Knoxville Nationals worth the trek to Iowa
You know you’ve been driving a long time when you leave in daylight and arrive at your destination in daylight. After nearly 1,000 miles and 14 hours of driving west, there was the “Sprint Car Capital of the World,” Knoxville, Iowa.
Nearly 100,000 sprint car fans descend on Knoxville for Knoxville Nationals, an internationally recognized four-day cultural festival of food, music, and racing.
Hearing about the “Granddaddy of Them All” and experiencing the Knoxville Nationals first hand are two totally different things; I was unprepared for the fanfare and sheer number of the drivers from the sport I love most packing into the town where legends are born.
Rolling into Knoxville is something unlikely to be found elsewhere: a sprint car hanging from a pole, sprint cars rolling out in parking lots of hotels and shops as crews start to prep them for the four biggest days of the year for 410 sprint cars, with $150,000 on the line.
For the last 10 years, North Dakota native Donny Schatz has only lost it once, in 2010 to “The Steel City Outlaw,” Tim Schaffer.
The sun smiled on all four days of racing at Knoxville Raceway for the 55th annual FVP Knoxville Nationals, leaving those in attendance sunburned but happy that the skies were dry and the greatest drivers in the sprint car industry had the best shot at making it to Saturday’s feature.
While the weekend was action-packed with Schatz sitting on the pole at the start of the big race Saturday night, the Nationals were not without some damage as driver Kevin Swindell (who has also competed in NASCAR and USAC) took a tumble during his heat race on August 13 and was transported to the hospital with serious back and spinal cord injuries.
Starting on the pole Saturday night with Kerry Madsen in second next to him, Schatz sprang forward at the start, with Madsen closing in before Schatz pulled away. The race was filled with constant narrowing and growing distances between first and second.
Near the mid-way point, Danny Lasoski came into play charging into second place. On the restart, Lasoski slipped to eighth allowing Madsen to come back up, with Brad Sweet moving into third. Shane Stewart made a hard charge from 12th to fourth, while Joey Saldana slid into fifth. When the checkered flag flew, Schatz was again the winner, victory number nine at Knoxville.
While one of the biggest races of the year is over now, the 56th annual Knoxville Nationals are in the back of everyone’s minds and Schatz is still going to be the man to beat.