Column By: DERICK KRINER / RPW – KNOXVILLE, IA – As the sprint car racing world turns its’ eyes to the Knoxville Raceway for the next four days, let’s take a look at the notable drivers competing in Wednesday’s prelim event as well as a few storylines to follow.
This is a short list of some of the driver’s who seem poised to either continue Knoxville Raceway success, or have a breakout performance.
Starting with the low hanging fruit, a standout driver that has a good track record at Knoxville is 2019 Nationals champion, David Gravel. Gravel earned a win back in June at the famed ½ mile, and led the majority of last year’s championship night. It should be no surprise to see Gravel perform well in Wednesday’s program, as well as Saturday’s show.
Another favorite to perform well Wednesday and potentially compete for a win Saturday is Donny Schatz. The Fargo, North Dakota native, has long been a threat to win at the Knoxville Nationals. Last year’s champion looks to go back to back, and also have a strong prelim night to gain valuable points, and put himself in a favorable position. Off of a Kings Royal crown a month ago, Schatz is showing his speed in the big money shows, as usual.
A polarizing driver that has shown good speed not only in a 360, but also in a 410 at Knoxville this year, is Aaron Reutzel. The Texas, turned Iowa racer, has been a dominant force in weekly competition at the Sprint Car Capital. After a razor thin loss in the 360 Nationals, Reutzel will be determined to get redemption. That starts with a potential Wednesday night win.
Aussie power in the form of James McFadden finds his way onto the watch list. After a victory in the Front Row Challenge in Oskaloosa, on Monday, James and the Roth 83 car seem to be finding speed. McFadden has had fairly good results at the Knoxville Raceway, but is lacking when it comes to the Nationals.
This could very well be the year that McFadden finds victory lane at some point during the week and could be considered a driver that is flying under the radar since the tire penalty earlier in the season.
A final driver that could land themselves in victory lane that might surprise fans, would be Zeb Wise. The Rudeen 26 has been fast this season and Zeb proved that he could manage the point structure well to put himself towards the front of a feature. While Wise is not a standout to win it all, he certainly could take the Brandt Professional Agriculture Qualifying Night trophy.
Who are some other notable expected participants in the Wednesday program?
Previous prelim night winner Jacob Allen who is looking to right the ship and turn his season around with a good performance.
2021 pole sitter Gio Scelzi is looking to replicate the points effort he had a few years ago, and put the KCP 18 out front come Saturday.
Parker Price-Miller has also shown speed at Knoxville this season, but is just lacking luck at the Iowa track. After a scary crash last season, Parker rebounded last week with a 360 Nationals Prelim win and a top five effort in Saturday’s finale, and looks to duplicate the performance in the 410.
Among all these driver storylines to follow, is what track conditions will be like after all the rain the speedway saw Sunday night and the potential rain that is expected throughout the first part of the day. Depending on how wide the track is, points could be very difficult to come by for quick qualifiers, with the eight-car inversion.
Not to say it can’t be done, but it has been a while since we have seen a lot of 8th-1st runs in heat race action. David Gravel has the most recent historic performance in 2017, with a quick time, 8th-1st heat race win, and the prelim feature checkered flag in the perfect 500 point night.
What can be predicted is that the action will be intense as drivers attempt to set themselves up for a guaranteed spot in Saturday’s finale.