KNOXVILLE NATIONALS RECAP – FEATURE ARTICLE: PART 1

STORY AND PHOTOS BY DAN ZIMMERMANN

Dan Zimmermann

With the 2012 Knoxville Nationals campaign well and truly run and won, American Correspondent Dan Zimmermann takes a spectator’s look at the 360 Nationals followed by the 410 Nationals the week after. This week Dan looks at the lead up to the Nationals with the 360’s. Next week Dan takes a detailed look at the behind the scenes action of the ultimate Sprint Car race in the world – The Knoxville Nationals for 410 winged cars.

G’day mates, we are home from another Knoxville Nationals and Iowa Speedweek. There was great fun to be had and some intense racing on the track all week long. As you know by now, the 52nd Knoxville Nationals was won by Donny Schatz for the 6th time in 7 years. The crowd showed quite a bit of displeasure towards Donny before and after the main event. It is a bit unfortunate as Donny has shown to rise to the occasion on the Saturday night main event. However, I’m sure that most of the fan base is ready to see Donny knocked off his throne which almost happened off of turn 4 on the last lap.
Brian Brown ran a solid first half of the race to be in contention by the fuel stop, and then he thrust himself into second on the restart and tracked down Donny to the checkered flag where he was just short of taking the upset victory. More on that later.

The Best Sprint car track on the Planet - Knoxville viewed from above - Pic compliments of NSCHoF&M

We started with the 360 Nationals week and a large field of 106 entries competed in this event. There were many 410 drivers with 360 rides that included Jac Haudenschild, Terry McCarl, Danny Lasoski, Davey Heskin, Jason Meyers, Brad Sweet, and others. It was a difficult field to handicap to say the least.

Jac and Sheldon Haudenschild along with David Gravel (L) at an autograph session during the 410 Nationals - Jac got a ride the week before in the 360 Nationals as well

Several top drivers had issues getting into the A main which included Jac, Daryn Pittman, Jonathan Allard, Trey Starks, Davey Heskin, Danny Smith, and Gary Wright were relegated to the D main or worse. It appears that Gary Wright will be retiring at the end of the season which will conclude a tremendous career for him. The Thursday night feature was a “barnburner” with Danny Lasoski and Jonathan Cornell trading the lead several times and three wide racing behind them.
As Cornell was chasing Lasoski on the last lap, he blew his left rear tire and was relegated to 5th place. 19th position starter Brian Brown came home in 2nd as the track was racy and passing was occurring all over the track. Brown had timed in 35th on the night which put him in the rear of the field and hurt his points total overall.

Young Aussie Tourist Jay Stock beside Brian Browns #21 Maxim

Brian Brown and John McCannon's son Lucas

Kevin Swindell came home 3rd and “Yung Money” Kyle Larson won a heat race and finished in 10th. The Friday night show also had a strong field of cars and a great race track for racing. At the start of the A main, Tony Bruce Jr. took off in the lead with 410 regulars Dusty Zomer and Rager Phillips trading the 2nd position.
Brooke Tatnell fell back to 5th place at the beginning of the feature but found the low groove to his liking to slowly start moving toward the front of the A main. He first got by Wayne Johnson and then drove past Dusty Zomer in turn 3 and 4 to take over 3rd. Rager Phillips had taken command of the 2nd position and on lap 9 used a strong low side move to pass Bruce Jr. for the lead.
Going into 1, Tatnell used a slide job to take 2nd from Bruce and then he began to stalk Phillips for the lead which he took on lap 11. Tatnell was never headed and won the Fri night feature over a hard charging Tim Kaeding in 2nd and Dusty Zomer in 3rd. The top point’s earner for the 2 nights was Roger Crockett from Oregon with Shane Stewart, Kevin Swindell, Brady Bacon, and Danny Lasoski rounding out the top 5.
We were very excited for Saturday to arrive. Not only were we ready for the Saturday night finale but our Aussie mates Matt, Wendy, and Jay Stock were arriving along with Graham Summers and Bruce Stephens.

Aussie Sprint Car Fans - From Left: Jason, Graham, Bruce and Matt

Unfortunately they were greeted with one of our Iowa severe thunderstorms that brought 70 mph winds and 2 inches of rain. The roads in the campgrounds turned to rivers and by the time the Aussies got to Knoxville, we had to all huddle up in the camper until the storm passed. Fortunately nothing was damaged and the sun eventually came out.
We were able to get things dried out enough for good times and the race meeting.
Graham and Bruce were given a tour of the facility along with the Brown Bus and met all the BHG (Bus House Gang) Members. We would enjoy some good times over there after the races were over!

Seve (L) and Bob - Two long standing members of the BHG (Bus House Gang)

The Saturday night finale had a few rough rides in the preliminary main events. Daryn Pittman and Austin Johnson made contact at the beginning of the C main which sent both cars into hard flips. Ryan Roberts, Dylan Peterson, and Nate Van Haaften were also collected. Pittman was slow to get out of his car and limped back to the pit area. Fortunately he would return to action the next evening. One of the wildest flips of the week occurred in the B main when Gary Taylor was clipped in the left front by Jason Meyers going down the backstretch, sending his car into a series of wicked backwards end-over-end flips – a total of 6 ½ flips by the time his car came to a stop. While the car was destroyed, Taylor emerged unhurt but probably extremely sore for a few days.
Trey Starks had a rough 360 nationals but won the E main. The D feature was taken by Matt Covington. Jason Meyers had a bit of a struggle in the event but won the C main over Sam Hafertepe Jr. The B main was a struggle between Tim Shaffer, Tony Bruce Jr., and Brian Brown for the final transfer spot. Brown made a last corner pass on Tony Bruce to take the 4th position and the final A main transfer. The B main was won by Justin Henderson over Seth Brahmer.
The A feature rolled off next and was a domination by Shane Stewart. Amazingly despite a broken right rear shock, Shane totally ran away with the A main lapping into the top 10 cars. It was one of the most dominant performances in the history of the 360 nationals and Shane stood on top of the victory podium for the 4th time in this event and 3 years in a row.
A big celebration ensued after the race and our good mate Shane Stewart was very elated to take the win. The BHG (Bus House Gang) celebrated the victory well into the night and our new Aussie friends were treated to Oklahoma Bob’s fine “lemonade”. It was a very good night indeed.

Shane Stewart poses with the BHG (Bus House Gang) on the infield after taking out the 360 Nationals - The good looking one on the left is me ! (Dan Zimmermann)

The Bus House Gang (BHG) Sticker on Shane Stewart's Top Wing Sideboard shows our support for our mate in the #57 ART

Sunday after the 360 nationals is generally a quiet one. This year things were a bit different as a new race was placed on the schedule. The newly minted Capitani Classic was to be a prelude to the Knoxville Nationals. Teams were arriving via all night drives from their previous race meetings be that in Pevely, MO where the WoO Ironman 55 was run the previous night (minus the A main which was rained out) or the Port Royal Dream race in Port Royal, PA where several PA posse drivers left immediately for Knoxville, not arriving until mid afternoon. There were questions as to the number of cars and who would run or who wouldn’t run.
We were surprised by both as several WoO drivers were present and 67 410 cars were pitted in the infield. Unfortunately the track dried out fairly quickly so the racing was a bit difficult. One of the highlights of the night was the revenge draw held before the dash race. The fastest 12 qualifiers from each state and Australia would participate but their starting position would be determined by a drawing where kids were able to pick a starting position and then hand that to the driver of their choice.
Donny Schatz was handed the 12 starting position which was the biggest cheer he received all week. Danny Lasoski was given the pole position ironically. Lasoski lead most of the race but fell out with a couple laps to go handing the win to Stevie Smith.
The feature was delayed a half our as the Dunkin’s reworked the high and low grooves to prevent a rubber down racing surface. The delay was worth the work as the track was in decent shape for the A main. Donnie Schatz had qualified for the A but was suffering from brake issues and scratched for the event.
Bronson Maeschen started on pole and he bolted out to the lead. Tim Shaffer chased him from green to checkered but was never able to put a move on to take the lead. Maeschen won the race in somewhat of an upset. The local driver has been fast for the last few years but has never tasted victory lane until last month. He didn’t wait long to take his second victory which was a big one. It was great to see a local driver win this first ever event. I’m sure Ralph Capitani had a big smile on his face. Joey Saldana battled his KKR (Kasey Kahne Racing) teammates Cody Darrah and Brad Sweet along with Tim Kaeding to take the third position on the podium. Darrah was 4th and TK rounded out the top 5.
Our plan was to head home on Monday to take care of a few things at home and prepare for the rest of the week. In between the 360 Nationals and the 410 Nationals we took in a USAC race at Oskaloosa. We parked on the infield at Oskaloosa for the non-wing show and John McCannon and I did a bit of work to the the truck in order so we would have a good vantage point for the races.
We arrived back at the campground on Tuesday to get prepared for the Ultimate Challenge back in Oskaloosa. Our mate Jason Cogan was arriving in the campground from the Gold Coast via Las Vegas. We enjoy watching the races from the infield in Oskaloosa, primarily to get a close up view of the action.

Before the races we had a few quite ones at a "Tailgate" session

The action is just so intense with the USAC non wing sprint cars. I have to admit that I enjoy watching the non wing cars more than their winged counterparts. The driver plays more of a role in the equation and the races generally allow for more passing and competition. Plus the non wing cars have a back it in style that is quite exciting to watch and can get pretty wicked in an instant when things go wrong.

Kyle Larson

Jon Stanbrough

Brady Bacon

Kyle Larson has taking quite a liking to the half mile in Oskaloosa winning the 2011 Ultimate Challenge and the Monday evening event. He battled Dave Darland throughout the 30 lapper and took victory again, appealing to the supportive crowd.
Pole sitter Justin Grant ended up in third place with Chris Windom and Jerry Coons Jr. rounding out the top 5. Fan favorite Rico Abreu was in Kyle’s pits throughout speedweek and got to visit victory lane with him 3 times. Rico is hopefully to race at Knoxville in the Nationals in 2013.

Me and Rico

Darland had a good two nights at Oskaloosa finishing 2nd both times. We made our way through the pits for photos and then headed back to Knoxville to meet up with the rest of the gang and have a nightcap.

Bring on The Knoxville Nationals!

(Continued next week……………….)
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