Knoxville Nationals

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The Knoxville Nationals is an annual sprint car event held at Knoxville Raceway in Knoxville, Iowa. An Associated Press writer called winning the event "sprint car racing’s premiere title".[1] It is nicknamed "The Granddaddy of Them All." The event is the biggest and most prestigious race of the year in sprint car racing. The Saturday finale is held on the second Saturday in August. The event is held for four days (Wed-Sat) and is attended annually by approximately 25,000 fans. The event has the highest paying purse in sprint car racing at $1,000,000 which attracts roughly 100 race teams to compete.


The idea of the Knoxville Nationals was the brainchild of promoter Marion Robinson. The Knoxville Nationals was originally scheduled as a one day event for Super Modifieds and was later expanded to two, three, and finally four days of racing for Sprint Cars. The first Knoxville Nationals was held in 1961 with Roy Robbins taking the win. Robbins' car was equipped with an "air scoop" (wing) which was banned in future Knoxville Nationals. In 1982 wings would not only be allowed but be mandatory equipment from that point forward. Wings were used for one year at 1973 Nationals in an attempt to boost participation from the east coast teams.

The prize money for the event has grown over the years. The 1961 winner received $1,000 to win and the total purse was $5,455. In 1971 it was $3,000 to win and a total of $22,000. 1982 was $10,000 to win and $100,500. 1991 the winner received $50,000 and the total was $300,120. 1995 it grew to $100,000 to win and $501,000 over all. The purse continued to swell each year and in 2010 it paid $150,000 to win and the total for four days reached $1,000,255.

Some of the events highlights are its surprise upset winners, most notably being Kenny Gritz in 1969, Bobby Allen in 1990, and Tim Shaffer in 2010.

The 1990 Nationals is regarded as one of the best of all time as Doug Wolfgang advanced through the "alphabet soup" of the D-Main, C-Main, B-Main, and finished fifth in the A-Main. Meanwhile Mark Kinser led the first 22 laps before his engine expired setting up an epic shootout between Sammy Swindell and Bobby Allen, with Allen winning with a pass with two laps remaining.

The 2010 Nationals in its 50th anniversary was also one of the most popular years with the first 50 lap championship feature which saw Sammy Swindell lead the first 46 laps before his left rear tire blew up. This handed the lead to Donny Schatz who had engine problems and Tim Shaffer was able to lead the final two circuits to get the win.

In 1969 Kenny Gritz won the Nationals, passing Jan Opperman with four laps remaining. Gritz was fairly new to super modified racing, only competing for four or five seasons. He had won only one feature at Knoxville a couple of months prior and was beginning to peak as a driver. Unfortunately Gritz lost his life two weeks later in a crash at the Nebraska State Fair where IMCA rules at the time did not allow roll cages. His accident sparked the rule change that roll cages were mandated after that.


The most successful driver in Nationals history is Steve Kinser who has won the event a record 12 times. He leads virtually every major statistic, 17 top five finishes, 26 top ten finishes, won 14 preliminary night features, led 301 championship A-Main laps, set quick time in qualifying 9 times, qualified for the championship race 35 times in 37 entries, including a streak of 34 from 1978 through 2011. In 2005 Steve's son Kraig Kinser won this event, making Steve and Kraig the first father and son to win the Knoxville Nationals.

Donny Schatz has won the event eight times in the past nine years (2006-2014). Other multiple event winners are Doug Wolfgang a five time champion, Kenny Weld and Danny Lasoski four times, Mark Kinser three times, and Eddie Leavitt two times.


The event record car count is 166 cars in 1991. Mark Kinser has set quick time in qualifying a record ten times. Cody Darrah holds the Nationals event one lap track record with a lap 14.547 in 2009.

Donny Schatz won the championship race in 2013 from the 21st starting position the furthest starting position of a winner. The furthest anyone had won from previously was 14th by Steve Kinser in 1995 and Jerry Richert 1962.

Car owner Karl Kinser has graced victory lane a record 14 times with three different drivers (Dick Gaines, Steve Kinser and Mark Kinser).

Sanctioning body[edit]

From 1961 through 1977, the race was unsanctioned, meaning that it was 'open competition'. In 1978 Ted Johnson's World of Outlaws began to sanction the event, and did so through 2005. Because of the sanctioning body split between the WoO and National Sprint Tour in 2006, the Nationals became sanctioned under the Knoxville Raceway track rules. In 2012 and 2013 the WoO name has been associated with the race for a lower sanctioning fee, is not a full WoO point event, but the event is still operated by Knoxville Raceway officials.

Women Participants[edit]

12 women have participated in the Nationals. Erin Crocker is the only participant to qualify for the championship race and she has accomplished that feat twice in 2003 and 2010. The first female entrant was also the first African-American driver, Cheryl Glass in 1982. Other female entrants are Melinda Dumesney 1991-1992, Lisa French 1992-1993, Shawna Wilsky 1994-1995, Judi Bates 1996-1997, IndyCar driver Sarah Fisher 1997-1998, Chrstie Passmore 2000-2001, Natalie Sather 2005-2006, Becca Anderson 2006, Jessica Zemken 2006 & 2011, and Paige Polyak 2014.

International Competition[edit]

In 1985, multiple Australian Sprintcar Champion Garry Rush became the first Australian driver to qualify for the Nationals championship race and finished 12th. Kerry Madsen is the highest finishing Australian, finishing fifth in 2010. The event is annually attended by over 1,000 people from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and England. The World Challenge event is held on the Friday night of the Nationals each year and is a race featuring drivers from other countries who are entered, and any American driver who competed in Australia's World Series Sprintcars, and also in New Zealand.

Drivers from Australia who have become or were regular competitors at Knoxville include Australian Championship winners Garry Rush, Max Dumesny (winner of the 1985 Race of States at the Nationals, the first Australian to do so), Garry Brazier and current Knoxville Raceway lap one record holder Brooke Tatnell. Others have included Skip Jackson, Jamie Moyle, Kerry Madsen, Ian Madsen, Trevor Green and Mitchell Dumesny.

List of race winners[edit]

360 Knoxville Nationals[edit]

In 1991 the Knoxville Raceway started a National event for the 360 cubic inch engine sprint cars. It has been held annually each year since and is held the week before the Knoxville Nationals. Shane Stewart holds the record with five victories, while Terry McCarl has won it three times. 360 Knoxville Champions are: 1991 David Hesmer, 1992 Garry Lee Maier, 1993 Garry Lee Maier, 1994 Lee Nelson, 1995 Danny Lasoski, 1996 Terry McCarl, 1997 David Hesmer, 1998 Gary Wright, 1999 Dennis Moore Jr., 2000 Wayne Johnson, 2001 Terry McCarl, 2002 Jeff Swindell, 2003 Dennis Moore Jr., 2004 Billy Alley, 2005 Billy Alley, 2006 Jesse Gianetto, 2007 Shane Stewart, 2008 Wayne Johnson, 2009 Terry McCarl, 2010 Shane Stewart, 2011 Shane Stewart, 2012 Shane Stewart, 2013 Shane Stewart, 2014 Brian Brown.

Late Model Knoxville Nationals[edit]

In 2004 the Late Model Knoxville Nationals was born and is held annually at the end of September. Past champions are: 2004 Brian Birkhofer, 2005 Scott Bloomquist, 2006 Brian Shirley, 2007 Brady Smith, 2008 Tim McCreadie, 2009 Scott Bloomquist, 2010 Billy Moyer, 2011 Don O'Neal, 2012 Steve Francis, 2013 Darrell Lanigan.


  1. ^ a b Meredith, Luke. "Tim Shaffer wins Knoxville Nationals". Yahoo!. Retrieved 15 August 2010. 

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