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For Kingsport Speedway GM Tunnell, racing’s in her blood

By Jeff Birchfield • Aug 11, 2019 at 9:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport Speedway General Manager Karen Tunnell literally grew up at the racetrack.

A native of St. Paul, her father started racing Modifieds in Pennsylvania before she was born. She describes the sport as something that’s always been in the family, in her blood.

Tunnell spent many Saturday nights at Lonesome Pine Raceway before getting into the business, in which she has worked more than two decades — the last six years as the manager at Kingsport Speedway.

She’s had a successful tenure with strong car counts and the fans’ parking lot usually full on Friday nights. It’s a family business as well. Her husband, Chris, still races the yellow No. 6 Camaro, and racing is a subject they often discuss.

Tunnell is proud of all the female participation at Kingsport Speedway, which includes six drivers: Penny Hurd, Anitra Little, Alice Barnette, Jessica Spangler, Jessica Payne and Hannah Seal.

Most people just see the track on a Friday night. How many hours do you have to work during the week?

“Typically, it’s around 55, 60 hours per week. We usually stay here all night Friday and get up Saturday morning and do what we need before we go home.”

What’s the most fun part of the job?

“It’s to see the drivers get here and get on track after they’ve worked all night long. To see the fans have a good time. I feel it’s a very successful night when you can get the fans on their feet and they stay for the last race.”

What is the most challenging part of the job?

“The biggest challenge, and I don’t think any promoter ever reaches that mountain, but it’s to keep everybody happy. It just doesn’t happen.”

What has been the key to success at Kingsport Speedway?

“I think the key is to be good to people. Some racer will always feel you’ve done them wrong, but I know in my heart I don’t do that to anybody. We try to keep them at least 75% happy and the rest of it will work itself out.”

How important is it to be part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series?

“It is very important because it gives the track a lot of recognition. Every year, we go to the NASCAR national banquet at Charlotte and meetings at Speedweeks (in Daytona). We’re always mentioned in those meetings. It makes me proud to know our track is still up there.”

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