NHRA owner Black honored for local contributions to sport

When Ken Black was part of an early group of Las Vegas drag racers in the 1960s he never imagined that one day he would own a two-car professional team and claim four major NHRA season championships.

Nor did Black envision some 40 years later that he would be honored for his contribution to the sport in Southern Nevada. Black, 61, will join the namesake of the Mel Larson Night of Champions dinner Wednesday as the only honorees feted at this year's event at Bellagio.

"When they told me about it, my first thought was, Why me? I've been around a long time, but I really haven't done that much," Black said.

KB Racing, which Black started with son Ken Jr. in 2002, has won the past four NHRA Powerade Drag Racing series Pro Stock championships. Jason Line is the defending champion and Greg Anderson, who runs the team, reigned the previous three seasons.

A year ago, Black added a Top Fuel dragster team for driver Hillary Will.

Black has come a long way from the 1960s when he raced at the old Stardust Raceway, which was located in the Spring Valley area.

More important than his work as a drag racing pioneer, though, is Black's role in building a professional drag racing dynasty that has brought notoriety to Las Vegas, although the team is based in North Carolina.

But this year has been an emotional roller coaster for Black, one full of both joy and anxiety.

During a Feb. 3 test session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a tire failure near the end of a run sent Will's dragster into a guardwall. From the starting line, where Black was standing, he could only see the car disintegrate after it hit and its engine flying over the wall in a fireball.

Black didn't immediately know that Will had remained safely in the front half of the car, which eventually slid to a stop. Will's only injury was a slight arm bruise.

"I'm a nervous wreck watching Hillary now," Black said. "Those cars are so fast, and things happen so quick."

Greg Anderson won the Pro Stock opener a week later in Pomona, Calif., and he took the title again March 18 in Gainesville, Fla.

Black was on a high with the success of his Pro Stock team at Gainesville. But the bottom fell out a day later when Funny Car driver Eric Medlen suffered severe injuries in a testing crash.

He died several days later, and Black flew back to Indianapolis for the funeral services.

"Thankfully Hillary was OK, but now with Eric's crash and death it makes it tough to go up and watch those cars," Black said.

The team rallied a few days after the funeral when Line won the Pro Stock title on April 1 near Houston.

From that perspective, it has been a great year for Black, a Utah native who moved to Southern Nevada in 1961.

The Night of Champions will be a fitting way for Black to start the week of the NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals, which begins a four-day run Thursday at LVMS.

Anderson, for instance, has won four of his 45 national titles at Black's home track.

More significant to Black than winning another title or being honored, he said, is the hope that next week's NHRA event will not be clouded by injury or loss of life.

Proceeds from the Wednesday dinner will benefit the Las Vegas chapter of Speedway Children's Charities. Four-time NHRA pro champion Gary Scelzi will be the featured speaker. For ticket information, call 632-8242.