Column By: ALEX NIETEN / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – KNOXVILLE, IA – The Granddaddy of ‘Em All is here. The time has come for the 62nd NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Store.
All eyes of the Sprint Car world will be fixed on Iowa’s Marion County Fairgrounds as the top talents from all of Sprint Car racing converge on the iconic half mile that is Knoxville Raceway. World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car teams. PA Posse. Cali Clique. Gassers from coast to coast. The best drivers from every region are bound for the “Hawkeye State” with dreams of Sprint Car immortality.
This year’s edition has grown even more with the total purse for the four-day event exceeding a million dollars. The winner’s share for Saturday has been upped to $185,000, and making the main event is worth $15,000 – up $5,000 from only a year ago.
The pursuit of Knoxville Nationals glory begins Wednesday, Aug. 9, with the first of two split-field prelims. The second will follow on Thursday and help decide the first 16 starters for Saturday via accumulating points. Friday serves as #HardKnox night which will add four more to the main event. And then Saturday’s alphabet soup will complete the lineup before 24 of the nation’s best lay it all on the line for 50 laps.
Let’s look at the weekend’s top storylines:
A CHANCE AT HISTORY: Back in 2002, Steve Kinser scored his 12th Knoxville Nationals victory – a record that many thought couldn’t be touched. At the time, nobody else owned more than five. But thanks to his 11th title last season, Donny Schatz has a chance to equal “The King” this year.
All 11 of Schatz’ triumphs have occurred in the last 16 years. In the five years Schatz didn’t win over that span, he finished second on four occasions. Before he won his first in 2006, Schatz ran runner-up four more times. In 24 career starts in the Knoxville Nationals finale, Schatz has missed the top two only five times and owns a 3.5 average finish.
With such a mind-boggling résumé, it will come as no surprise if Schatz parks the Tony Stewart/Curb Agajanian Racing #15 in Victory Lane when all is said and done to equal one of the sport’s most astonishing records.
AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB: While five former Knoxville Nationals champions are entered for the 2023 edition, only Schatz belongs in the exclusive club of multi-time winners. That leaves four others vying to become the eighth driver in event history to top the Crown Jewel multiple times.
Kraig Kinser triumphed 18 years ago for his one and only Nationals win. The Bloomington, IN native has teamed with Premier Motorsports for a run this year. Kinser also owns three more Knoxville Feature victories including a 2016 Nationals prelim.
Brad Sweet broke through in 2018 at “The Sprint Car Capital of the World.” Sweet and his Kasey Kahne Racing crew carry the point lead into the week, but the Knoxville Nationals is all about the glory of winning as championship points aren’t a factor. In addition to his Nationals title, Sweet has collected three more World of Outlaws wins at Knoxville, most recently in 2019.
A year after Sweet’s win, it was David Gravel’s turn to taste Nationals Victory Lane as he wheeled the Jason Johnson Racing #41 to an emotional victory in 2019. The Watertown, CT native has been incredibly successful at the historic half-mile with 11 total wins including the most recent Knoxville World of Outlaws race in June.
Kyle Larson was the most recent driver to add their name to the list of champions. Two years ago, “Yung Money” parked the Silva Motorsports #57 in Victory Lane for his first title in The Granddaddy of ‘Em All. Larson is fresh off a thrilling Ironman 55 score and looking to become a multi-time Knoxville Nationals champion.
A NEW NAME?: While a handful of drivers have proven they’re capable of winning the Nationals, a few drivers stand out as favorites to claim the Crown Jewel for the first time.
Carson Macedo may not have an eye-popping Knoxville résumé, but his 2023 performance suggests he can’t be counted out. He’s already racked up five wins this season. Jason Johnson Racing is a two-time Nationals winning team (2016 with Jason Johnson and 2019 with David Gravel). Macedo has won a trio of Knoxville Features with JJR including a pair of 2021 World of Outlaws events.
It’s impossible to not mention Brian Brown among the favorites to notch their first Nationals. “Blackjack” is fresh off topping his second 360 Nationals in a photo finish. Brown has nearly done it all at “The Sprint Car Capital of the World.” He’s a multi-time track champion, second on the all-time track win list, and he’s been a Nationals runner-up on three occasions. This week he looks to seal the deal on Knoxville’s ultimate accomplishment.
Rico Abreu has been as strong as any car in the country this year with Ricky Warner on the wrenches. Competing on a part-time basis, Abreu has already racked up four World of Outlaws wins this year. Less than two weeks ago the St. Helena, CA native topped an All-Star Circuit of Champions (ASCoC) race at Knoxville. The last two years Abreu has won the Hard Knox night, but his 2023 speed suggests he may lock in from his prelim and have the privilege of sitting out Friday.
Any Knoxville race is a home race for KCP Racing. The Des Moines, IA based team has Giovanni Scelzi behind the wheel as he continues his rookie World of Outlaws season in the Knoxville Nationals. The combination won the 2021 360 Nationals and sat on the pole of the 410 Nationals the next week before finishing fourth. With their strong track record, “Hot Sauce” could be in the running for the win on Saturday.
SHARK SWEEP: Last year’s preliminary action was dominated by Shark Racing, and the duo of Logan Schuchart and Jacob Allen will look to replicate that performance in 2023 and punctuate the week with a Knoxville Nationals crown.
A year ago, Schuchart got the week started by claiming the Capitani Classic. He then backed that up with a Wednesday prelim triumph. His teammate – Allen – won his first Knoxville Feature the next night to complete a Shark sweep of the prelims.
The duo finished off the week with impressive charges (Schuchart: 17th to 3rd, Allen 11th to 5th) to put both of 1990 Knoxville Nationals champion – Bobby Allen’s – cars in the top five on the sport’s biggest stage.
ROOKIE RUNS: It’s going to be tough to top Buddy Kofoid’s strong Knoxville Nationals JETCO Rookie of the Year run from last year when he finished 11th, but this year’s rookie crop features 18 names and boasts some notable talent.
With as long as he’s been making waves in a Sprint Car, it’s hard to believe this year will be Ryan Timms’ first Knoxville Nationals attempt. The Oklahoma phenom doesn’t have a ton of Knoxville experience, but he did finish 12th in a local race last month.
Chase Randall has impressed many this year as he continues his rise through the Sprint Car ranks. The Waco, TX driver owns six overall wins this year – three of which have been behind the wheel of a 360 Sprint Car at Knoxville.
Another Texan turning heads this year is Lubbock’s Brenham Crouch. He’s currently leading the Interstate Racing Association (IRA) point standings and will be making his way to Iowa for a rookie run at the Nationals.
HANDIN’ OUT HARDWARE: On top of competing for the glory of a Knoxville Nationals title, teams can also receive a number of awards this week.
Teams and drivers will be recognized for the following accomplishments: Best Appearing Car Award, Best Appearing Crew, Best Appearing Helmet, Mr. Sprint Car Award, Rookie of the Year Award, Hard Charger Award, and Pole Award.