KARNES OVERCOMES THE ODDS TO RACE by Jason Mitchell
Dealing With Testicular Cancer Gives Him A New Outlook
To the human eye NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series driver Allen Karnes appears to be a normal guy who has led a normal life. He looks like any other Southeast Series driver who has a passion for racing, going fast, and turning left on the weekends.
Karnes is a prime example of a man that has amazingly prevailed through both physical and emotional tragedies that other people can only pray they never have to endure. The 37 year-old Karnes is a Washington state native who now resides in Sharpsburg, Ga. In 1999, Karnes was diagnosed with testicular cancer only months after the death of his sister, Allison Karnes, who had a rare form of cancer that started in her pancreas.
"You wouldn’t know I’ve been through all that by looking at me would you?” Karnes admits. “I’m pretty young but I’ve done and been through a lot. It’s been a long hard road for sure. I have no problem talking about what I’ve been through at all.”
Life was going great for Karnes after his move to the Atlanta area from the great northwest in his pursuit of a racing career. Then he got the news that would admittedly change his life forever when he was told that his sister was dying of cancer.
“Allison was my best friend,” Karnes proudly says. “I tell you what, we were buddies. That was the lowest moment in my
life. It made me question every single thing about myself and about what I did every day. She was the sickest person I’ve ever seen in my life. Allison and I were very close. I know that is absolutely the hardest thing I’ll ever have to go through in my life. I miss her every single day. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Allison Karnes.”
While dealing with his sister’s fatal illness, Karnes became aware that he was also having health problems. Karnes admits to being in a state of denial.
“I knew it before they ever told me,” Karnes says. “I didn’t come forth with it because my sister was dying. I didn’t want my family to have anything more to deal with. About four months after her death I took a job with Myer-Sutton Homes and had health insurance so I went to the doctor. I went in to the doctor’s office on a Friday and they had me in for surgery the following Wednesday morning to do the operation.
“It scared me a little, but at the same time I was healthy as an ox and knew I was going to be just fine. I really didn’t worry about it that much because in my heart I knew everything was going to work out fine. I guess I did think of the worst-case scenario briefly at one time, but I knew if I did what the doctors told me to do I would be alright. I knew that if the cancer didn’t get into my lymph nodes I was going to be okay and we don’t think it did.”
Karnes admits one of the most difficult parts of cancer prognosis was telling his family of his illness so soon after the passing of his sister.
“I tried to downplay everything,” Karnes says. “I just did not want to tell my mom.”
Karnes says that if he can use his status as one of the star drivers in the Southeast Series, he would encourage other males to make sure they make recommended visits to the doctor’s office to insure they are in good health. One
Allen Karnes has been through a lot in his life.. and now he is enjoying it by being a driver in the NASCAR Southeast Series. (51 Photos)
of the greatest athletes in all of sports – six-time Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong – first brought attention to the problems of testicular cancer in young males when he was diagnosed with the disease at the height of his bicycling career.
“I had the cancer a couple of years before I went to see the doctor about it,” Karnes says. “I was just lucky that it didn’t spread. I did the same thing Lance Armstrong did by ignoring it. The cancer spread from his lymph nodes to his lungs and brain. That’s what testicular cancer is capable of and a lot of people die from it.”
In fact, both Karnes and Armstrong have seemingly beaten the illness to become comparative case studies among researchers in the medical fields.
“After the surgery I had CAT scans every two months and blood work every third month,” Karnes says of his road to recovery. “The following year it went down to having CAT scans and blood work every four months. During that whole time I was running on a treadmill, lifting weights and working out because I knew I was going to be fine. I knew I was going to beat it. I honestly don’t think you ever get a 100-percent verdict that everything is fine after going through something like that.
“After the second year, my oncologist told me that I was in full remission. But he also told me that he wanted to see me every six months to do more CAT scans and blood work, so it made me wonder why I needed to keep seeing him if I was in full remission.”
Karnes’ love of racing began at a young age and that very same passion still exists today.
“I should probably be playing Major League Baseball, but I wanted to race for a living,” says Karnes, who was clocked throwing a baseball at 90 mph when he was in the seventh grade. “When I first started racing, it was something that a lot of my friends didn’t understand. Being a race car driver wasn’t considered to be as cool as it is now. When I’d tell people in high school I raced cars on the weekends they would look at me like I had three heads. I was popular in high school because I was a good athlete but my racing just didn’t make any sense to a lot of my friends.”
At the time of the passing of his sister and his personal health issues, Karnes wasn’t racing because he had been so focused on getting his career in the construction business up and running.
“After my sister died, I got a burning desire in my gut to get back into racing,” Karnes says. “It was like Allison was telling me to get my racing career going again. She is the one who always knew I could do it. She had more belief in me than I did in myself.”
True to her wishes, Karnes got his racing career restarted in the Late Model ranks and his success allowed him to reach the Southeast Series on a
A fast race car or a fast ball? Karnes might have had the choice.
fulltime basis in 2001. Now in his fourth season with the Southeast Series, Karnes has earned a great deal of respect from his peers because of the fact that he in the only one that works and maintains his car through the week at his race shop.
Karnes says he has had a great deal of fun racing in a top NASCAR touring division like the Southeast Series, but the work that goes into getting the car to the different tracks is somewhat of a burden because he does stay so busy.
“That’s probably not a bad description of it,” Karnes says. “I do work about 70 hours a week for a living and build 100 houses a year to pay the bills and keep this race team going. I can’t really say that it’s hard because I love working on anything that has to deal with racing.”
What irritates Karnes the most is the fact that he’s not gotten the on-track results yet that he has worked so hard to achieve. The best finish of Karnes’ Southeast Series career came August 7 with a seventh-place finish at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
“It really rips me up inside because I know I should be doing better and winning races,” Karnes says. “I know I’ve got the talent behind the wheel of a race car. But when I’m behind the wheel I’m the driver, the crew chief, team owner – I wear all those hats right now. I know it would help me out a lot if I had somebody who knew what they were doing to help me out on my car. If something goes wrong, it’s my fault whether it’s something that happens to the car or if I get in a wreck. You can trace everything back to me. I hate to say that because I try to do the best I can, but that’s reality.”
Karnes is currently searching for a primary sponsor that he feels like would help him because a serious threat to win races on a regular basis. He currently has associate sponsors in the form of Quality Cabinets and STOCK Building Supply on his No. 29 Chevrolet.
“I think I’m well spoken and have good product knowledge,” Karnes says. “I would want to turn the sponsorship into a marketing and saleable product. I don’t just want to throw somebody’s stickers on my car. I want to sell their product and get the word out that I can put them in print media, internet and television. I really think there are a lot of things that can be done to increase the
exposure of their product. I really believe that as a driver, you’ve got to be able to work shoulder-to-shoulder with a sponsor to help them market themselves.
“Some companies might not know the racing marketing industry as much as they would like. That’s where I’m there to help show them what they can do and the sponsor can tell me what they want to do. Together we can put a program together that can provide them with things a like a show car for grand openings or special events they have.”
Though the results have not been what Karnes would have hoped for at this point, he wouldn’t trade his racing experiences in the Southeast Series for anything.
Like a lot of drivers, Karnes' car remains pretty much unchanged with the exception of a few local helpers here and there.
“I’m very fortunate to be able to jump in a race car and have fun in a great touring division like the Southeast Series,” Karnes says. “It’s an affordable series that is very competitive and all the drivers get along like a second family. I feel very, very blessed to be doing what I’m doing now. The Southeast Series has a great deal of professionalism among all the drivers and officials.
“The competition level here is unreal. A lot of people may think they can come in with money and start winning races, but I’ve yet to see that happen. It took David Reutimann nine
years to win his first Southeast Series race and now he’s racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for a living.”
When Karnes is finally able to get the monkey off his back and win his first race, he knows his emotions are going to be running wild because of one special lady in his life.
“When I win my first Southeast Series race, that victory is going to be completely dedicated to Allison Karnes. I can not wait to win a race and dedicate it to my late sister,” Karnes says. “I will be choked up, I can guarantee you that. That is my one and only goal to win a race and dedicate it to Allison.”