Our 5 ½ week trip to America had reached its pinnacle – The Final Night of the 51st Knoxville Nationals had arrived !
Attending this event was one of the key reasons for us taking the Stateside trip. To visit the famed Knoxville Raceway – “The Sprintcar Capital of the World” …. and to witness first hand the Teams battle it out for the Championship was our dream.
We weren’t disappointed !!!!!! The final night, and indeed the entire lead up to the “Decider” was simply magnificent.
- No mufflers
- Big track
- Best in the world Drivers
- It was action left, right and centre
What more could you ask for !
Best Appearing Crew award went to the Brian Brown #21 FVP Parts Maxim outfit – they collected $1000 for that effort. I didn’t get a shot of the crew, but their shirts co-ordinated with the livery of the car – I must admit, that car and crew did look cool.
The first four finishers in the Saturday B Main would secure the last two rows of the Saturday Championship race.
But before those four cars could be deduced, a number of hoops had to be jumped through – the E, D and C Mains. 8 cars would transfer from the E, while only 2 cars would transfer from the D and C mains.
It was a surprise to see Randy Hannigan as far down as the E. His 2011 Nationals campaign wasn’t his best, that’s for sure. During The E Main his motor looked sick and belched lots of smoke. Aussie Bruce White was a clear winner from Donovan Peterson.
In the D Main it was also a shock to see 4 times Nationals Champ Danny Lasoski so low in proceedings. He started out of 5 and actually finished in 6th. He had battled engine dramas early in the Nationals and was behind the 8 ball from that point on. That unfortunately was his worst career finish in the nationals.
Jason Sides took out the race and Toni Lutar crossed the line second. Lutar however was disqualified as he returned directly to the pits, missing the crucial weigh-in. As a result Danny Holtgraver bagged the final transfer.
There was plenty of action in the C main. During hot laps, Jac Haudenschild’s rear axle failed, catapulting him into the fence and out of the Nationals. Once the race was underway, we saw an almighty flip from Jonathon Allard into turn 1 and a back straight “aerial ballet” from Brian Ellenberger. Bronson Maeschen and Tim Kaeding ended up taking the transfer to the B Main.
The B Main was another race where we red flagged before a racing lap was complete. Cody Darrah ended his campaign by shaking hands with the turn 4 wall. This also took out Joey Moughan. Neither could restart.
Race underway, we saw some great duelling between Stevie Smith, Brady Bacon (who had recently taken out the USAC Knoxville Non-Winged Nationals), and Kraig Kinser. Lap after lap these three traded blows. Bacon was looking particularly threatening, took position 1 from Smith, and then slipped back to second after Smith wrestled the lead back. Fate was to strike as Bacon suffered a flat right rear during a stoppage for Ian Madsen in turn 3 with a rear end issue. Bacon went to the work area but that put paid to a transfer. It was a major blow for the Broken Arrow domiciled Driver.
Tatnell had a “slack attack” on turn 4 with 2 to go, flipping and bringing on the yellow. A green, white Chequer was to follow and Stevie Smith took 1st from Kraig Kinser, Don Droud Jr and Lance Dewease. These guys were your transfers to the A Feature Championship race and were to run off the last two rows.
The scene was now set for the National Championship; this is what we had all come to see. Sammy Swindell started from pole, with Brad Sweet driving the Red Bull #9 right beside him. 50 laps and a compulsory fuel stop lay ahead of them. Sweet was filling in for the injured Joey Saldana. Then further back it was Dale Blaney and Jason Meyers on the second row, followed by Daryn Pitman, Brian Brown, Mark Dobmeier and Steve Kinser on the 3rd and 4th rows.
I must admit, I thought to myself that the winner of the nationals won’t come from the first or second rows, and that someone of the experience of Steve Kinser off the 4th row might just be the shot. He was my pick, but I also thought that Shane Stewart with his recent ability to charge forward from deep in the pack was a possible dark horse (see Night 2 post).
In the Championship race, Shane Stewart started in 17th position, a long, long way back, but he still managed to post a second place in the company of some pretty BIG competition.
The winner was (can you believe this !!), Donny Schatz who had started out of position 13. His car was on rails and he could place it anywhere on the track he wanted. The driver car combination was simply a bullet and quicker than anyone else. Donny was to later thank his crew for the preparation, citing that he didn’t know exactly what they had done for the start of the race, and that the car was a pleasure to drive.
Sweet and Swindell had a great tussle for the lead in the early stages of the race, swapping positions several times. While these two guys battled it out, Donny Schatz was slowly and surely moving forward. Donny was superb in is race strategy and by lap 10 was into 4th position – that was a mind blowing performance, but to go further and take victory and make it look like everyone was running on seven cylinders, was a real feat to behold.
Shane Stewart was inconspicuously moving through traffic as well and looked like he could take it to a new level.
Kerry Madsen had a huge dump for the second night in a row which brought on the reds after 13 laps. It just wasn’t Kerry’s weekend – the team had suffered two such major incidences. Kerry naturally took no further part in the event.
Out the front Sweet, Swindell and now Schatz were turning it on in a 3 wide dual. On lap 15 the amazing Schatz slipped into the lead. I was too busy watching the lead group to pick Daryn Pitman’s move forward. Pitman had somehow slipped under the radar and taken over second, relegating Smith and Swindell one position.
The compulsory fuel stop occurred at lap 27. Some crews changed tyres as there was no penalty in doing so. On the restart Pitman seemed to find something extra and challenged Schatz for the lead. He momentarily hit the front, only to have Schatz fight back and regain position one.
Stewart continued to push forward and had a great struggle with Sweet for 3rd. Ultimately Stewart had the upper hand and took 3rd away from Sweet. Pitman meanwhile contacted the wall and dropped back allowing Swindell to regain second with around 8 to go. Swindell found a new lease of life and closed to less than a second behind Schatz. Shane Stewart kept closing as well and applied the ultimate pressure with 2 laps to go, rounding up Swindell and having a clear view of Schatz.
With 50 laps down, Schatz took the Chequer with Shane Stewart less that a second behind and the unfortunate Swindell in 3rd.
It was a fantastic, memorable race; combining speed, agility and calculated risks. Donny Schatz thoroughly deserved his win, Shane Stewart was simply mindblowing to start 17th and come 2nd, and defending Champ Tim Shaffer wasn’t disgraced either starting in 19th and sneaking into 4th.
Boy what a race !