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)
World of Outlaws fans will cram into Knoxville Raceway for the Saturday
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
- Danny Lasoski. He is the
winningest driver in the history of Knoxville Raceway. Driving for Tony
Stewart, the #20 sprinter wrenched by Jimmy Carr has been the car to beat
in recent runs. He has been the best on a consistent basis in the last
four years at Knoxville.
- Steve Kinser won his first
National Championship in 1980. In the midst of a fine season Kinser (50)
is the 2004 World of Outlaws points leader. You never discount Steve Kinser
Kinser picked up his 12th Knoxville Nationals Title in 2002. (Doug Johnson
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 Saturday feature is
only 30 laps.
- T-shirt sales hit a seasonal
high as the winged sprint car community gathers from all the regions of
the United States. Canada, Australia, New Zealand will also have a strong
- Speed Channel will broadcast
the Saturday night portion of the 44th Annual Nationals.
- Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice
will be in the joint on Thursday night.
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
- Buy a program. The book
is always topnotch. It's pricey, but quality costs. Lots of color photographs,
great columns, and tons of historical data make it a must buy.
- Don't rush. Treat the Knoxville
experience with patience. Nobody is in a hurry except the competitors.
You can roll into the track at 7PM and not miss a thing on prelim nights.
- ...If you are staying in
Des Moines, you can expect long lines at coffee shops after the races.
If you have a chance to eat somewhere after the races before you get back
to Des Moines, you should grab it.
- The races are at night,
so days can be filled with a trip to the Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum.
Many restored sprinters, and nostalgic treasures await you in the building
located outside of turn two.
Jason Meyers of Clovis, CA. will be a factor.
(John's Racing Photos)
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