Billy Knippenberg Kankakee Promoter A
New Kankakee County Speedway promoter Billy Knippenberg puts a few last minute finishing touches up at the speedway before the track’s opening night last Friday. (Speedway photo)

KALWASINSKI: Knippenberg Comes Full Circle

CHICAGO — New promoter Billy Knippenberg was able to get his first stock car racing program of the year in at Kankakee County Speedway last Friday after losing a couple of events to weather.  

The speedway will host the DIRTcar Summer Nationals presented by Country Chevrolet on June 14 at the quarter-mile dirt oval. The program will consist of a $5,000-to-win 40-lapper for late models and a $1,500-to-win 25-lap modified main event, part of DIRTcar’s Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals. 

The Pro Late Model and stock car divisions will also see action.

“It’s a big purse and a lot of money to put out there,” said Knippenberg about his first Summer Nationals promotion. “I think the car counts are really going to be good. I predict full car counts even for a Tuesday night. Meineke Car Care Center of Bourbonnais is helping with sponsorship of the stock car division.”  

For a while, it looked like there would be no racing at Kankakee in 2022 or beyond.

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Billy Knippenberg and his late model No. 01 racing on the pavement at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill., in 2018. (Stan Kalwasinski photo)

“The fair board voted not to have racing at Kankakee in 2022,” said Knippenberg. “I don’t know the ins and outs and details about it, but there was not going to be any racing. Kankakee might never have racing again. I was thinking I bet 50 racers are going to quit after this season (if Kankakee doesn’t open).  

“I did look at doing this last year, but we (former promoter Tom Smith and I) couldn’t come to terms. I chose not to do it. (This year) he (Smith) called me and said racing wasn’t going to happen. We came to terms to what would work for me, and I went to the fair board with my proposal/contract and they accepted it. At the end of the day, I hated to see another track close and see a bunch of racers quit racing.”

Tom Smith handled the promotion reins at Kankakee for 13 years but had been thinking of getting away from it for several years.

“I did purchase the business from Tom Smith and part of the deal was for him to give me all the business information and advice to get me going that I needed,” Knippenberg commented. “He has held up his end of the bargain for sure. I couldn’t have done what I have done in the last month without that information.”   

For a first-year promoter, Knippenberg has some sound ideas.

“We’ve generated over 80 sponsors over the last six weeks including a lot of small stuff,” said Knippenberg. “It all helps. I’ve set it up to give it all back to the racers.

“I want to build my show first. (Previously), there were divisions lacking cars. There was a lack of excitement for the drivers and the fans. I want to put on a very good show. I’m a firm believer that if I fill that grandstands and I put out a poor product, they (the fans) won’t come back.”

Asked about his opening night, Knippenberg said, “I’m going to give myself about a ‘C’. We had a great crowd and a great car count – 97 cars in the pits. The promoting part did really well as far as getting people and cars here. That part went really well. I made a lot of mistakes throughout the night though. The concession lines were long and I have to work on that. I will be my biggest critic.”  

At nearly 49 years old, Knippenberg has been racing for more than 30 years, following his dad Bill’s footsteps.

Knippenberg has won track championships on both paved and dirt tracks since 1990, including four championships on the pavement at Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill. — two late model crowns and two sportsman titles.

He was the Pro Late Model champion at both Kankakee and Indiana’s Shadyhill Speedway last year.

“I’ve raced for 32 years and it’s not going to hurt me to race less,” said Knippenberg. “I raced at Spoon River (Illinois) last Saturday and I’m going to run some Saturday events here and there and try to make it more fun. I raced 46 nights last year. I’ve come full circle. I started racing in 1990 here at Kankakee in a limited late model.” 

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