It doesn't matter if it is overcast, cold, damp and windy. When the World of Outlaws come to the Knoxville Raceway a large crowd will show up no matter what the conditions are and, in fact, some of the best racing here will be seen in this type of weather. That was definitely the case Saturday night as drivers were able to find the racing line that worked best with their setup low, high and just about every inch of real estate in between on the big half-mile.
The 25-lap headliner for the World of Outlaws got off to a rough start when fifth-starting Kraig Kinser hooked the inside berm in turn one and went for a tumble. The accident grew as in the scramble to miss the rolling Kinser, Rager Phillips and Don Droud Jr. made contact sending both of their rides upside down as well. All drivers were uninjured and in fact Kinser would be able to restart after making repairs during the clean up of the Droud/Phillips tangle.
Local favorite Brian Brown had earned the pole position with a dominating win of the Dash and when the green waved again he drove away from fellow front-row starter Craig Dollanksy. The racing was intense behind them though and on lap three Steve Kinser pulled a big slider on Terry McCarl in turns one and two. The two may have touched just a bit and when it looked like a big wreck was about to happen Ian Madsen took evasive action just behind them. Kinser and McCarl made the save, but Madsen spun sideways and rolled his car over once to necessitate a red flag. The crowd buzzed when McCarl gestured to Kinser as the two came to a stop side-by-side under the flagstand and the two veterans used hand signals to discuss the finer points of driving this track that both have won so often on. Madsen went to the work area for his crew to do a quick check and he returned for the restart with some bent up wing panels. But on his first time going through turn two, he once again looped the car and tipped it over onto its side in virtually the same exact spot as just moments before.
The chilled crowd was ready to watch some green flag racing and the field now delivered as Brown fought off a couple of challenges from Joey Saldana following the restart before again setting sail on the cushion and opening up a lead. Sammy Swindell had originally started seventh, but slid up to fifth following Kraig Kinser's mishap and he was now the man on the move blowing past Saldana for second and running down Brown when the leader began to work traffic. Swindell started searching out some different grooves as he closed in and on lap fifteen he entered turn three high, kicked the right-rear off the cushion and aimed the nose wing for the very bottom of turn four and that combination allowed him to drive past Brown for the lead with ten laps remaining.
Brown was not about to give in maintaining Swindell's pace and as those two negotiated lapped traffic that was racing two and three-wide in front of them, both Saldana and Dollansky were closing in setting up what looked like would be a classic battle. Unfortunately that never materialized though as sixth-running Kerry Madsen tangled with the lapped car of Robby Wolfgang in turn three and the caution waved with just six laps to go.
On the restart Swindell had wide open space in front of him, plus the battle for second was now the focus for Brown, Saldana and Dollansky. Sammy walked away over the final three miles to take the win as his Big Game Tree Stands teammate Dollansky prevailed over Saldana in the battle for second. Brown was fading at the end, but still had enough to fight off a last lap slider from Donny Schatz to finish fourth and when Schatz lost some momentum on that missed bid at Brown, Danny Lasoski was there to take advantage and finish in fifth. Dusty Zomer came all the way from row eleven to seventh, Jason Sides from row ten to eighth, Brad Sweet took ninth and Terry McCarl finished where he started in tenth.
The 18-lap main event for the 360 division was a thriller that saw six lead changes on the track and one in the tech area before determining a winner. It too though had to wait for the third try before getting underway as Alan Ambers spun on the first attempt at a start, and the second try brought the crowd to silence. Lee Grosz started on the inside of row four and as he raced his way into turn one he hopped the wheel of Joe Beaver sending the #4J of Grosz into a high-speed tumble that bounced him high into the air. The car hit near the top of the guardrail in turn one and was launched even higher yet before landing on its side in a crumpled mass. The Knoxville Raceway Safety Crew rushed to the scene to assist and you could feel the collective sigh of relief when it was radioed up to announcer Tony Bokhoven that Grosz was alert and talking. And the crowd gave up a great round of applause when the young man from Harwood, North Dakota, climbed from the car under his own power a few minutes later.
Once started veteran driver Tom Lenz, who has not posted a top-five finish in the division since 2009, drove to the early lead with Josh Higday in hot pursuit. With Lenz working the middle groove, Higday drove by him on the outside of turn four to take the lead on lap three only to have Lenz take it right back with a bold move in turns one and two. As these two swapped the lead Nate Van Haaften was closing in and on lap six he found the bite that he needed off the low line of turn four to race from third to first. Higday soon dispatched of Lenz and now had to set his sights on a new obstacle between himself and victory in Van Haaften. The caution waved with five laps remaining as Beaver slapped the turn four guardrail and on the restart it was clear that we would have a battle to the wire with Higday up high and Van Haaften down low.
Higday would get the advantage on the restart only to give back that lead with three circuits remaining. As the white flag waved the two contenders crossed the line wing-to-wing with Van Haaften holding a split second advantage and they remained even exiting turn two. The lapped car of Ambers loomed ahead though and when he went to the bottom entering turn three, Van Haaften's chosen groove was no longer available and Higday was first to the checkers. However, after making the minimum weight at the scales it was discovered that Higday was using a tire that was not legal and the official victory would go to Nate Van Haaften. Clint Garner who started tenth would now be the runner-up with Lenz holding on for third, division rookie Carson McCarl was fourth and Russ Hall rounded out the top five.
K-Ville Notes......I hustled to get up to Knoxville in time to catch the last few minutes of Ralph Capitani's Retirement Party/Reception during the afternoon and it was great to get a chance to talk to the man who will always be remembered as one of the most respected figures in racing. He will be missed in his duties, but we all hope to see him around the track here for many years to come as he gets a chance to sit back and enjoy the events that unfold each race night at this legendary facility that "Cappy" played such a major role in developing......Absolutely no drop off is expected and even he will tell you that bigger and better things are ahead under the leadership of Promoter Toby Kruse, race Director John McCoy and Marketing Director Brian Stickel, all three of which I had the opportunity to watch do their jobs so well on this race night......Trey Starks has been anxiously awaiting his first opportunity to race at the Knoxville Raceway and, after turning sixteen, the Puyallup, Washington, youngster made quite an impression. He will always remember his first heat race at Knoxville as he outran the pole-sitter, some old guy named Schatz, and then left Joey Saldana far behind to take the win and earn the pole position for the Dash. He was able to hold on for third in that one putting him in the second row for his first-ever main event at the track, against the World of Outlaws nonetheless! The youngster tried to maintain the fast pace early, but faded to a 16th-place finish in what will still be a night that he will remember for the rest of his life.....The 360's had a couple of other incidents during preliminary action. Dylan Peterson would take an awkward roll down the frontstretch when his right rear axle broke loose during group qualifying. He would be able to make repairs in time to start the feature from the tail. And in the third heat Matt Moro was an innocent victim when Chad Heimbaugh tried to exit too low off of turn four and the berm shot him hard right into Moro. Both cars got upside down although Heimbaugh was able to return to action later in the evening......Series announcer John Gibson still sends chills down my spine when he gives the familiar call of "often imitated, never duplicated, the greatest show on dirt, the World of Outlaws", but he is going to have to put a little more of a redneck twang in a his voice when listing Terry McCarl's new sponsor Lord I Apologize Barbecue Sauces. Think I'm gonna order a couple of bottles right now.....A big thanks to Bill Wright and Stacy Ervin for allowing me to join them in the warm booth and it was great to see the entire crew again as they "put me to work" to earn my comfort. I also enjoyed meeting Des Moines Register sportswriter Andy Hamilton who is looking forward to covering the track for the state's premier newspaper.
Persistent rain looks like it will wash out all of my Sunday night options so my April racing schedule is complete. I want to thank all of you who have visited this month as you have made this the most amount of traffic in one month ever here on the Back Stretch topping July of 2010. Keep checking back in, or better yet, place a bookmark here and I will do my best to keep you entertained and informed about the racing action here in the heart of it all, Iowa. And, if you haven't done so, make sure that you check in with all of my colleagues at Positively Racing where you will also find racing schedules and our own unique look at points.