Jim Kearney is not just a successful club racer and contributing writer to SportsCar magazine, SCCA’s official member magazine; he’s also a driver coach with an impressive client resume. And while Kearney’s 42 years as an SCCA member also means he has ample stories tell, it’s his more recent endeavor as a driver coach that landed him an interview on the Speed Secrets podcast.
While Kearney’s racing career had humble beginnings (he explains more about that in the podcast), on-track success did not wait long. “I won the Valvoline Pro Vee Championship in 1992, took the silver medal at the SCCA Runoffs at Road Atlanta in 1991, and the bronze at Mid-Ohio in 1996,” Kearney told me when I spoke to him shortly after listening to the podcast. “I was also the SCCA Northeast Division Champion four times, once in 1991, 1992, 1996, and then in 2006.”
With the shift to driver coaching, Kearney also found success. “In my very first coaching gig, I worked with Rick Shields in Formula Vee at the 2010 SCCA Runoffs at Road America,” Kearney explained. “Rick had six prior Runoffs attempts, with a best finish of ninth. In 2010, Rick also won SCCA’s Kimberly Cup for the most improved driver.”
That 2010 Formula Vee Runoffs race came down to a three-wide sprint up Road America’s front straight, with a photo finish deciding the champion. Shields emerged victorious by a margin of 0.017sec; at the time, it was the second-closest margin of victory for an SCCA Runoffs title.
Kearney’s driver coaching clientele has grown through the years to include a number of notables in various pro racing series. “I worked with Tim Minor, who took the FRP F2000 title in both 2013 and 2014,” he said. “I also worked with Jeremy Grenier, who took third in points in 2012 in FRP F1600. In 2014, I began a five-year association with Tim Paul in F2000, where he became a championship contender, finishing third in the points in 2017. And in 2015, I also worked with Tim Paul in MX-5 Cup, where he qualified on the pole at Sebring in a 28-car field.
Specific to coaching SCCA racers at the Runoffs, Kearney has plenty of success stories. “At the SCCA Runoffs over the last nine years, I’ve worked with drivers who have stood on the podium on 13 occasions, including four gold medals,” he said. “In 2014, Jeremy Grenier won the Formula F gold medal at Laguna Seca and received the Mark Donohue Award. That year, Rick Shields won his second gold medal in Formula Vee. In 2016, I worked with Brian Linn in H Production at Mid-Ohio, where he won the gold and received the President’s Cup.”
Kearney has also coached Megan Gilkes, an SCCA racer who most recently completed a stint in the W Series, and also Alex Scaler. “Alex was recently notified that he’d made it into the final six contestants for the 2019 Team USA Scholarship process,” said a proud Kearney.
“I think the role of driver coach is often misunderstood,” Kearney concluded. “As with drivers – and people in general – everyone has different needs. And, ultimately, it is all about results.”
To hear more from Kearney and his thoughts about driver coaching, check out episode 139 of the Speed Secrets podcast.