View from the Stands (8/11/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
Donny Schatz… wow. From fourth in the B-Main, you win that, then start 21st in the A-Main and are leading by lap 40. Are you kidding me? The legend of Donny Schatz just grew even more. To win seven of the last eight Knoxville Nationals is mind blowing. Just call him Donny Knoxville, Super Schatz, or Sheriff Schatz. He should have a Superman logo on the front of his uniform.
Donny gave some credit to winning this year’s Nationals to racing a dirt late model in his spare time. He is friends with Darrell Lannigan and has been racing his own late model quite a bit the past few summers. By racing a late model it’s helped him learn how to drive a race car without depending on the wing as much, helping him in different ways when the track changes and he can make the difference in the seat when the car isn’t quite right. That’s a race car driver and there is no one better than him right now.
Schatz might be the best driver I’ve ever seen. I mean to do what he has done over the past decade and dominate, no matter where he starts, is not normal, maybe not human. Does he have a cape attached to his driver suit? Not even Steve Kinser had a dominant stretch like this. He always had a few off years where Wolfie and Sammy were able to catch him and beat him. You have to appreciate what Schatz has done in his era, where the cars are more equal and weigh the same.
I’m not going to listen to the whiners about the race track. Not once all year did we have a track take rubber like this race did toward the end, but it was still a good race even after that happened. To see Schatz drive from fifth to the lead anyway in a 15 lap span with rubber locked down, and winning by a big margin, just proves even more how great he is. I want to know when he is going to race the World 100 and the Late Model Knoxville Nationals and see if he can win those.
Brian Brown… now you know what drivers felt like years ago to lose to Steve Kinser repeatedly. Your uncle Danny, Bobby Davis Jr., Stevie Smith, Jeff Swindell, and even Donny Schatz. It has to be an empty feeling for Brownie, Chad Morgan, and his team. I mean, you work so hard for a solid year to get ready for that one night, you get so close, and you can’t close the deal. What else do you have to do to beat that guy? I guess just a little bit more. The only mistake I can see Brian made in the race was maybe driving through the middle too much in turns three and four working around lapped cars, and that may have used up his tires a little. Otherwise he drove a good race and has nothing to be ashamed about. And Brian was so gracious and classy in the post race press conference, defending the Dunkin’s track crew and congratulating his fellow competitors, but the expression on his face was just empty. Tough loss for him and he won’t sleep well for a few nights. Just hope this doesn’t take the wind out of their team’s sails. They can keep building from this experience and who knows, he could be a guy who wins more than one Nationals down the road if he keeps his head on straight mentally. I know a good therapist Brian if you need one. But hey, does BBR have room in the garage for a Late Model to play with?
Justin Henderson didn’t even have a ride until six weeks ago at Knoxville twin features night. Good to see our Knoxville Regulars finish second and third. Henderson was in the Bryan Sundby owned car that David Hesmer started out the season in. All due respect to Hesmer, but I think it worked out in the end for everyone. The Parker engine was hitting hard and Henderson will be back to contend again next year I have a feeling. I’m really proud of Sundby, Iggy, and the crew for getting on the podium.
Paul McMahan finished a sold fourth, right about where I had him in my power rankings. He fell to eighth at halfway, but made his way past a few more cars at the end.
Chad Kemenah came from nineteenth to fifth at the end. He was running seventh at halfway. This is Kemenah’s third career top five finish and his first top five at the Nationals since the 15k car days back in 2005.
Kyle Larson started 17th, was ninth at halfway, and finished sixth. Good run for Yung Money.
Joey Saldana started on the pole, was running second at halfway, but was clearly not going to catch Brown to win. I’m guessing they made the wrong changes at halfway and fell back to seventh at the checkers.
Danny Lasoski started thirteenth, made it to sixth at halfway, and finished eighth. For a low dollar team he was able to use his years of experience, and skills behind the wheel to get his 17th career top ten finish. I thought with 50 laps the Dude might have a shot, but he just didn’t have the engine to get him to the next level. But still a good week for him considering his struggles the past few years.
Steve Kinser finished ninth after starting twelfth. So happy the King made the show and held his own. I wonder what he thinks of the modern day King?
Cap Henry (Mr. Mopar) of Ohio started 18th and finished tenth. This guy wasn’t sure he had enough money to even travel west of Ohio a few weeks ago and was needing help to get a hauler ready to hit the road. Earning $16,000 for tenth should help catch him up on a few bills. Henry figured something out on Friday night running the bottom and it worked on Saturday as well. He is the feel good story of the Nationals.
Knoxville Regulars outside of Brown and Henderson did well. Dusty Zomer, Ian Madsen, and Lynton Jeffrey advanced from the B-Main to make the show. Zomer started ninth in the B and finished third, then was able to finish eleventh in the A-Main. Brooke Tatnell was 19th, Ian 21st, Jeffrey 22nd. Wayne Johnson, Bronson Maeschen, Terry McCarl, Davey Heskin, Mark Dobmeier, and Don Droud Jr., all ended their Nationals in the B-Main. Overall it was a great Nationals for our local guys, but a few had some bad luck too that kept them from doing better.
Greg Hodnett finished twelfth, making his Nationals trip worthwhile after missing the big dance the past two years.
The KKR teams of Sweet, Pittman, and Darrah finished 13th, 14th, 15th respectively. Not the night they were hoping for. Sweet started fifth, was seventh at lap four, twelfth at lap ten, fifteenth at halfway. Pittman started eleventh, stopped to bring out a caution on lap four after making contact with Steve Kinser and getting into the fence, then came back up to 14th. Darrah started tenth, but spun in turn two on lap two and went to the tail and raced back to 15th. Hard night, but could have been worse.
Kerry Madsen started eighth and finished 16th. Kerry didn’t seem to have the car he had on Thursday night. At halfway he was running 14th. Just wasn’t his night unfortunately.
Shane Stewart was running second and setting up to be in Brian Brown’s shadow early. While racing with Saldana for second Shane tagged the front stretch fence pretty hard coming off of turn four on about lap four or five and his car was never the same after that. He faded just before halfway missing the rubber a bit while racing with Henderson for third and lost several spots before halfway, but I also think he had some damage to the car that made it hard to drive. His rear bumper was dragging early in the race after Brad Sweet ran into the back of him on the start. Shane wasn’t great on Friday the World Challenge either, so the set-up wasn’t quite there. What a blown opportunity for Shane and Silva. They finally got into a good starting position where they could challenge for the win, and it didn’t work out. I’m sure they feel sick inside because they know better than anyone that these opportunities don’t come around very often.
I can’t give enough praise how good Chris Dunkin and his crew are. The track prep was phenomenal all week. I was shocked it didn’t hold up as well on Saturday, but we saw a total 2,526 green flag laps on Saturday night, WAY more than any other night all year. To compare, a weekly show with three classes typically sees 1,850 laps, and we had a 1,866 laps on it Friday night. But to look at all the guys who were still passing cars at the end of the 50 lap A-Main, I don’t know how anyone can complain about it being a boring race. It was an awesome race. Schatz won from 21st, Kemenah and Larson made their way through the field as well.
I’m a proponent of reworking the track a bit after the B-Main to make sure we see a good race and it lives up to the hype. 25,000 people are spending a lot of money, why not ensure that fans see a good race on a good surface. We have a 45 minute break between the B and A-Mains anyway with driver introductions, so why not make sure it holds up with some tweaks is my thinking. But I was surprised the Hoosiers locked down rubber. That hasn’t happened all year at Knoxville, and there were a couple of nights we thought it might and the track held up great. But then again, these are not just any ordinary 25 cars competing, it’s the top 25 drivers/cars in the country with the best equipment.
Kudos to John McCoy for throwing the competition yellow on lap 24 instead of lap 25 or 26 to give us more laps the second half of the race. I liked that.
50 laps is here to stay race fans. Move on.
Thank you to companies like FVP, Casey’s, RacingJunk.com, Speed Sport, Pella Motors, and STP for helping put on a great show and their support of sprint car racing, the track, and the event. I was amazed how many people I saw walking around wearing a STP shirt (new and retro styles). What other brand can pull that off? If someone wants to give me a shirt I’ll wear it though. Who wants to sponsor the Blog? (Smiley Face)
Kudos to Kyle McCullough, also known as “Iowa Web Guy” with HostIowa.net. Kyle is behind the scenes at the racetrack with our technology support and developed the Knoxville Raceway Mobile App. This App simply kicks butt and it’s something no other track or sanctioning body has. He created the feature of making the qualifying night points add up automatically in a matter of a day or two after the idea came up from Brandon Bingham (you see his work on our YouTube driver profiles) and I relayed that idea to Kyle an hour later when I saw him. Kyle helps set Knoxville Raceway apart from a lot of other race tracks and we’re hoping to keep that trend going next year.
Thought on Friday night Hard Knox. What about the top four on Friday get locked in to positions 21-24 on Saturday, and leave positions 17-20 open for the Saturday B-Main cars to move in to? The drivers who were 17-26 in points should get some sort of reward for earning more points than the other cars who had to race on Friday night, so let them start ahead of them is my thinking.
Also thank you to Brian Stickel, John McCoy, Gary Schumacher, Kim DeLong, and Shelly Reed who are in the office every day. These people work a lot harder than anyone realizes and I bet they can’t wait to take a nap. I’ve enjoyed working with all of you this year and hope to continue to do so. Also thank you to the crew working in the press room, and to the guys on the Fair Board who are so hospitable to us.
I had a great ten days over the 360 and 410 Nationals. I met so many people over the past week or so that knew me, and I had no idea who most of you were. It was really nice to hear great feedback about the blog and those who follow me on twitter. I only had one hater approach me about my blog comments and he apparently was a Clint Garner fan so I understand.
I had quite the response on twitter about the chicken bites changing and had to do some investigative reporting with Colleen in the concessions department about that deal there. At least we got that figured out!
I participated in a couple of forums at the Hall of Fame on Friday, and those were informative and cool to be a part of. And how about the Mario Andretti display! There are so many cool cars there to see in the museum. I’m going to have to go back and check them out again before they are gone at the end of the year.
Bob Wilson and I would like to thank everyone who bought our book, Knoxville Nationals: The First Fifty Years, this past week. We didn’t sell out, but we only have 1,000 books. We will continue to sell those in the coming weeks and months until they are gone. If you want to get one yet, or need a cool Christmas present for someone, this is the perfect gift. I will post more news about where and how you can get the books soon once we complete a plan there. We didn’t have a plan after the Nationals. We were crossing our fingers to get the books here in time for the Nationals and sell as many as we could then. We will have news coming soon about future book sales. If you want a book right away, shoot me an e-mail, or find the book order form at the track website in the “entry forms” section.
Special thank you to David Goodson from Impact Signs for helping us promote the book on his signs around the track on Saturday. Very much appreciated!!!
I’m giving my whole hearted endorsement of Todd Buffenbarger and his website, www.tjslideways.com. His website is the best for sprint car racing news in my opinion. I’ve known TJ since the mid 90’s when computers boomed. He has worked hard to build up his website and it is much easier to navigate than some others. He now has a weekly radio show and podcast as well. Serena Dalhamer takes great photos at Knoxville so be sure to check out the photo galleries. This was TJ’s first trip to Knoxville in ten years and he was great all week. I’m pretty sure he isn’t going to miss another one for a while. Check out his website, download his podcasts, and enjoy. One disclaimer though, he will blow up your twitter feed on race nights (and I love it).
Thanks to the people I sat with in section B on Saturday night. You know who you are. It was fun! And if I had one hundred dollars to gamble with, I would have taken on all of you with Schatz against the field.
One more thank you to MRN Radio and Winged Nation for coming to Knoxville all four nights this year for the first time. They are great ambassadors of the sport we all love, and I enjoyed meeting Steve Post and Kendra Jacobs this week. Did anyone work harder than Kendra this week?
It’s 358 days until the 54th Knoxville Nationals on August 6, 7, 8, and 9, 2014.
Season Championship is coming up on August 24th though in two weeks!!! Bronson Maeschen and Ian Madsen will duel to the end for the title. Be there!
*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.