Local racer set to begin big weekend

KNOXVILLE, IOWA — The opportunity exists to make a lot of money at the Knoxville Nationals for Sprint cars this week in south-central Iowa.

Over $1 million in total purse money, to be exact.

That’s why it attracts the best sprint car teams and drivers from around the country including some teams from central Pennsylvania.

But, it’s a risky proposition, too.

It costs a lot of money to go to Knoxville from central Pa. and it takes a lot of good racing luck and a fast car to be one of the 24 starters in Saturday night’s main event. Over 100 drivers are entered and are split into two qualifying nights — last night and tonight.

Lucas Wolfe, of Mechanicsburg, was set to qualify Wednesday night, along with Greg Hodnett of York of Tyler Bear of Elliottsburg.

“It’s a tremendously competitive event,” Wolfe said as he and the Mike Barshinger Team relaxed prior to racing Wednesday night. “Strictly for me, I race at a professional level, so this is a race, as a professional, that you have to be at.”

Wolfe has eight wins in his first season racing for Barshinger and is a former winner of the Knoxville World Challenge event that pits American drivers, who race during the winter in Australia go up against Australians who spend the summer months at Knoxville.

“This is the first time for us as a team here,” Wolfe said. “It’s the first time Mike has been here in quite a while. The possibilities are somewhat endless in a way. We have to do the best we can. As a team that wants to race at a serious and competitive level, it’s an event you have to be at. We ran a lot of good shows at home.”

Every time drivers hit the track at Knoxville, they earn points including qualifying time trials, heat races and the qualifying night features. The top 16 in total points after Wednesday and Thursday are locked into Saturday night’s 50-lap main event which pays $150,000 to win and $9,500 to start.

“There really isn’t one thing about this whole week that isn’t ultra critical,” Wolfe said. “The level of competition and the amount of good cars is overwhelming in a way. The whole thing is very challenging. You have to time well, heat race well and feature race well. The whole thing has to be right and that’s just to give yourself an opportunity to possibly challenge for a good result on Saturday. It’s a lot of guys trying to fill only 24 spots. It’s tough sledding sometimes.”

Wolfe was scheduled to be one of the first cars to time trial Wednesday night. He finished ninth in the Nationals two years ago.

The shape and racing surface at Knoxville is unlike anything in central Pa. creating another challenge for local drivers.

“It’s certainly unique,” Wolfe said. “It’s pretty round and gets slick in spots. It gets a curb pretty far up there. It’s a challenging track to race at.”

Car owner Barshinger said it costs between $5,000 and $6,000 to come to Knoxville including fuel expenses, motel rooms and track admission. That doesn’t include what the sprint car may need. So, a team almost needs to make the Saturday night A-main ($9,500) to come close to making any money.

The Wednesday and Thursday night races are 25-laps paying $12,000 to win, $10,000 for second and $7,000 for third. It’s $1,000 to start the qualifying night features.

NASCAR drivers and part-time sprint car drivers Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell were in the Wednesday night field as well as nine-time Nationals Champion Donny Schatz. Second place Outlaws point man Brad Sweet and fifth place point man Shane Stewart were also among Wednesday’s field. Outlaws regular Logan Schuchart of Hanover was also on Wednesday.

Danny Dietrich of Gettysburg is set to qualify Thursday, along with Trey Starks, Dale Blaney and James McFadden, who are driving Pennsylvania-owned cars. Pennsylvania Outlaws Brent Marks of Myerstown of Jacob Allen of Hanover are also racing.