The Frank Kimmel Decade: 2000-Present
TOLEDO, Ohio (November 25, 2009)-Frank Kimmel established himself as ARCA's major franchise player and the series' most recognizable name in the 2000s, setting records in nearly every category and clinching consecutive titles from 2000-2007, making the 2000s, indisputably, the Kimmel Decade. The stars of the 2000s, along with champions from each of ARCA's 57 years, will be honored at the ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Awards Banquet in Covington, Kentucky, on Saturday evening, December 5.
From the Series' inaugural race at Dayton Speedway in Ohio on May 10, 1953, to the 2009 Championship race at Rockingham Speedway in North Carolina on October 11, 2009, it's the stars of ARCA that have formed the most memorable racing moments in ARCA's history. From 2000-2009, those stars included Frank Kimmel, who captured eight of his nine championships during the decade, along with a pair of Justins-Justin Allgaier and Justin Lofton-the only non-Kimmel ARCA Champions from 2000-2009.
But beyond the Kimmel, Allgaier and Lofton Championships driver development programs flourished throughout the 2000s with several current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars finding success in ARCA before making their NASCAR debuts. ARCA, like other racing series, made strides with improvements in the categories of equipment and safety.
A group of ARCA's expert insiders will provide their opinion and analysis for each of ARCA's six decades, beginning with the inaugural 1953 season and ending with 2009. ARCA Insiders include history buffs Ron Drager, the current president of ARCA, Bill Kimmel, Jr., crew chief of the No. 44 Ansell-Menards Fusion driven by Frank Kimmel, and SPEED commentator Phil Parsons, who will serve as the Master of Ceremonies for this year's Championship Awards Banquet.
ARCA Insiders Reflect on 2000-2009: ARCA Racing during the Frank Kimmel
Frank Kimmel, Justin Allgaier and Justin Lofton Crowned Champs
Ron Drager: President of ARCA:
"Indisputably the Kimmel Decade, in the new millennium the ARCA Series experienced dominance never before seen in the series' previous 50 seasons by car owner Larry Clement, driver Frank Kimmel and crew chief Bill Kimmel. Kimmel broke records once considered untouchable, most notably Iggy Katona's 6 driving championships, with 8 consecutive driving titles from 2000-2007 and 9 overall adding his '98 crown. His dominance in 2001 recorded the largest championship points margin in history at 1180, the greatest single season winnings of $496,368 and 10 victories that season alone. Kimmel's supremacy on-track saw him lead the series over the 10-year stretch by leading the most laps 6 times, winning the most poles 3 times, leading the series in victories 7 times, and winning 4 Superspeedway Challenge championships. He recorded 57 of his 74 career wins during the decade while posting an average points finish of 1.3. Other notable accomplishments include being the only ARCA driver invited to race in the IROC Series, leading Ford to 5 consecutive ARCA Manufacturer Championships, rocketing to the top of the all-time career earnings list at over $4 million, and establishing himself as the all time lap leader in series competition, surpassing the 10,000 laps-led mark in 2009. Far from resting on his laurels, Kimmel rallies on in Fords he and his brother Bill field from their Indiana race shop in pursuit of further accomplishments, particularly in two categories: Kimmel has 74 career wins to Katona's 79, his 21 superspeedway victories trails only Tim Steele at 24, and his 18 straight top-10 points finishes is just short of Katona's 21.
Making Kimmel's accomplishments during the '00s even more impressive is that it was arguably the most competitive period in series history, averaging 11 different winners per season and setting a record for greatest number of different winners, 17, in 2006. And the list of drivers posting wins during the decade is impressive, among them Tracy Leslie, Kerry Earnhardt, Ryan Newman, Steele, Blaise Alexander, Jason Jarrett, Billy Bigley, Ken Schrader, Bobby Gerhart, Jeff Fultz, Fred Campbell, Chad Blount, Damon Lusk, Casey Atwood, Tony Stewart, Kirk Shelmerdine, Paul Menard, Mario Gosselin, Kyle Busch, Casey Mears, Reed Sorenson, Scott Riggs, Blake Feese, Ryan Hemphill, Kraig Kinser, Travis Kvapil, David Ragan, Steven Wallace, Stephen Leicht, Justin Allgaier, David Stremme, Chase Miller, Cale Gale, Brian Keselowski, Brad Coleman, Michael McDowell, Erik Darnell, Chad McCumbee, Michael Annett, Bryan Clauson, Scott Lagasse Jr., Matt Hawkins, Scott Speed, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Joey Logano, Matt Carter, Justin Lofton, Parker Kligerman and Sean Caisse.
Youth was served in the decade as 16-year-old James Buescher became the youngest winner in series history at Lakeland in '07, 17-year-old Kyle Busch was the youngest superspeedway pole winner at Nashville in '03 and 17-year-old Shelby Howard became the youngest superspeedway race winner at Kansas in '03. On the opposite end of the age scale, 62-year-old Vern Slagh became the eldest superspeedway pole winner at Kentucky in '02 and James Hylton finished 15th in driver points at age 75 in '09. Female drivers made their presence known when Shawna Robinson had the highest points finish of 6th in '00, Deborah Renshaw posted the best short track qualifying run of 3rd at Salem in '03 and Erin Crocker won 5 poles and finished 2nd three times from 2005-2007 in superspeedway races. Crocker's 2007 superspeedway performance earned her and car owner Ray Evernham the Superspeedway Challenge championship, the only national title won by a female in ARCA's 58-year history.
Also in the 2000-2009 period: Bill Kimmel collected 8 straight Crew Chief of the Year awards, as his son Will became a 3rd generation ARCA Series driver in '09. Rookies of the Year in the decade included Ross, Jarrett, Blount, TJ Bell, McDowell, Carter and Kligerman. Toyota joined the on-track competition with Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge. A record sixteen superspeedway races were conducted in 2001. Roger Penske coined the driver development term "ABC Plan" as a reference to ARCA-Busch-Cup. A breakout of newly constructed speedway facilities made ARCA Series races part of their debut seasons including Chicagoland (2001), Kansas (2001), Kentucky (2000), Iowa (2006), Nashville (2001) and Gateway (2001). Andy Hillenburg rescued Rockingham Speedway from decay and reopened with a series race in '08. RE/MAX entered the decade with series title sponsorship in 2001 and remained through the 2009 season. The Series' relationship with Speed Channel TV brought its races to tens of millions over the decade. ARCA celebrated its 50th anniversary during the decade which saw the series earn credibility as NASCAR Cup team owners Penske, Jack Roush, Chip Ganassi, Petty Enterprises, Dale Earnhardt Inc., Richard Childress, Evernham, Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs enter their equipment and personnel in series races.
It has been a long and interesting journey since Buckie Sager won the 200-lapper at Dayton Speedway in Ohio on May 10, 1953 through Parker Kligerman's season-closing victory at Rockingham October 11, 2009. Even more compelling will be the future of the resilient series, its determined participants and its ever-evolving position in the motorsports industry. Buckle up, hang on and keep diggin'."
Bill Kimmel, Jr: Crew Chief of the No. 44 Ansell-Menards Fusion:
"1999 was my inaugural season of competition as Frank's crew chief in ARCA and I spent 2000 still adjusting to my new roll. 1999 was my first season away from driving a racecar myself, which was a big adjustment, but the biggest adjustment was learning how to travel and be away from home. My son Will was just getting involved in Mini Cup Racing at that time and there were a lot of nights we didn't go to sleep so that I could travel home after ARCA races to help him race. Larry Clement was good enough a lot of times to fly Frank and I back home to watch our kids race and really that was the only thing that saved me. It's tough to travel on the road when you are not used to it. On the competition side we started becoming very successful so that made the job easier too. In the 2000's, I was becoming more accustomed to dealing with ARCA Officials, something I hadn't had to deal with before. I had to deal with television interviews right on pit road right when something was going on and that was quite a big adjustment for me. I don't know how many times Ron Drager to me that this wasn't Saturday night racing. So while 2000 and 2001 was a big learning curve for me, success made it easier to deal with. I think a lot of people were taking notice at what we were doing. We took a lot of things we learned on the short tracks at Louisville to the superspeedways and that overwhelmed people a little bit. Our team was young and NASCAR teams started to take a look at some of our crew guys. Ford Motor Company stepped up. Joe Rhyne, who was building our motors in the early 2000s, was building some R&D stuff. The Kimmels were really on a roll from 2000 until just a couple of years ago, and really, things are still very good for us. From our standpoint, as the Kimmel family, the 2000s have been an absolute heyday for us. Throughout much of the decade, Frank was winning races and our kids were winning, and continue to win. Frankie does very well in the street stocks at Salem Speedway and in 2007 Will became the youngest Late Model Champion at Salem Speedway. Will raced at Daytona last year and did a great job so things are still going very well for us.
We started seeing an influx of driver development deals in ARCA during the 2000s. At first, it was true driver development, with drivers like Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch. When Ryan Newman came through ARCA, it was definitely a true driver development deal. They coined the term "ABC" plan, and went from ARCA to the Busch Series right to Cup. They took their time making their way up the ladder and these driver development deals were very successful. Then, the driver development programs changed a little bit. Now, in a lot of situations, you have parents who want their children to become the next Jeff Gordon or Ryan Newman or Kyle Busch, many times before they are ready. These parents bring their kids to the ARCA Series and spend a lot of money. They move up too fast and disappear from the racing community. They come and go real quick. They paid their dues in the sense that they paid a lot of money out of their wallets to come race here, but they didn't take their time and try to develop. It has brought a large influx of money to ARCA but I think it might have chased off some people that might have stayed around and developed in the series for ten years or more. Maybe people like Matt Hagans in an ownership roll would have stayed in our series longer if it wasn't for this influx of non-driver development. Some car owners had to go by the wayside because the money had gotten so big in the ARCA Series. That's one of the major things that happened in the 2000s, in my eyes.
I think 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 were some of the most competitive ARCA years we have seen, and maybe will ever see. When you have seasons where there are 15 different race winners, including 10 first time winners, that's an extremely competitive race season in my eyes, and that is what we were seeing in ARCA during that time. Last year wasn't nearly as competitive because essentially we only had two winners. Things naturally taper off during a slow economy. I was there at Charlotte Motor Speedway when we had 75 cars come try to make a single race, and I have been at ARCA races where we have had to have teams come in and field start and park cars because the car counts weren't there. We always bounce back in ARCA, this series has always weathered the storm and I feel very confident we will be fine.
Absolutely the biggest thing that happened to stock car racing in the 2000s was the death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. because out of that we have seen a complete renovation of our racecars. Frank actually started wearing a HANS device one year before Earnhardt's death, but other drivers started as well after he died. In addition to head and neck restraints, now you can only use a seat belt for two or three years before you have to replace it. I remember a time in our series when if you had a seat belt you were doing pretty good. I didn't even have a crotch belt when I ran Daytona in the late 1970s. Now you need the HANS Device, SFI-certified seat belts and racing gloves and now anti-intrusion plates, which are an absolute excellent safety feature. I don't like cutting up my racecars to install these door plates but it's an important safety feature. I've had those in my late models for years. The Car of Tomorrow in NASCAR has made racecar safety even better, especially for bigger drivers. These days, your sitting so far down in the cars. Look how much it took to get Ryan Newman out of his COT Car at Talladega this year. I can't imagine trying to get Frank out. The safety improvements are great but they have had their consequences in that drivers are starting to feel like they are invincible. When a driver feels invincible he's more likely to do things with the steering wheel that he would not otherwise do. These days you see drivers try to spin each other out at 180 mph because they don't think that anything can happen to them. There are no consequences to their actions You don't see sprint car drivers leaning on each other the way stock car drivers do.
I'm looking forward to the future of ARCA racing. A big thing I have seen change over the decade is the importance of sponsors. Sponsors are probably priority No. 1 now because if you don't take care of the sponsor you can't go racing. It's not only about pleasing the sponsor, but also pleasing all of the people that the sponsor brings to the racetrack. That's something we didn't have to deal with at Louisville. The importance of sponsors has increased from the 1990s until now. When you get increased television coverage everything gets more important. Suddenly, you're saying Ansell-Menards Ford Fusion all of the time. I like it. I hope we're saying that again in 2010."
Phil Parsons: SPEED Commentator and Master of Ceremonies for the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Awards Banquet:
"Obviously this decade is Frank Kimmel's decade but beyond his unprecedented domination of any racing series this decade had several different facets. One being how the quality of the equipment in the garage area improved. There has been a major improvement in consistency throughout the decade and the equipment more closely resembles the equipment that you would find in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage. Our sport was rocked in the early part of the decade when we lost some drivers both in NASCAR and the ARCA Series and that really started us down the road of making all of stock car racing tremendously safer. With the advent of the Head and Neck Restraints, improved seats, SAFER barriers at the racetracks, and other improvements, safety has been a tremendous area of improvement in all series, but certainly in ARCA. Personally, I never hit a SAFER barrier but in talking to the drivers that have hit both regular walls and SAFER walls, the difference is night and day. When I was racing, a driver's worse fear was blowing a right front tire because you knew that when you crashed it was going to be very bad. Now it's like nothing to blow a right front tire. We have made such great strides over the decade and it is paving the way for future racers to be safer.
This decade also brought the term driver development to the forefront and the ARCA series was used predominately in that roll with all of the major NASCAR teams-Roush-Fenway Racing, Henderick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing-participating in our series. ARCA became a nice venue for major NASCAR teams to develop drivers when they realized the advantages of the ARCA Racing Series. The cars closely paralleled the Cup cars so ARCA was a great area to get some experience. Drivers like Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Scott Speed, David Ragan, Erik Darnell, Steven Wallace and Reed Sorenson did well in ARCA and then went on to NASCAR. It was also nice to see that Justin Allgaier, the first guy to break the stranglehold that Frank Kimmel had on the decade, bring a spotlight to the ARCA Series when he was able to move on to NASCAR with Penske. It was even more special because he was a homegrown driver, so to speak, even though he started his racing career on dirt he grew up in ARCA. Justin accomplished what a lot of people have hoped to accomplish-using the ARCA Series as a platform to get noticed and to hopefully move up.
There is no doubt that the 2000s was Frank Kimmel's decade. For Frank and that family to have accomplished what they accomplished throughout this decade and even prior is nothing short of amazing. There is no doubt in my mind that given the opportunity, Frank and Bill would have prospered at the next level, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series or wherever. They are that good. They were never fortunate enough to get the right opportunity and beyond that, I think they were happy here. We talk about the diversity of the Series as far as some people use it as a platform to move on and some people have made the series a home, like the Kimmels and the Bowshers. From a personal level, to be able to be a part of the television broadcast for the last couple of years has been extremely special because my family has been a part of the series since the 1960s and I really like being here and all that the Series can offer."
The Stars of ARCA, 1953-2009, will be honored at the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Awards Banquet in Covington, Kentucky on Saturday night, December 5. The banquet is open to the public and tickets are available by contacting Shalene Williams at the ARCA Office (734) 847-6726.
For more information on the ARCA RE/MAX Series, visit www.arcaracing.com.