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Ken Singleton: A Story of Resilience and Recovery

Kendall Singleton stands in his RV, surrounded by family, his head shaking slightly. His team has just suffered a close final round loss to Kirk Williams in the Funny Car Chaos (FCC) A-field at Mo-Kan Dragway in Asbury, Missouri.

“Man, I wish we could’ve won that one,” Singleton says, a half-grin forming on his face. 

“I really wanted to win tonight. But it’s coming. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to win before long.”

Singleton is no stranger to winning FCC events, claiming back-to-back-to-back points championships from 2019-2021 in his High Risk Racing alcohol funny car. Despite his dominance in the series, Singleton opted to build a brand new car for 2022 in his chase for a fourth straight championship. 

It appeared he would pick up right where he left off, as he ran a career-best 3.61 at 218 mph Friday in testing at the FCC season opener in March at the Texas Motorplex. But even then, he suspected something wasn’t quite right with the car.    

“Honestly, we had some issues when we got to Ennis, that looking back, I would’ve changed some things,” Singleton admitted. “We kept making adjustments, thinking, ‘Let’s get through the race, and we’ll fix it when we get home.’”      

Notorious for wanting to run last, Singleton waited throughout qualifying and was the final car to make a pass Friday night. The car launched hard, but right before the shift point, blew a head gasket, as well as likely breaking a fuel line. Both the spraying fuel and the body of the car ignited, creating a 200 mph rolling inferno that entered Singleton’s side of the firewall as he crossed the finish line.   

“At one point, I climbed out, and the wind hit me as I came out of the hatch,” Singleton recalled. “I said, ‘Oh crap, I’m going too fast to get out of it.’ So I climbed back in and grabbed the brake, and when I did, it slammed sideways and tagged the wall. It bounced along the wall, which helped it slow down, and I finally rolled off the back of it. 

“I knew after I got out of the car that I was really hurt,” continued Singleton. “The ambulance was there, and I remember them saying they were going to have to put me out because they thought my lungs were burned. They knocked me out, and I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to wake up. I felt like, ‘I’m done, I’m outta here. I’m gonna go see God.’”

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Two days later, he woke up in the burn unit at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. He lost all his fingers and couldn’t see anything for two months due to the burns. Over the next four and a half months, Singleton recovered – two months at Parkland, and another two and half at Integris Baptist in Oklahoma City. Singleton says it was a miracle he survived.     

While other people in his situation might have given up hope – and Singleton’s daughter, Morgan Bratcher, admits there was a time early on when they didn’t know if he’d ever want to be involved in drag racing again – Singleton decided he wasn’t going to let his situation define him.    

“Every day, it was kind of iffy if you were going to live,” said Singleton. “You’re just lying in bed, hurting, wondering, ‘Is this going to get better? Are we going to get over this?’ Then after 3-4 weeks, I kind of changed my mind. We were going to beat this, get back to working and doing things. We’re not going to just sit around.”  

In July of 2022 – still bandaged up and admittedly against his better judgment – he was at Eddyville Raceway Park tuning for Shayne Lawson and the Man O’ War Mustang funny car. It was a pairing brought on by Bratcher, who laughingly told her father in the hospital that Lawson was “running like crap.”     

“He agreed that I needed to help him,” said Singleton. “It took me all year, but in the final race of the season, we won the B-field. He asked me what we had to do to win the A-field, and I said, ‘You gotta spend money.’ So he bought a new car, new body, all this new stuff.”

Even with a learning curve associated with the new equipment this season, nowhere was Singleton’s championship pedigree on display more than at the FCC event at Albuquerque Dragway on July 27-28. Leading up to the event, no wheel-driven vehicle had ever run the 1/8 mile in under four seconds or over 200 mph at the track. Lawson did both, running 200.00 mph in qualifying, and numerous 3-second passes throughout the weekend.  

The team then backed up their performance a few weeks later at Mo-Kan, qualifying No. 1 with a 3.719 at 211.07 mph. Despite his disappointment in losing to Williams in the final round, Singleton can still smile afterward, knowing his team is right where they need to be.

“The car is haulin’, but it’s taken the whole year to get there,” Singleton said. “With my car, I was number one a lot. But we haven’t been number one in a while, and Shayne told me he’s never been number one in a funny car before.”

From the highs of winning multiple championships to the lows of wondering if he would survive the injuries from his horrific crash, to returning to the track as a highly-regarded tuner, Singleton has been through an emotional roller coaster over the past year and a half. Sitting with him there in the RV was his wife, Jo Singleton; his mother, Jeanie Singleton; and the aforementioned Bratcher. But for Kendall, it’s not just his immediate family, but the entire Funny Car Chaos family that helped him get through the difficult months of recovery.

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“Kirk Williams, who just beat us, came to see me in the hospital,” Singleton recalled, as tears began to form in his eyes. “He won’t ever know what that meant to me. That was a tough time. Me and Kirk have been in I don’t know how many finals together. His whole crew came to see me in Oklahoma City. They brought me barbeque, and we had a good time that night.”

While Singleton hasn’t fully recovered yet – he’s still dealing with surgeries on his hands, and working on getting prosthetics soon – he says he’s getting used to his new life outside of driving, and already looking forward to next season. 

“I’m really glad I got to come back and be involved,” said Singleton. “I feel like this is my new role, tuning cars. And it’s fun, but it puts a little more pressure on you. I’ve got other people I’m disappointing if I do bad, people that are paying me. But we’re not going to back up. We’re still going to work, play with cars, and do all that stuff.”

This story was originally published on September 15, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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