2004 Knoxville Nationals Preview

By Bobby Gerould, HammerDownUSA.com Editor - 08/10/04 - Rocklin, CA.

This Wednesday through Saturday in Knoxville Iowa, the 44th annual Knoxville Nationals will run at the 'Sprint Car Capitol of the World'. Steve Kinser, Danny Lasoski, Mark Kinser, and Sammy Swindell are the only drivers entered this year that have won the prestigious event. When you consider that in the past 24 years, only seven men have driven to victory in the Knoxville Nationals, it could be argued that the Nationals A-Main is THE hardest major event to win in all motorsports. In the same 24 year period, there have been 18 different Indy 500 winners. (The other three winners since 1980 are Bobby Allen, Dave Blaney, and Doug Wolfgang)

30,000 World of Outlaws fans will cram into Knoxville Raceway for the Saturday night finale.

Steve, Mark, and Karl (Crew Chief) Kinser are the main reasons why this race has been so hard for anyone (else) to win. The dozen triumphs that "King Steve" has amassed leaves only crumbs for the others. Wolfgang, with five victories is second on the all-time Nationals win list. Mark Kinser and Lasoski have three wins.

Upsets seldom happen at the Nationals. The last time an "upset" occurred was 14 years ago when Allen beat Sammy Swindell.

4-wide at the start of the 1983 Knoxville Nationals (Scanned from 1984 Knoxville program)

So who is in-line to win it in 2004?

Steve Kinser picked up his 12th Knoxville Nationals Title in 2002. (Doug Johnson Photos)

If the winner is not Lasoski, or Steve Kinser we believe it could be Craig Dollansky, Greg Hodnett or Donny Schatz. Schatz, the Fargo, ND. native finished second at the Nationals in three of the last four years.


The Fast Way Around

All the drivers agree, Knoxville is a hard track to drive. Blending finesse, and bravery is vital to going fast at the 1/2 mile. Knoxville rookies claim that holding your right foot to the floor and maintaining a "straight" entry into turn one is a concept in total opposition with what your mind is telling you. Your mind is telling you, "If you don't turn the wheel, you are going to crash into the wall". So first, a driver must overcome any uncomfortable feelings in the cockpit. Fears tend to dissipate with laps driven at the "Sprint Car Capital of the World".

Teams save their best 800 horsepower engines for Knoxville, and sometimes wind them so tight, that they blow up. The chassis tuning must be precise as well. The track changes constantly, so the brightest mechanics are at a premium during the Nationals. What the dirt is like at lap one will be a far cry from what the same dirt is like on lap 30. Just as it is important to drive straight on entry to the wide Knoxville turns, the exit may be even more crucial. The fast guys will rocket off of turn-two and down the backchute, while the tailenders will be fishtailing in the black, slick, part of the track. The wrong angle coming off of turn two has cost many drivers.

Kraig Kinser made the feature in 2003. Just making the A-Main on Saturday night is an accomplishment. (John's Racing Photos)

Heat races are totally inverted. Some of the best racing I've ever seen happens in the Nationals heats on Wednesday, and Thursday nights. The fast guys are all trying to get into the top four to make the feature, and the chances they take are a bit wilder than usual. The point structure is such that sandbagging is totally out of the question. Qualifying has the same weight as a preliminary feature win. The heats weigh less but you have to finish in the top four to transfer to that night's preliminary feature. The best thing a driver can do is try to cut the ten cleanest laps he can, without wasting time "racing" with anyone. Knoxville is super wide, so there should always be another groove to try if someone is in your path.

Race Fan Tips

Jason Meyers of Clovis, CA. will be a factor. (John's Racing Photos)

Past Nationals winners

2003 Danny Lasoski (3) 2002 Steve Kinser (12), 2001 Danny Lasoski (2), 2000 Mark Kinser (3), 1999 Mark Kinser (2), 1998 Danny Lasoski, 1997 Dave Blaney, 1996 Mark Kinser, 1995 Steve Kinser (11), 1994 Steve Kinser (10), 1993 Steve Kinser (9), 1992 Steve Kinser (8), 1991 Steve Kinser (7), 1990 Bobby Allen, 1989 Doug Wolfgang (5), 1988 Steve Kinser (6), 1987 Steve Kinser (5), 1986 Steve Kinser (4), 1985 Doug Wolfgang (4), 1984 Doug Wolfgang (3), 1983 Sammy Swindell, 1982 Steve Kinser (3), 1981 Steve Kinser (2), 1980 Steve Kinser, 1979 Ron Shuman, 1978 Doug Wolfgang (2), 1977 Doug Wolfgang, 1976 Eddie Leavitt (2), 1975 Eddie Leavitt, 1974 Dick Gaines, 1973 Kenny Weld (4), 1972 Kenny Weld (3), 1971 Jan Opperman, 1970 Joe Saldana, 1969 Kenny Gritz, 1968 Ray Lee Goodwin, 1967 Thad Dosher, 1966 Jay Woodside, 1965 Kenny Weld (2), 1964 Kenny Weld, 1963 Greg Weld, 1962 Jerry Richert, Sr., 1961 Roy Robbins

Places to eat:

Des Moines - Applebee's.

Across the Street from the Track: The Iowa Pork Producers offer up some good tasting pork chops, grilled and served with Bar-B-Q sauce.

At the track: The Knoxville Rotary Club Turkey Legs are grilled, and smoked in front of the Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum. Grab a leg, and piece of homemade pie for desert. The track concession also offers great Tenderloin Sandwiches, and caramel corn.

In Knoxville: ...Mr. C's - The home of Karl Kinser's winning ice cream also boasts a varied menu with many "home style" favorites. The Chicken Noodle soup is fantastic but is not served everyday.

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