View From the Stands (9/23/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
Late Model Knoxville Nationals Celebrates 10 Years
When I was a kid what I knew about racing revolved around sprint cars, NASCAR, and the Indy 500. That changed in 1982 when the movie Six Pack with Kenny Rogers came out in theatres and that introduced me to dirt late models. Not only was that a good family movie that taught us right from wrong and good values (minus a few swear words and kids stripping cars for parts), it was a movie about racing, ON DIRT! In 1985 my father brought me to see my first late model race at Knoxville and Billy Moyer won. I liked the cars because they were so big and beastly looking, and FAST! We didn’t see another late model race at Knoxville until 1994 when Steve Kosiski won a race in September that year. When I became a teenager I started to learn more about the late model type cars and who some of the big name drivers were thanks National Speed Sport News. Then I started hearing stories from friends who went to the World 100 every year and they always talked about how great it was and the large crowds.
After that 1994 season we started seeing Late Models more frequently at Knoxville, once or twice a year for special shows up until the 2000 season. Then we had a drought of three years with no late models, so I started to travel to see the IMCA Late Models here in Iowa a couple of times a year, but I really wanted to see them back at Knoxville Raceway, which was home for me.
I can remember in 2003 typing an e-mail to the attention of Knoxville Raceway promoter Ralph Capitani asking him why we haven’t seen Late Models for a few years, and he didn’t have a good answer. So I called him up a few days later and gave him my two cents. I told him that Knoxville Raceway is the best dirt track facility in the world, why don’t we prove it and have a Late Model race, or even a “Nationals” each year for them. Pay a large amount to win for a two or three day event similar to the sprint car nationals here, and it would be the dirt equivalent of NASCAR finally racing at Indianapolis, but on dirt. I didn’t see how it wouldn’t be successful. He said, “Yeah well I’ll think about it.” I figured that was the end of that hair brained idea.
About six months later the Knoxville Raceway season schedule comes out and I was pleasantly surprised to see the first annual Late Model Knoxville Nationals printed on it, and it would pay $35,000 to win! Hot Damn! I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know for sure how much influence I had with “Cappy” but I would like to think that I was someone who helped to spark interest in creating this great event that is now in its tenth year.
That first year in 2004, we didn’t get Scott Bloomquist or Billy Moyer to show up due to conflicting schedules with other events. I was extremely disappointed and thought, if we can’t get the two biggest names in the business to Knoxville for a $35,000 to win race, there is no way this event is going to be successful. After that first year, those two men have been here every year since, and both have won!
I’m so thankful to the Knoxville Raceway and the Marion County Fair Board for taking a chance on Late Models ten years ago. This event has become one of the crown jewels in Dirt Late Model racing, and the crowd seems to grow each year. I wish there was a way to schedule this event earlier in the year in June or July away from football season, because I think it would grow even more. That is hard to do schedule though with the sanctioning bodies and other events that have been around longer than Knoxville on the racing calendar.
Being a track historian and numbers geek, I have a lot of great memories looking back as we celebrate our tenth year of the Late Model Knoxville Nationals.
Scott Bloomquist is the only driver to win this race twice, so the competition has been excellent with no other repeat winner.
Brian Birkhofer won the first year in 2004, passing Darren Miller with 17 laps remaining of the 100 lap distance. It was a great race with five different drivers leading.
The 2006 event saw Miller and Birkhofer exchange the lead eight times, but with 15 laps remaining it was Brian Shirley stealing the win.
2008 was another great race with Tim McCreadie and Tony Stewart racing for the lead through the mid stages of the race until lap 68 when McCreadie took command, only to have a caution come out after the white flag was displayed to set up a green-white-checkered finish which saw Josh Richards lead lap 100, but McCreadie would take back the lead to win, taking the checkers on lap 101.
Who could forget the rain out year of 2009, where all three days were washed out, and it became a one night show on Sunday that saw Scott Bloomquist dominate and lead the final 35 laps to win.
Darren Miller has led the most championship A-Main laps in the history of the event, leading 125 total, but never closed the deal to get a win. Bloomquist and Moyer are tied for second most leading 115 laps each. Brady Smith has led 110.
Brian Birkhofer and Billy Moyer have each won three preliminary features. Darren Miller has won two and is the only other driver to win more than one.
I will never forget Earl Pearson Jr. setting the one lap track record in qualifying in 2008 with a lap 16.631, which still stands to this day. There are some nights the winged sprint cars can’t get below that time.
Billy Moyer, Brian Birkhofer, and Steve Francis all have four top five finishes, the most all time.
I decided to try to determine who the all-time best driver at the Late Model Knoxville Nationals is. So I came up with my own scoring system giving 5 points for a win, 2 points for a top ten,1 point for a top five, and 1 point for starting the championship race Here are my top ten Late Model Knoxville Nationals drivers.
1. Birkhofer 34 points, 2. Bloomquist 33, 3. Billy Moyer 31, 4. Brady Smith 29, 5. Steve Francis 27, 6. Tim McCreadie 20, 7. Shannon Babb 19, 8. Jimmy Mars 16, 9. Josh Richards 15, 10. Rick Eckert 15.
I have to give the nod to Birkhofer with 1 win, 4 top five’s, and 8 top ten’s. Bloomquist is a close second with his 2 victories, 3 top five’s, and 6 top ten’s. Brian Shirley came in thirteenth with 1 win, but that is his only top ten finish in the event. Don O’Neal has 1 win as well, but has only competed in the Knoxville Nationals three times.
As we look at the 2013 running of this event we have to look at the usual suspects as the favorites coming in. Scott Bloomquist won The Dream earlier this season, Moyer, Birkhofer, defending champion Steve Francis, and we could see a new winner like Jimmy Owens, Earl Pearson Jr., or Josh Richards.
Get ready for three days of fun watching Late Models, at Knoxville!
*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.