KNOXVILLE, IA - Every sport has one--a game, event or race that defines the discipline with its singular magnitude. In the world of sprint car racing, the Amoco Knoxville Nationals annually headlines the season as drivers from around the...
KNOXVILLE, IA - Every sport has one--a game, event or race that defines the discipline with its singular magnitude. In the world of sprint car racing, the Amoco Knoxville Nationals annually headlines the season as drivers from around the world converge on a rural Iowa community with hopes of joining the elite that have won the coveted Nationals crown. Since 1961, Knoxville, Iowa has played host to the best in the business during four days in August. In all, twenty different drivers have been able to conquer the competition and sweat through the adversity that accompanies the event. This week, competitors from the Pennzoil World of Outlaws (WoO) and almost every other sprint car sanctioning body will go through the roller coaster ride that is the Amoco Knoxville Nationals.
"The toughest part of the Amoco Knoxville Nationals is getting yourself in a position to win it," said Kinser. "So many things can happen along the way. Qualifying is important and you can't relax in the heat race. The preliminary night feature is as tough as any all season, and you go through that just to make Saturday's race. The goal is to be in the top three rows, because it’s a relatively short race, only 30 laps, and with the caliber of cars that we compete against you can’t get that far behind and still make it up."
The Nationals format to which Kinser eludes is a big reason that this race is one of the toughest to win. A point system is in place that forces drivers to be at their best every time they reach the track. It's not like a best of seven series, where you might be to get away with a bad performance. Everything counts. The field is divided in half and put into two preliminary nights of racing. Qualifying sets the stage for the heat races and with a field fully inverted, the driver has no time to wait. Ten laps to pass as many cars as he can. The qualifying night concludes with a twenty-lap feature with those valuable points on the line.
After Wednesday and Thursday's preliminary programs, the points are tabulated and the lineup for Saturday's race begins to take shape. Friday night offers a final chance to better the starting position with 10-lap Scrambles, but that is a driver's last shot. Twenty-five of the 39 races have been won from the front row, and that's why it's so important to accumulate as many points as possible.
The Nationals, which is the fourth and final race of the "month of money", will offer close to $650,000 in prize money. Winning more than one of the "big money" race in a season has been the norm during the past five years. In 1995, Steve Kinser won the Historical Big One and also won Knoxville, In 1996 & 1997, Mark Kinser and Dave Blaney did the same. 1998 was the first year that four different drivers spread out the victories. Jac Haudenschild won the King's Royal, Mark Kinser won the Silver Cup, Dale Blaney won the Historical Big One and Danny Lasoski won the Amoco Knoxville Nationals. Last season, Mark Kinser won both the Silver Cup and Knoxville. Dale Blaney (King's Royal winner), Sammy Swindell (Silver Cup winner) and Steve Kinser (Historical Big One winner) have increased their chances by winning the first three "big money" races, but at Knoxville they all know anything can happen.
"Winning the King's Royal doesn't guarantee anything for us," said Dale Blaney. "We went to Knoxville in 1998 fresh off of winning the Big One and crashed a car and finished 13th. We know we've got to come out and be on top of our game, but it does help you confidence going into that race that you can win a big race. Every thing has to go your way in order to have a chance."
Steve Kinser leads the almost every category at the Nationals. He's won the event 11 times, led the most laps, and started on the front row 11 times. He enters Knoxville leading the WoO point standings and on an emotional high after winning last weekend's Historical Big One. Even though Kinser is the favorite, defending champion Mark Kinser, 1998 champ Danny Lasoski and 1983 Knoxville winner Sammy Swindell all are capable of winning it all.
"Some guys might say it's just another night, but when they pull into the track, I'll guarantee that they're feeling a little different," said Lasoski. "The prestige, pressure, emotion and glamour of those four days is like nothing else. Don't get me wrong, we have a lot of big races, but there is just something about this one that makes it different. Every year we point to this race as the one to win."
TNN Sports will televise Saturday's Championship races live beginning at 10:00 PM (ET).