Knoxville II - Justin Henderson spotlight

From One Legendary Track to Another: Justin Henderson Heads Back to Knoxville Knoxville, Iowa--Oct. 2, 2006-- When it comes to sprint car racing in the Midwest one track usually comes to mind, and that is the famed Knoxville Raceway. While on...

From One Legendary Track to Another: Justin Henderson Heads Back to Knoxville

Knoxville, Iowa--Oct. 2, 2006-- When it comes to sprint car racing in the Midwest one track usually comes to mind, and that is the famed Knoxville Raceway. While on the East Coast, when it comes to sprint car racing the storied Williams Grove Speedway usually is on the tip of everyone's tongue.

These two tracks are many times mentioned in the same breath, as Williams Grove is often referred to as 'The Knoxville of the East.'

Many drivers spend their entire careers seeking to win an event at one or both of the tracks. Drivers who compete with the World of Outlaws Sprint Series get a number of chances each season to win at these venerable ovals that have played an important role in the history of sprint car racing.

A week after taking part in National Open at Williams Grove, the World of Outlaws Sprint Series heads back to the Midwest to contest Budweiser Night at Knoxville Raceway on Saturday October 7, an event that was postponed due to rain earlier in the season. This will be the second time the series has raced at the Marion County Fairgrounds this season, and third time overall for the drivers, as they all took part in the Knoxville Nationals in August.

One of these drivers is Justin Henderson, who is enjoying a very successful rookie season with the series that has taken him to many new tracks, including Williams Grove for the first time back in May.

Henderson knows a great deal about the history of sprint car racing, and feels extremely honored that he is able to compete Knoxville and Williams Grove in the same season. They are both tracks that he read and heard countless stories about while growing up in South Dakota. After racing at Williams Grove, he has now had the chance to race on both tracks against many drivers he looked up to when he was just a boy dreaming of climbing into a sprint car.

"It's definitely cool, to go from Williams Grove to Knoxville in the span of a week," said Henderson, driver of the Jolt Energy Gum Schnee. "I wish we could see more of the old-time guys that used to run there (Williams Grove) walking around. We saw a few over the weekend. It's also cool to race against guys like Fred (Rahmer) who have been around forever. They teach you a lot."

Henderson, who calls Sioux Falls, South Dakota home, has turned plenty of laps at Knoxville, as he used to race there on a weekly basis. This will mark the third time this season he has raced at what he likes to call one of his home tracks, along with Huset's Speedway in Brandon, S.D.

"I'm excited to go back to Knoxville," said Henderson. "It's been a long time since the Nationals. We passed a lot of cars at the Nationals, and I'm excited to go back and see if we can do the same, starting a little bit closer to the front this time."

Henderson heads to Knoxville having gained more confidence at Williams Grove. He turned the ninth best lap in time trials on the preliminary night of the National Open with a stellar field of 63 cars on-hand. He then qualified through his heat race for the preliminary feature and battled his way to a respectable 16th-place finish in his first ever trip to the National Open, and third time overall at Williams Grove.

The well spoken driver is still getting used to the intense rivalry that exists between drivers from the World of Outlaws and the Pennsylvania Posse. When comparing last weekend's event to this weekend, Henderson knows the competition will be just as tough, with the Knoxville regulars wanting to defend their turf, but the atmosphere surrounding the race will not be quite as heated.

"The Knoxville guys are clean drivers and a lot easier to drive around," commented Henderson. "We come out to (Williams Grove) and that is their track and their territory. They'll put you where they want to put you. I like racing with the Knoxville guys. They are a little more welcoming to us and warmer."

While both Knoxville and Williams Grove are semi-banked half miles, the comparison usually stops there. Not too many drivers are able to use a set-up at Williams Grove to be fast and then keep that same set-up on the car and be fast at Knoxville. Each track has their own intricacies that make the teams work hard to find that right balance.

"The two places are so different," Henderson said. "You wouldn't think it, but when you get out and run them, they are so different. The car wings way down, and the right front is hiked way off the ground at Williams Grove. It's just a lot different. Williams Grove is definitely cool, but Knoxville is more my style. It's more my speed."

When asked what it takes to turn a good lap at Knoxville, Henderson focuses first on the engine and then on the feel of the race car. In June, when the series raced there, he turned in a very solid 10th place run in the A-Feature, and is confident that his team led by his father/crew chief/engine builder Rod, will be fast right out of the box on Saturday.

"It takes a lot of horsepower (to turn a good lap at Knoxville)," explained the rookie driver. "It takes a smooth race car, and you cannot be too terribly tight. You can be right on the verge of tight, but once you get too tight, and have to jack it loose, then you are losing a couple of tenths (of a second) right there. That can separate you from about first to 15th quick. We have to make sure we keep the car free and straight and keep all the horsepower planted."

With just six race dates left on the calendar, Henderson knows exactly what will make the end of the season a success. Thanks to 15 Top-10 finishes, he is currently ninth overall in the series championship point standings and third in points in the battle for the Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year Award Presented by Maxim Racing and ButlerBuilt. He is just 27 points behind Jeremy Campbell for the eighth overall spot in points, and just 14 markers ahead of Terry McCarl who is 10th.

"We need to pass (Jeremy) Campbell and stay ahead of (Terry) McCarl in the points," Henderson commented. "That's going to dictate whether the end of the season was good enough for me or not. Whatever it takes to do that. I cannot let McCarl beat me and I can't let Campbell beat me these last six races. That's a tall order, especially since McCarl is so tough and so is Campbell. We're going to do everything we can to keep our heads down, and hopefully stay in front."

Henderson has taken a liking to many of the new tracks he has raced at this year with the World of Outlaws Sprint Series, but his heart always comes back to Knoxville, where he cut his teeth racing sprint cars.

"Knoxville is more of my home, and it's a place I will always consider home," he said. "I definitely love to be there."

For ticket information, go to Knoxville Raceway's Web site at On Saturday October 7, adult reserved tickets will be $27, while reserved seats for children will be $13.50. Adult general admission tickets will be $25, with general admission tickets for children just $12.50.

-credit: woo

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Series World of Outlaws
Teams Williams