going to be there to see it again, because eventually we're going to do it again, and what do the fans want more than anything? They want something to root for. Just like you want to root for a football team or a baseball team, they want something to root for.


  It's all good fun with you and Donald Long, you and Stevie, and that kind of involvement with a few other guys, but there are times when you've got to have pretty thick skin for some of the comments that people throw at you, don't you?


KH: Oh, yeah. But you know what? If they're talking about you, it's all good. Good or bad, it's all good. It’s kind of a variation of there's no such thing as bad publicity.


  Do you have any interest or aspirations to race in the NHRA Pro Mod Series?


KH: How about I just say this; if I do, everybody will know it. It would be the biggest talked thing in drag racing, over the Funny Car guys, the Top Fuel guys, the Pro Stock, anything that has to do with NHRA, if I show up at a Pro Mod race; it will be the biggest talked about thing. And that's not bragging; that’s just me being cocky enough to know that that's the way it would be.


  So, you're going to make the same kind of splash that Stevie Jackson made when he went over there?


KH: Say that again.


  You're going to make the same kind of splash that Stevie did when he went there?


KH: Mine will be bigger than Stevie's.


  That's what I was expecting you to say. Well, one last question to ask you. Let's put one thing to rest once and for all. How tall is Keith Haney?


KH: Five-foot-seven. I might have lost an inch as I get older, but the last time I checked my height I was five feet, seven inches. 


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