You might not know his name, but you’ve definitely seen his work ethic on track.
Sonny Wahl was born into, is knee deep in and will probably always be in racing. It’s in his blood.
"My dad had been racing all of his life pretty much," Wahl told NASCAR.com. "Since before I was born, he raced."
But his grandfather, Duwayne, got the Wahl family started in the sport. His father, Chuck, followed suit, making 13 starts in the Cup Series. But he made a name for himself in the then Winston West, now known as K&N Pro Series West in the 1970s.
Chuck Wahl earned two wins, 19 top fives and 38 top 10s in 80 starts from 1972-1980. He kept himself busy in those years, and passed that hustle over to his son, Sonny.
The now crew chief for Travis Milburn at Kart Idaho Racing isn’t just tied down to the No. 08 car. He oversees all of KIR’s vehicles, helping team owner John Wood.
"I met John back in 2011 and became friends with him then," he said. "From 2012-2014, myself, my dad and brother worked for the Freightliner of Arizona team with Taylor Cuzick as the driver. We did that and then when that team folded up, by then, I’d become better friends with John. I started in 2014 with him and been helping him pretty much ever since."
Besides at the track, the help comes mostly from afar. Wahl resides in Las Vegas, while the Kart Idaho shop is located in Idaho, making it a bit of a hurdle logistically.
"All this year pretty much, I just show up to the track," he said. "I don’t get a chance to help them at the shop. That’s kind of why we struggle, too. They unfortunately don’t have anybody knowledgeable enough to work on it. The people around there can kind of do the basics. Travis and I never really get to work on the important stuff. You only have so much time when you’re at the track."
The cliche blood, sweat and tears that come along with the struggle that is running an underfunded team in today’s climate make the good runs they do enjoy that much sweeter. At Douglas County, Milburn was solidly in fourth before the brakes went out. At Colorado, he broke a gear while running inside the top five.
"Up until the last two races, it’s been me, Travis and a spotter, and we usually fund our spotters at the track," he said. "We ended up finishing sixth (at Douglas County), but it felt like a win for us. We’ve had a ton of bad luck this year."
With four races remaining in the 2019 K&N West season, Wahl is of the belief that the best is yet to come for Kart Idaho Racing, but Milburn, their flagship car, specifically.
"Because of Travis’ driving and I think the cars don’t come into play as much as the bigger tracks, we’ve got a shot at the short tracks," he admitted. "We’re working hard at the end of the year here. I think we legitimately have a shot to win Meridian and Roseville. I really feel that way. Travis and I are really excited to have a couple short tracks after all these big ones."
Being located in the heart of Idaho and the home race for Wahl, Milburn, Wood and company, the team is putting more than usual into the next event at Meridian Speedway, as well as at All American Speedway in Roseville, California, where Milburn grew up racing.
Don’t get it twisted though. Meridian is their Daytona 500.
"I would say without a doubt this is the one we’re putting the most attention to," he said of Meridian. "We’ve had these two races circled since the beginning. This is where we’ve got a shot. We think we can be right there at the end for sure."
Wahl has been atop the pit box for 30 races spanning five years in the K&N Pro Series West. The stats show no wins, no top fives and seven top 10s.
Racing-Reference: Sonny Wahl Crew Chief Statistics
This is his job on the side, though. During the week in Vegas, his full time job is working as an electrical foreman, running a team of 40. Once the work week ends, he jumps on a plane (on his own dime) and works around the clock on cars at the track.
Why keep going?
"It’s definitely because I love racing," he said. "It’s always been something that my whole family – we’ve always raced together. And I think that’s why my family is still so tight. My brother and dad are the ones preparing the Truck for Las Vegas this week. We’re working together on that. Our family loves racing."
Karti Idaho Racing made their NASCAR national series debut earlier this season at Eldora Speedway in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. They’ll be on track again this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, stacked against the odds.
"I love to help the guys that are the underdog," he said. "Growing up racing, my grandpa and dad always gave my brother the best they could. My brother and I grew up racing with Kurt and Kyle (Busch). We won a lot of races just like they did. We just didn’t have the money to go to the next level."
The solution? Adopt his grandparents’ moniker of working as hard as humanly possible.
"My parents and grandparents kind of instilled that in my brother and me. No matter what the circumstances are, work hard," he said. "There’s a few guys out there that don’t have money that have quite a bit more talent than a lot of the people that are racing nowadays in NASCAR."
Sonny Wahl has done it the old fashioned way. It hasn’t been flashy, it hasn’t made headlines, and it probably never will. But where he is right now in his career with Kart Idaho Racing and John Wood, he’s at peace.
"That’s why I personally enjoy working with John so much. He’s the hardest working guy I know," he said. "He reminds me of my grandfather. He does not stop. Ever."
"He does it because he loves racing. That’s why I like to help him and help the underdogs. I think it’s cool to be able to help smaller guys."