In early October, all eyes will be on Concord when NASCAR visits the Charlotte Roval to continue piecing together the puzzle of who will race for a championship in 2021 at Phoenix.
However, on Wednesday, October 6th – the city of Kannapolis is about to get an even larger injection of NASCAR fandom and star power than has been seen in recent years.
It’s all thanks to Spire Motorsports driver Corey LaJoie, who is organizing a major kickball tournament, benefitting the Kannapolis YMCA.
Believe it or not, the kickball love within NASCAR is nearly sport-wide, and it’s been a secret within the sport for a number of years. In a co-ed kickball league, Cliff Daniels, crew chief for Kyle Larson, and engineers within the sport all have been playing for the past five or so years in Huntersville, North Carolina. So every Wednesday night in the spring and fall, it was kickball night in America for LaJoie and company.
Marrying his love for kickball with his desire for charitable benefits, the inaugural ‘Kickball Klassic fueled by Built Bar‘ was born.
The idea stems from, believe it or not, minor league baseball in Kannapolis. An enthusiast for the league, LaJoie became a fan of the Kannasplis Cannonballers upon their move to downtown Kannapolis following the rebranding from the “Intimidators” name. The late Dale Earnhardt shared a minority stake in the team, leading to the new name in honor of the NASCAR legend. The North Carolina driver became intrigued by the rebranding of the team.
“I went over there for a couple of board meetings; I don’t know how I got involved; my dad (Randy) drug me over there. We started having conversations, and one thing led to another, and the snowball starts rolling. We got linked up with the Kannapolis YMCA – they’re kind of like the champion of the event, where all the proceeds will go to the YMCA and Samaritan’s Feet.”
Two seasons ago, LaJoie put Samaritan’s Feet on his car at Watkins Glen and donated a month’s salary to the organization. The group founded in 2003 helps provide shoes and socks to those in need.
The lineup is stout, with many NASCAR drivers participating in the tournament, including Denny Hamlin, the Busch Brothers, Ty Gibbs, Bubba Wallace, and Austin Dillon.
You’ve probably heard it before, but racing is indeed a tight family. In NASCAR, whenever one driver hosts a charitable endeavor, you can expect others to join in the initiative.
“As much as we are competitors, we are friends, and we support each other in different ventures,” LaJoie explained. “Especially when you can make an event fun. It means a lot that those guys would take an afternoon out of their day and have some fun. I know I would return the favor.”
The drivers aren’t just showing up for an autograph session. However – they’re coming to win, as is within a competitor’s nature.
This isn’t your traditional schoolyard game of kickball, however. Instead, it’ll be over a dozen teams, with everyone from NASCAR drivers to even members of the Kannapolis Police Department participating. In addition, each team will feature a “celebrity” captain.
The teams will be split into four pools of competition, with the winning team from each pool competing in the semi-finals. Then, when the two best teams remain, they’ll compete head-to-head in the outfield of Atrium Health Ballpark, the home of the Kannapolis Cannonballers.
Following the main tournament and award ceremony, the celebrity captains will be split into two teams for a celebrity-only game.
A post-game concert featuring the Dryes as the opening act and & headliners, Pryor & Lee, will wrap up the evening. NASCAR Productions will live stream the event, according to LaJoie, and will have a few players mic’d up, including the Spire Motorsports driver.
Even though the game remains a bit north of two months away, that doesn’t mean the trash-talking and chirping hasn’t begun. According to LaJoie, Dillon and his pit crew members, who will play in the driver’s lineup, have already begun spitting their game. LaJoie has never seen any of the drivers participating in play before, but the expectations for their playing ability are not matched to their performance on Sundays.
“Judging by the majority of the drivers’ athletic abilities, my standards are fairly low,” LaJoie said with a smirk. “Some of the guys stand out with hand-eye coordination and are somewhat athletic. Guys like Austin, Ryan Blaney.. and that’s about where the list stops. Denny is fairly athletic; he’s a pretty good basketball player. Some guys will have more coordination than others, and then there will be some guys that may or may not be able to make contact with the kickball.”
While some drivers are continuing to finalize their roster, expect a solid amount of power behind LaJoie. With his sponsor Built Bar sponsoring the event, the company is preparing to send out a couple of company members from Salt Lake City, UT, to play on LaJoie’s squad. However, don’t expect the 29-year-old to go easy on his rivals.
“I’m not taking it easy just because my name is on it; I want to win that thing. It’s certainly not going to be rigged; I want as good of a squad as I can to make sure we are competitive next month.”
LaJoie teased that he is working hard to secure other big names for the event. The celebrity roster expands beyond the NASCAR spectrum, with NBA player Marvin Williams and professional softball player Lauren Haeger joining the game.
“I’ve got some big fish,” LaJoie said. “The line is out there.”
LaJoie said he is working hard to secure Dale Earnhardt Jr for the event, going as far as getting a jersey pre-made for one of the most popular drivers ever to grace the sport.
“He hasn’t told me no yet, but he also hasn’t told me yes because he is a busy guy, but I’d love to have him hang out. It’s literally a block away from his old man’s statue. He said he never played, so maybe he’s a little nervous about the first time that ball comes rolling down home plate.”
LaJoie’s Kickball Klassic is set to take place on Wednesday, October 6th, at noon from Atrium Health Ballpark in Kannapolis. Fans can follow this link for tickets.