View from the Stands (7/29/2013) by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
I can remember 2004 when Terry McCarl was a weekly competitor and there were a couple of nights where he just blew the field away and won features in dominating fashion. He was in a completely different gear than the rest of the field, and I just knew he was going to be up front at the Nationals that year. T-Mac was, and he went on to lead the first fifteen laps of the Nationals and finish fifth that year. I haven’t seen that kind of performance, or had that same feeling since then from a Knoxville Regular, until I saw Brian Brown this week. HOLY COW! Brian Brown was FAST in the 410 feature, and probably would have won the 360 feature if he didn’t have to pull in for the throttle sticking wide open in that race. Brown and his team have to be anxious for Nationals. I’m having a heckuva time trying to decide who to pick to win the 360 Nationals now. Brown or Shane Stewart? I’m giving the edge to Stewart, but only because he has won the race the past three years. It’s a toss up between these two guys and I will be shocked if anyone other than these two drivers wins.
Bronson Maeschen was second to Brown in the 410 feature, but didn’t have that extra gear to catch Brownie. Nonetheless, Bronson looked strong and I think he is a top ten candidate in the 410 Nationals. He extended his point lead over Ian Madsen to 60 points this week, and as long as he has a good showing this coming Sunday at the Capitani Classic, he will be tough to catch. Don’t count out Madsen by any means, but I think Ian has to win at least one feature this season to beat Maeschen for the track championship. Ian won two races last week away from Knoxville, and set quick time for the third time this season on Saturday night. He is knocking on the door of Knoxville’s victory lane.
Mark Dobmeier was hooked up in the feature and finished a strong fourth coming from fourteenth. I sure hope these guys figure out their qualifying issues within the next couple of weeks. If they can put the 13 in the championship race at Nationals, I can see them clawing their way into the top ten.
Danny Lasoski qualified thirteenth and then roared to fifth late in the feature. The Dude is a real wild card coming into the Nationals, and if he can figure out the qualifying set-up he will be a contender the next couple of weeks.
Justin Henderson was back this week with a fresh bullet under the hood, and was second in qualifying, but then spun his wheels in the feature starting seventh and finishing seventh. As fast as he looked in his heat race I was surprised Henderson wasn’t closer to the front of the feature, so hopefully they learned something to get the car to handle better come feature time in a couple of weeks (or at least what not to do).
It was cool that Tim Kaeding and Brad Sweet came to Knoxville this week! Sweet qualified fourteenth and finished eighth in the feature, making a charge late in the race. Sweet was sixteenth in the May Outlaw race this season at Knoxville, so it looks like the 49 team has some work to do yet to dial in for Knoxville, but they will be here this week at the 360 Nationals.
Tim Kaeding was leading the feature, lost the lead to Brown, got it back briefly on a restart, and lost the lead again. A couple of laps later his rear end failed and had to pull in while running in second. It might have been a good race between him and Brown in lapped traffic. TK is a cowboy. He can be intense one moment, and then he is laid back drinking a beer after the races greeting fans the next moment. He lives and dies on the cushion usually and I love drivers like that. I thanked him personally for coming and for putting on a good show. Kaeding has Knoxville figured out, but has had bad luck this season at Knoxville in the two Outlaw shows as well. I look for TK to contend for a podium finish at the Nationals. He is one of the top five drivers in the country today in my opinion.
Wayne Johnson started on the front row of the feature, but fell to ninth. Not sure what the issue is with the 77x car, but he is a good driver and I hope they find more speed in the next couple of weeks, because if anyone needs a pick me up, it’s this guy.
Jon Agan finished tenth in the 410 feature this week. Good to see Agan in the 410 class for a second week in a row. It looks like he has a good 410 car and should have a punchers chance to get into the championship feature if the breaks go their way. Unfortunately Agan fell victim to a bad pass and stuffed his 360 car in the turn one fence hard. Hopefully they can get a car ready for the 360 Nationals this week in time, or will likely drop the 360 engine in the 410 car.
Brooke Tatnell was back in the #55 this week after having to miss five weeks due to injury. He finished eleventh in the feature.
Davey Heskin had bad luck with all kinds of problems in both his 410 and 360 cars. I hope their bad luck is out of the way going into Nationals.
Don Droud Jr. and the Sonner 47 team have found some speed in recent weeks, and they did again this week qualifying ninth. He was running second in his heat race when he lost the left rear, then restarted at the tail and almost made it into a transfer spot. His luck was worse in the B Main when something went wrong and he pulled in. I thought the car jumped out of gear, but it was apparently something else. Sounds like the Sonner’s have leaned out the engine all they can, and hope to make a run at the Nationals and get into the championship race.
Randy Martin won the feature, holding off Billy Alley most of the way. This was a race of attrition as Brian Brown pulled in with his throttle issue. RJ Johnson was leading and pulling away until something broke and he put his car into the turn three fence. Clint Garner was running third when he crashed in turn three similar to RJ with something breaking, but then Garner collected Beaver in his crash which broke Beaver’s rear axle from that contact. Four cars fell out of the race that were all running in the top four positions at the time of their problems. It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the 360 class tearing up cars.
I attend the IMCA races almost every Wednesday night in Oskaloosa, and this past week Travis Cram showed up to hot lap the #66 Clark sprinter, and looked impressive. He hadn’t raced for two years and in his first night back at Knoxville he winds up winning the 305 feature after passing Chris Walraven on lap four. It was great to see TC slammin’ the right rear into the cushion again! Like Tim Kaeding, Cram was always a master of livin’ on the high side!
The front stretch fence is getting a welcomed upgrade, an extension that sticks out over the race track. If you read my column in Flat Out Magazine, you know I’ve been an advocate of this, but on June 1 when Austin Johnson’s front end ended up by the skate pit, something had to be done and I’m glad to see that the track is being proactive and is adding this fencing extension. Look for it this week on both the front and back stretch fences.
The Capitani Classic on Sunday will count as a full weekly 410 point race. We had 67 cars show up last year for the “Cappy” and I would expect a similar car count again this year, with several of the WoO teams showing up. This race was going to be called the “Kickoff to the Nationals” until I told Toby Kruse last year that the name sounded more like a football game than a race, so I offered up a few suggestions and he liked the name “Capitani Classic” that I came up with to honor the most influential man in the tracks history, next to Marion Robinson, who deserves to have the Knoxville Nationals trophy named after him in my opinion. I’ll keep lobbying for that!
The 360 and 410 Nationals qualifying night break downs are out on the website under the “events” section. In the 410 breakdown it appears that Wednesday is more popular than Thursday. I guess no one wants to have to end up racing three nights in a row if it works out you are not locked in on Saturday and are forced to race in the Friday “Hard Knox” qualifying show. Hopefully this gets adjusted somewhat. I don’t think we need the top three cars in WoO points qualifying on the same night. One of those three should have to move to Thursday to balance out the field somewhat, but that’s not as easy it seems. But still, I think a few teams will see that Thursday is a little “easier” and move on their own. (If I were Bronson Maeschen, Ian Madsen, or Davey Heskin, I would move to Thursday.)
Fred Rahmer and Jason Meyers are not coming to the Nationals this year it sounds like so I have removed them from my power rankings. Here are my FINAL Nationals Power Rankings!
Nationals Power Rankings: 1. Schatz, 2. Brown, 3. Stewart, 4. McMahan, 5. Dollansky, 6. Larson, 7. Kaeding, 8. Pittman, 9. K.Madsen, 10. Maeschen, 11. Heskin, 12. Dobmeier, 13. Gravel, 14. Saldana, 15. S.Smith, 16. Blaney, 17. Hafertepe Jr., 18. Hodnett, 19. Zomer, 20. T.McCarl, 21. I.Madsen, 22. Henderson, 23 Darrah, 24. Sweet. First five out: Sammy, Lasoski, DeWease, Shaffer, McFadden.
360 Nationals Power Rankings: 1. Stewart, 2. Brown, 3. Larson, 4. Bacon, 5. McCarl, 6. Dover, 7. Crockett, 8. Lasoski, 9. Maeschen, 10. Herrera, 11. Garner, 12. Alley, 13. K.Swindell, 14. Zomer, 15. Jeff Swindell, 16. W.Johnson, 17. J.Johnson, 18. Heskin, 19. Shaffer, 20. Sweet, 21. Henderson, 22. Hafertepe, 23. Beaver, 24. Selvage.
The 360 Nationals is so hard to predict. Outside of Shane Stewart and Brian Brown, there are 30 cars capable of being in the top five. It’s one of the most wide open fields ever!
I have a second set of power rankings this week. You see my own personal rankings as usual above, and below you will see the BHG (Bus House Gang) power rankings. Each year my friends put together our own lists of rankings and this is the total of the voting panel made up of Scott Sevenbergen, Luke Fults, Dan Zimmermann, Rustin Nelson, myself, and new addition this year, Bob Jones. Thanks to all the guys for taking the time to do this. There is a lot of racing expertise contributing to these rankings!
BHG 410 Power Rankings: 1. Schatz, 2. Brown, 3. Stewart, 4. McMahan, 5. Pittman, 6. Larson, 7. Dollanksy, 8. Kaeding, 9. Maeschen, 10. Madsen, 11. Heskin, 12. Sweet, 13. Sammy, 14. Hodnett, 15. Ian Madsen, 16. Gravel, 17. Saldana, 18. Dobmeier, 19. McCarl, 20. S.Smith, 21. Darrah, 22. Blaney, 23. Lasoski, 24. Allard. First five out: K.Kinser, Henderson, Zomer, DeWease, Sides.
BHG 360 Power Rankings: 1. Stewart, 2. Brown, 3. Larson, 4. Lasoski, 5. Crockett, 6. J.Johnson, 7.Garner, 8. Bacon, 9. McCarl, 10. Herrera, 11. K.Swindell, 12. Beaver, 13. Shaffer, 14. Sweet, 15. Zomer, 16. W.Johnson, 17. J.Swindell, 18. Maeschen, 19. Dover, 20. Alley, 21. Hafertepe Jr., 22. Heskin, 23. Cornell, 24. Selvage. First five out: Wimmer, Dobmeier, Hannagan, Abreu, Agan.
The 360 Nationals gets underway on Thursday night! Stay tuned for more blogs all throughout the Southern Iowa Speedweek! (Hopefully one each day.) And my 410 Nationals preview is coming next week Tuesday! Check back on Wednesday for my Knoxville Nationals 101 Blog!
Fred Rahmer is going to retire at the end of this season. He made an official announcement last week. What a great career, one of the all time greats in our sport. He was so excited to win a couple of Nationals preliminary features at Knoxville in 2005 & 2006. His best finish at the Nationals was ninth in 1993. He is going out on his terms and on top of the Central PA point standings. What a way to cap off his career going out on top! Unfortunately Knoxville is not in his plans for this season, where I’ve had him in my top 24 power rankings all along. Is the rocking chair calling anyone else this season???
*Don’t forget we are still taking pre-orders for the book, Knoxville Nationals: The First 50 Years. You can pre-order the book by finding the book order form available on the track website in the “entry forms” section. You will also be able to buy them in person the week of the Nationals.
*Eric can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @_EricArnold.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Knoxville Raceway.