The Building of Kimmel Racing -- The Legacy and the Team
CORNELIUS, N.C. (March 26, 2009) -- Frank Kimmel has dominated the ARCA RE/MAX Series for nearly two decades, amassing a list of credentials a mile long. Despite his status among the stock car racing elite, on any given weekday afternoon Kimmel can be found repairing his own chassis, working on a car's setup for the next race or even painting a pit box neon yellow on behalf of his new sponsors Ansell and Menards.
Kimmel is a racer in the truest sense of the word. And while the opportunity to move up the racing ladder has come Kimmel's way on several occasions, he has remained loyal to ARCA with a single goal in mind -- to build Kimmel Racing into more than just a race team -- into a racing legacy.
The Early Years
In 1949, Bill Kimmel Sr. made a decision take on the racing world. While he was new to the sport, his passion was prompted by seeing a friend prepare for a race at Sportsdrome Speedway in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
"My dad picked it up racing as a hobby," explained Frank Kimmel. "He saw his friends doing it so he thought it would be fun to join them. But when he got involved, it pretty much became more of a passion to him almost immediately."
It wasn't long before Kimmel Sr. became a self-taught innovator, building his racecars from the ground up and growing into his role as the patriarch of arguably the most famous family in ARCA history.
"I think it's safe to say my brother and I would not be in racing if it weren't for my dad," said Frank. "The earliest memory I have is riding in the back of a pickup truck to the dirt races in the late 60's with my dad. Bill and I were just having the greatest time of our lives and pretty much got racing in our blood from an early age."
In the 50's, Kimmel Sr. raced in John Marcum's Midwest Association of Race Cars Series, the predecessor to the Automobile Racing Club of America, and the All Star Circuit of Mid-West Champions. Later in the decade he transitioned to the modified series, winning every race in a single season at Eminence Speedway in Eminence, Kentucky.
The Next Generation
Following in his father's footsteps, Kimmel Sr.'s oldest son Thom began racing at the age of 14 at the Sportsdrome. In his first outing he won the race and settled for runner-up finishes in the next two events. Thom broadened his racing horizons, racing at local dirt tracks, scraping together any extra money to finance his racing aspirations prior to heading off to the Vietnam War in 1966.
After 30 months at war, Thom naturally returned to racing, this time focusing on Salem Speedway--the half-mile Southern Indiana short track that has become synonymous with the Kimmel family name.
"Thom was a really important part of the Kimmel family legacy in racing because he was kind of like the bridge between my dad's era in racing and when Bill and I came along," said Frank. "He really kept this families love of racing alive, which is probably why I was able to come into the sport, as well. He was an excellent mechanic in his own right - ahead of his time as far as mechanics were concerned. "
Bill Kimmel Jr.
Frank Kimmel's brother Bill Kimmel Jr. may be widely known as the one of the most famous and decorated crew chief's in ARCA series recent history, but his racing roots began behind the wheel of a racecar. He followed in Thom Kimmel's footsteps and carried on the family racing legacy. In the late 1970's, Bill Jr. ran on and off in the street stock series.
He continued to feed his racing hunger, competing in the ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway in 1978. Perhaps to foreshadow the future of Kimmel Racing, Bill Jr. became the car owner and crew chief for Kimmel Sr.'s late model and ARCA efforts in the late 70's. Bill Jr. started racing full time in 1984, winning multiple late model features at Sportsdrome Speedway and Charlestown Speedway. Five years later he would be crowned the late model champion at Charlestown and continue on to claim championships at Louisville Motor Speedway every year from 1995 through 1998.
Meanwhile, Frank Kimmel spent years watching his father and brothers race and jumped at his first opportunity to get behind the wheel of a racecar. In 1977, Frank started his first race at the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville, Kentucky. He was just 15 years old at the time, sneaking into the pits. While his first outing was uncustomary -- Frank raced in blue jeans and clutched the car going into the corner when he meant to brake -- it was the start of a storied career in motorsports.
Frank's career immediately began to take shape when he partnered with Buddy Rouck to win the championship at Charlestown Speedway in Charlestown, Indiana in 1986 and again in 1987. That year, Frank would claim duel championships, as he also won top honors at Kentucky Motor Speedway in Whitesville, Kentucky before selling the championship car to Terry Shirley of Seymour, Indiana.
In 1990, Frank went on to claim another championship -- winning the title at Louisville Motor Speedway for Terry Shirley. In addition to his regular schedule, Frank made what would be his first of countless starts in the ARCA series, driving for Jack Wallace.
In 1992, Frank returned to driving for Terry Shirley, making his first full time attempt in ARCA, finishing fifth in the points and winning Rookie of the Year honors. Two years later, Frank's first win in ARCA came at Toledo Speedway. He finished the year as the runner-up to the ARCA champion.
The next several years offered Frank a partial schedule -- driving the short tracks and winning three races in 1996. His success opened the door for a return to full time driving for team owner Larry Clement in 1997. Together they won another race and finished second in the points championship.
In 1998 Frank's prowess became known as he scored his first ARCA series championship with a record nine wins.
Together at Last
In 1999, Bill Jr. and Frank began working together when Bill Jr. accepted an offer to become Frank's crew chief. The duo excelled together, winning six races and the ARCA championship in 2000. Bill Jr. was also rewarded with Crew Chief of the Year honors for the first time. The dream team continued their domination of the Series for the following seven years, winning 48 more races, seven more championships and seven more Crew Chief of the Year honors for Bill Jr.
During that time, Frank was invited to participate in the International Race of Championships (IROC) Series.
"Being part of the IROC series was one of the biggest highlights of my career," said Frank. "Those guys are the best of the best and to have been part of it, even for a year, was an incredible honor."
In another entrepreneurial move, Frank started his own street stock series.
"I thought of all the really talented drivers that will never get the chance to experience the excitement of being at a legendary track and decided that this series was a way to give back to those guys," said Frank.
To date -- there have been four races run under the banner of the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Nationals. Upcoming events include July 4, 2009 at Rockingham Speedway and August 8, 2009 at Salem Speedway.
Third Generation Racers
While Frank and Bill Jr. continued to establish the Kimmel family as a force in the racing world, the continuation of the legacy came in the form of Bill and Frank's sons, Will and Frank II, who made their competitive debuts in 1998 and 1999, respectively. As evident by the early years spent working on their father's cars, the children had clearly inherited their father's passion for auto racing and have excelled at an early age on a local and regional level.
While Bill and Frank governed the ARCA Series, their children continued to prove their talents and potential to carry on the Kimmel auto racing dynasty.
"In 2007, Will won the late model championship at Salem Speedway and Frank II was Rookie of the Year in the Street Stock Series at Salem," explained Frank. "It was right around that time that Bill and I realized we needed to build a team of our own, so that down the road, we can still be involved in racing and try to help our kids have the same opportunities that we had."
It was because of their interest in the sport along with their budding talents that Frank and Bill made the decision at the close of their 2007 championship season to start their own race team.
Kimmel Racing is Born
In 2008, Frank and Bill walked away from an organization where they had won eight consecutive championships to start Kimmel Racing. Leaving the most successful organization in the ARCA series history may have seemed like a bold decision to many outside the Kimmel family, but to Frank and Bill it was the obvious next step.
"We decided we needed to build for the future," said Bill. "After Frank retires from driving, Kimmel Racing will still be here -- hopefully with either Will or Frank II in the car."
Winning three races and finishing second in points, as Kimmel Racing did in 2008, would seem like a respectable debut year for a new team, but sponsorship was at lull and the future of Kimmel Racing was already in jeopardy at the close of the race season.
"There were quite a few initial obstacles," said Bill. "The timing for Kimmel Racing could not have been worse. The economy was in decline and we really had no idea how hard it would be to attract sponsors."
However, the initial struggles of the team couldn't dampen the brother's desire to build a race team that would continue to flourish for many years to come. Moving forward with Kimmel Racing, to Frank, was always the best decision.
"One can never excel without taking chances," added Frank. "This team has always had a lot of potential and we were just hoping for someone to see that in us so we could continue on. I saw Frank II out there winning the Salem Street Stock Championship and I just knew that we needed to continue on so that Kimmel Racing would be around for him and for Will."
Kimmel Racing in the Here and Now
At the start of the 2009 season, the team's search for sponsorship had continued without success and the team prepared for a partial schedule. Frank had all but given up hope of racing for his 10th championship, when out of the blue -- his prayers were answered. Two new sponsors --Ansell Gloves and Menards -- were coming into the series and had their choice of teams to support. Fortunately for Bill and Frank -- Kimmel Racing was their pick.
"This sponsorship program reenergized the entire Kimmel Racing organization," Kimmel said. "The support of Ansell Gloves and Menards allows us to continue to pursue our goals of attempting to earn another ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship."
Thanks to Ansell and Menards, Kimmel Racing's immediate goals for this season -- win races, a 10th championship and top the all time win record -- are now within reach.
In addition, the long term goal to build a strong ARCA team that can win with whoever might be the driver -- seems more attainable with the support of such key sponsors.
"With my son, Frank II, and Bill's son, Will moving up and doing a great job winning races and championships, the future of Kimmel Racing is in them," said Frank. "I feel like Kimmel Racing can carry me to the end of my career and can also be the beginning of Frank II and Will's career. That's why we're working so hard to build Kimmel Racing."