51st Knoxville Nationals – Night 1

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We arrived at our Knoxville campsite around 4pm Wednesday 10th Aug. It was opening night of the 51st Nationals and from what I could make out, 52 drivers were nominated, with another 50 set down for Thursday night (night 2). So that was just over 100 cars in total. There is so much to tell about Knoxville that we will have to split it over a number of posts – the National Sprintcar Hall of Fame and Museum (NSCHoF) alone is worth an entire post, let alone all the frivolities, happenings and characters around the place. I was lucky enough to catch up with the former Executive Director (19 years) and now Curator of the NSCHoF Tom Schmeh. He gave me a wonderful overview of the attraction. The team have done a superb job of putting it all together and we will take you through it in future posts.

The NSCHoF and coporpate facility during the evening - So much to tell it will be in a separate post

While in town, my aim is to also track down the “Father of Sprintcar Racing” Bob Trostle and have a chat to him. Let’s see how we go ! I am pretty sure he’ll be at the Nationals.

The entrance to our RV Park was easy to pick

The RV Park we camped out was about a mile down the main street and really easy to spot – it had a full size Sprintcar mounted up on a 20 foot pole. It  was about 2 blocks from the Raceway and if walking wasn’t your deal, they ran a complimentary shuttle service to get you to the track. It was a cool way of locomotion, consisting of a farm tractor and massive passenger trailer that could seat 25 people.

We quickly got settled and then headed in the direction

of the track. Knoxville Raceway is a ½ mile on the pole line (5/8ths if you want to run the fence). The surface is Black Iowa “Soil” (no dust !) and can hold over 24,000 spectators. The current winged 410 one lap record is held by Aussie Brook Tatnell at 14.407 way back in May 2006 !

The Knoxville "Space" Shuttle

An Alternative method of gettin' trackside

Another two streel legal methods - Police Pusuit Car and whatever the other 4 wheeler thingy is?


Merchandising stores were everywhere - Most Top Drivers have their own outlet and then there are dozens of generics

All Smiles - Night 1 Revenue was well up this year for these Girls

The atmosphere is something else at this joint. The Nationals are not just another Blue Ribbon Sprintcar race; The Nationals are really a “Sprintcar Carnival” with everything imaginable on offer. Tee Shirt vendors line both sides on the main street leading up to the track. Food and drink vendors along with Sprintcar models, all forms of memorabilia, Sprintcar Simulators and other displays are there for your pleasure.

Streetside Sprintcar Simulators

Everyone was happy - including the Lead Program Girl "Katie"

Plenty of colour under the Granstand

The Granstand is so damn big, there is even an elevator shaft to get to the top !

That’s before you even enter the Speedway ! It’s quite smart the way its set out, you can visit all the merchants in the street and there are even more inside the Speedway grounds, but you don’t need a ticket to do that. You hand your ticket over when you truly want to go to your seat, and the entry for this in under the grandstand. Worked well !

Entry to the Racing Colosseum is underneath the Granstand - SMART move!

We spent a long time checking all this gear out and purchased stacks of stuff, ranging from Tee Shirts, to magazines, to Sprintcar models, to Sprintcar cookie cutters. The list was pretty big.

The Race Teams use every available space outside the Raceway as a base to service and repair cars. Whether it be the carparks of the Red Carpet Motel, Goodwills, the service road or the local GM Dealer, everywhere you looked there were Haulers and Sprintcars.

Every available square inch outside the track becomes a service bay - The NSCHoF in visible in the left background

Anyway the Knoxville Iowa Black Soil (as the locals call it) produced some special racing on opening night. The usual hot laps kicked off proceedings, followed by Qualifying Time Trials and then Last Chance Heats (For those that were not in the top 50 times) and then normal heats. To the pointy end of the night a C and B Features were run, followed by the A Feature that took 4 transfers from the B.

View outside turn 1/2 catch fence

Veteran Sammy Swindell won the main event in a hard fought battle with young gun Davey Heskin. It was to be Sammy’s 47th victory at the famed ½ mile track. The “young” on the “old” traded blows for many laps, with Swindell assuming supremacy just over ¾ race distance in a brilliant high line move coming out of turn 4. Heskin refused to give in and tried valiantly to snatch back the lead falling just a whisker shy of the task. It was a brilliant drive from both drivers and young Heskin received a massive crowd reaction of appreciation on the podium. Third place went to Brad Sweet filling in for the injured Joey Saldana in the #9 Red Bull car.

Hard charger of the night went to Shane Stewart who started 24th and came in 4th ! The recent 360 Knoxville Champion was on a mission for sure.

The tough luck list…..While running third in the A Feature, Donny Schatz blew a motor in spectacular “flaming” fashion on the main straight. That is the last thing Donny needed, pushing him down to 8th in overall points, and don’t forget another 50 cars run off on Night 2, so he is likely to drift a lot further down the list. Defending Champ Tim Shaffer had similar dramas “euthanizing” his engine with only two to go which placed him 10th overall in points at the end of Night 1. And finally 5th quickest in time trails Chad Kemenah rode out a big dump in an earlier heat after rear end mechanical failure. That pushed him back to 28th in the points..

So the top 5 after Night was:

  1. Sammy Swindell
  2. Brad Sweet
  3. Steve Kinser
  4. Fred Rahmer
  5. Davey Hasken

All good, but there is a long way to go.

Night 2 will help sort the wheat from the chaff.

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