Sprint car racing shifts to Iowa

KNOXVILLE, Iowa — The eyes of the sprint car world turn toward south-central Iowa this week with the 57th Annual running of the Knoxville Nationals.

The best sprint car drivers in the world will be on hand at Knoxville Raceway vying for a piece of the $1 million total purse.

Last year was an epic feature with Jason Johnson taking the lead back from nine-time Nationals champion Donny Schatz, not once, but twice, on his way to the win as Schatz settled for second. Shane Stewart, Daryn Pittman and Kyle Larson, who came from the B-main, completed last year’s top five. Jamie Veal, Chad Kemenah, York’s Greg Hodnett, Ian Madsen and David Gravel rounded out last year’s top 10.

More than 100 cars are entered and will be split into two qualifying nights on Wednesday and Thursday. These races pay $12,000 to win. The drivers earn points in qualifying time trials, heat races and the main events. The top 16 in total points after their qualifying nights are locked into the Saturday night main event. For the remaining cars, a complete program will be held Friday night with the top four finishers locking into starting positions 17-20. The remaining cars will compete in a series of last chance main events Saturday night with the final four starters coming from Saturday night’s B-main.

Last year, Shane Stewart won Wednesday’s preliminary and Tim Kaeding won Thursday. Rico Abreu won Friday night with Hodnett finishing second, Danny Lasoski third, and Mechanicsburg’s Lucas Wolfe finishing fourth.

The 50-lap Nationals A-main pays $150,000 to win and $9,500 for last. Second place wins $75,000 and third wins $37,500. Fourth pays $26,000 and fifth $21,000. The fifth-place finisher (first non-qualifier) in Saturday’s B-main earns $8,000.

Lucas Wolfe of Mechanicsburg is looking forward to his first Nationals trip in the Mike Barshinger No. 24 car. He finished ninth in the Zemco car two years ago.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Wolfe said. “It’s the first time anybody with Mike Barshinger Racing has gone in quite a while. I’ve been out most of the last 10 years or so. It’s always a good trip. It can be really good or really frustrating. There’s not too much of a margin. It’s always a competitive test to see where you stack up.”

Pennsylvania drivers joining Wolfe at Knoxville will be Hodnett and Danny Dietrich of Gettysburg. Tyler Bear of Elliottsburg will be a Nationals rookie this year.

Pennsylvania drivers Brent Marks, Logan Schuchart and Jacob Allen also will compete. They race regularly with the World of Outlaws. Allen’s dad, and Schuchart’s granddad, Bobby Allen, won the Nationals in 1990.

Ohio’s Dale Blaney, Washington State’s Trey Starks and Australian champion James McFadden are all driving for Pennsylvania car owners at Knoxville — Blaney in the Zemco No. 1, Starks in the Gobrecht No. 44 and McFadden in the Highlands No. 3.

The Knoxville Nationals for 360 Sprints were held last weekend with Hodnett winning his preliminary feature Friday night. He finished 10th in the finale after a first-lap spin sent him to the rear after starting seventh.

The sixth annual Capitani Classic (named for late Knoxville promoter Ralph) was held at Knoxville Sunday night. Brian Brown was the winner. Hodnett led the first three laps before Brown passed him. Hodnett passed him back leading laps six thru 10 before Brown took back over to the finish. Hodnett ended up fourth. Dietrich finished eighth. Bear flipped in his heat. Wolfe was not there yet.

This will be the 57th edition of the Nationals. Roy Robbins drove the Huffman No. 37 to victory in the inaugural Knoxville Nationals in 1961. Jerry Richert drove the Ready No. 69 in the second Nationals. Greg Weld won in 1963 followed by a pair of wins for Kenny Weld in ’64 and ’65. Weld won two straight again in ’72 and ’73 for legendary car owner Bob Weikert. Jan Opperman was the ’71 winner.

NASCAR truck series point leader Christopher Bell and NASCAR cup series driver Kyle Larson will both attempt to qualify Wednesday night.

Schatz, of Fargo, N.D., has been the man to beat at Knoxville for the past decade and then some. Schatz’s first Nationals win came in the Schatz Motorsports No. 15 in 2006. He won again in 2007. He joined Tony Stewart Racing and won two more Nationals in ’08 and ’09.

Tim Shaffer drove the Call/Holbrook Motorsports No. 83 to victory in the 50th anniversary race in 2010.

Schatz won the next five Nationals A-mains before Johnson’s impressive win last season. On the few occasions over the last decade or so that he didn’t win, he’s finished second.

Tony Stewart has 10 car owner wins in the Nationals.

The King of the Outlaws Steve Kinser has the most Nationals wins with 12. Schatz will get within two of Kinser if he wins Saturday night.