For the last three decades, NASCAR is all Keith McGee has ever known.
Growing up in California, the McGee family rooted for the heavy hitters. McGee’s grandfather pulling for Bill Elliott, father pulling for Rusty Wallace and young Keith pulling for "The Intimidator," Dale Earnhardt.
"Every Sunday, it was NASCAR as long as I can remember," McGee told NASCAR.com. "I always grew up with that. As a kid, that was my dream: go race in NASCAR some day."
Before that dream could wind up becoming a reality, his life veered off in a different path.
McGee joined the Air Force in 2001, started a family and made the casual move across the Pacific to Alaska.
He said of his dream: "I figured, well, that’s never gonna happen."
But after a few years in The Last Frontier, things changed.
RELATED: NASCAR’s Last Frontier
In 2015, an indoor karting facility opened in his hometown of Eagle River, and he got the racing bug back. He quickly rose up the leaderboard at the karting track, setting the track record and becoming the quickest driver in the state, visiting the track almost daily.
"I got noticed by a guy who approached me and asked if I wanted to race in the Whelen Series," McGee said. "I kind of thought he was joking at first, talked to him some more, found out he wasn’t. The car they had I didn’t really like, so I purchased my own car and started racing here in Alaska."
Three years later, he’s now regularly competing in the K&N Pro Series West.
He made his first series start last season at Kern County Raceway Park, and it was an emotional one. His mother, Teri Walker, had been battling breast cancer, got a call while she was on her way to Bakersfield that she’d beaten cancer.
Unfortunately for McGee, he finished 18th after a clutch issue, but the race meant more than a top 20-finish. It was an emotional victory.
Fast forward a little under one year, and he found himself in a similar circumstance at All American Speedway. Located in Roseville, California, a short drive from Grass Valley, home to Matt DiBendetto, Brad Sweet and Alexander Rossi, McGee considers it his home track on the K&N West circuit.
He had a special guest at the track cheering him on.
"My mom was there," he said with a chuckle. "She had surgery on Friday from complications of breast cancer and surprised me at the track on Saturday."
McGee’s car is regularly painted with florescent pink and green colors, the colors for breast cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma awareness.
"This year, I wanted to dedicate my entire season to the battle my mom’s fighting with the colors on my car," he said. "I also wanted to reach out, bring the fans in and support their loves ones that’ve battled cancer by running their names on my car as well. I figured it was a good thing to do. Me being there for myself has been pretty awesome and hopefully its inspirational to others. I wanted to share that with fans, bring them on board and let them know I appreciate their support. Without the fans, I wouldn’t be here."
Whenever he straps behind the wheel, it’s a constant "pinch me" moment.
"I still wake up everyday and find it hard to believe I’m living out my dream," he said. "A lot of people when they get to that point where they have a family and get settled into their career, they stop pursuing their dreams they had. I’ve never been like that. I always focus on the things I want and figure out a way to make it happen. I’m not surprised I’m here, but I wish it was 20 years earlier.
"Opportunities kept coming, so I said let’s keep pushing towards this childhood dream. I’m definitely happy with where I am. I’ve got a goal in mind of where I want to land, so I’m going to keep pursuing that until it comes true one day."
That goal is to make a Cup Series start one day, becoming the first Alaskan to make a start in the top series of NASCAR. Blazing the trail for other Alaskans to make it in the sport is another point of pride for McGee
"I kind of have this feeling that I need to pave the way and eventually help other drivers here in Alaska make it to these levels of NASCAR so they can pursue their dreams," he said. "We’re kind of like the forgotten children of NASCAR, it seems like we need somebody to kind of pioneer a way through and show them there’s a way to do it."
The way isn’t easy, as traveling to an from races can regularly run McGee over $1,000 in travel costs, racing finances aside. But coming off back-to-back top 10 finishes (best of his career), he’s set on trying to make the final two races of the season, while also looking ahead to 2020.
"We’re going to try and do the testing in Daytona in January," he said. "Get certified so I can run superspeedways and make those ARCA starts, work into the Trucks, play it by ear and take it one week at a time."
The penultimate race of the season at Kern County Raceway Park will take place this Saturday evening, October 26 at 7:25 p.m. PDT.