Any conversation about the history of local racing will inevitably lead to the Strada Family.
Ed Strada Sr. is one of the most recognized names in the sport, a Wayne County Sports Hall of Famer who died in 1986 after leaving an indelible impression on his legions of fans.
After Ed Sr.'s passing, his son Ed Jr. picked up the racing mantle and continued the family tradition of visiting Victory Lane on a regular basis.
Now, a half-century after the Strada patriarch raced competitively for the very first time, Kevin Bates is taking it all to the next level.
A 27-year-old Western Wayne graduate and Lake Ariel native, Ed Strada Sr's nephew has made racing the focal point of his life.
"I love pretty much every thing about it," Kevin told TWI Sports.
"It's a ton of hard work and I get a little bit burned out now and again. But, if I could go back and do it all over again, I wouldn't change anything. Racing is all I know."
From the Start
Kevin Bates began the path to his lifelong vocation at an early age.
He was just one when Ed Strada Sr. passed away, but he watched intently as Ed Jr. took the baton and ran with it. Before long, Bates knew that racing would be his passion.
"I've always known all the stories," he said with a chuckle. "I grew up around it. It's in my blood."
"I'm in the garage or at the track all the time year-round," he said. "When I was in high school, I never went to a dance or the prom or anything like that.
"This is what I love."
Page 2 of 3 - That single-minded focus and dedication have helped Bates move up the ladder steadily over the years.
Kevin cut his teeth on the Go Karts at Moc-A-Tek Speedway in Lakeville. He raced at that level until 1997, when he stepped up to the Modifieds.
Since that decision, Bates has expanded his scope and extended his reach.
He not only races all over the East Coast, but also puts in 16-18 hour days building the cars and modifying the engines. At this point in time, Kevin Bates Racing (KBR) boasts four cars, two with Bicknell chassis and two with Teo chassis.
At the his busiest and most competitive, Bates was driving thousands of miles to Florida, North Carolina ... even Canada.
By 2005-06, he was competing at 80-85 events during a season that began in February and wasn't over until November.
"Yeah, that got to be a little bit crazy," he admits.
"I was burned out and so was my family and the guys I worked with. Now, I'm smarter about my schedule. I try to pick and choose the races that are best for me."
By the Numbers
Unlike the part-timers and hobbyists who he good-naturedly refers to as "weekend warriors," Bates must pay close attention to the bottom line.
He's a year-round pro on the dirt tracks, a lifestyle that demands huge amounts of money and time.
For example, a normal car body he assembles for a regular Modified race costs about $2,500.
However, a body for the most prestigious races can run triple that.
"The biggest race of the year is Super Dirt Week," Bates said of the event held every October at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.
Page 3 of 3 - "That's our Super Bowl. Last year, we worked seven weeks straight sometimes 18 hours a day just on one car for that race. It sounds a little crazy, but I wanted to be in that one bad."
Most tracks Bates races on are just a quarter mile in diameter. There are some that measure a half-mile or even a bit more.
The dirt track in Syracuse though, is a full mile around and the purse is a staggering $100,000. In addition, speeds there can run as high as 130-160 mph ... versus 70-80 mph at the smaller ovals.
Over & Out
Kevin isn't sure if he's willing to put in that amount of time again this fall, but he's off to a stellar start locally.
In fact, Bates has already won three of five starts at 5 Mile point in Binghamton.
Last season, he finished fifth overall in the Modified standings.
"I went down to Florida in February and didn't have the best of luck," Kevin said. "In fact, it was kind of a disaster. But, things are going pretty well right now and we'll just keep at it and see what happens."
Whatever does happen between now and October, Bates will continue working hard to carry on the family tradition begun by his uncle 50 years ago.
Kevin is the son of Gary & Joanne Bates, Lake Ariel.