Kn Sat Ari 15 Donny Schatz Gets By 21 Brian Brown To Take The Lead. 2882007
Donny Schatz (15) gets by Brian Brown to take the lead. (Dick Ayers photo)

Knoxville By The Numbers  

When an event has been run 60 times, it is certain to be associated with some amazing statistics and that’s certainly the case with the NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals.

On the cusp of the 61st annual event on Aug. 10-13 at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway, we felt it timely to share some of those numbers.

• Making Predictions

Entering the 61st running of the Knoxville Nationals, one can conclude that predicting a winner is as much of a quandary as ever. The last five years have produced five different winners: Kyle Larson (2021), David Gravel (2019), Brad Sweet (2018), Donny Schatz (2017) and Jason Johnson (2016).

Only one such stretch produced more different winners, and that concluded with seven different victors 50 years ago: Kenny Weld (1972), Jan Opperman (1971), Joe Saldana (1970), Kenny Gritz (1969), Ray Lee Goodwin (1968), Thad Dosher (1967) and Jay Woodside (1966).

•  State Of Confusion

There are several anomalies of the Knoxville Nationals. Did you know no driver from Iowa has ever tasted victory on Saturday night? The best shots were Mike Brooks, who recorded a perfect score of 500 points in 1980. He seemed unbeatable in Harrold Annett’s beautiful TMC sprinter when the feature pushed off on Saturday night. But then the fog rolled in, and despite all efforts, the event was postponed to Sunday afternoon.

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Steve Kinser won 12 main events at the Knoxville Nationals. (Dave Hill photo)

Brooks’ right-rear tire never survived it and Steve Kinser went on to win his first of 12 main events at the Nationals.  Of course, Kinser was driving for Iowa owner Bob Trostle after destroying Karl Kinser’s entry on the first qualifying night.

Yes, rules have changed a bit, but an Iowa driver is still seeking the top of the podium. Earl Wagner (two thirds and a second), Terry McCarl (third in 2007) and Randy Smith (second in 1979) have had realistic chances, but despite Knoxville regulars and champions having won the Nationals, none claimed Iowa as their home.

It’s no surprise that Indiana leads all states with 17 Nationals titlists. Missouri and North Dakota have 10 (all Peace Garden State wins are carried by Donny Schatz). Pennsylvania and South Dakota (all Doug Wolfgang) have five. Kansas, Nebraska and California carry two victories and Kentucky, Minnesota, Arizona, Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana and Connecticut claim one each.

A recent change of the guard has shaken things up. Despite California claiming more National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductees than any state, Brad Sweet was their first triumph at the Nationals in 2018. Sweet’s brother-in-law from Elk Grove — Kyle Larson — followed that up last year.

David Gravel planted the flag for Connecticut in 2019 and Jason Johnson for Louisiana in 2016. Ohio is a hotbed for sprint car racing, but Dave Blaney’s triumph in 1997 still remains the state’s best outing.

•  Hits & Misses

Roy Robbins won the first Knoxville Nationals in 1961, but never finished better than 12th in three more tries. Jerry Richert won in 1962, but in two other appearances suffered DNFs. Richert’s win came from 14th, a record that stood until Steve Kinser started in the same spot 33 years later. Those are still a record for a 30-lap distance. 

Donny Schatz won from 21st in 2013, however, it was a 50-lap race and he took the lead on lap 41. Some one-time winners have struggled in other appearances. To date, Gravel’s best finish outside of his win has been 10th in his nine appearances. Outside of his win in 1974, Dick Gaines managed only two ninth-place finishes in his seven appearances.

•  Attempts

Sammy Swindell is heads above the rest in the number of Knoxville Nationals attempted, and it looks like he’ll be back this year. It will mark his 47th appearance in the 61 Nationals. That means he’s competed in 77 percent of them. 

Steve Kinser is next on the list with 39 appearances, followed by Danny Smith (37), Jac Haudenschild (37), Danny Lasoski (34), Terry McCarl (34), Jeff Swindell (32) and Don Droud Jr. (31).

Kinser tops the all-time list with 35 appearances in the Nationals finale. Swindell has 34 starts, followed by Lasoski (26), Donny Schatz (23), McCarl (22), Stevie Smith (21), Paul McMahan (20) and Shane Stewart (20).

•  Poles

With eight pole starts at the Knoxville Nationals, Steve Kinser has more than any other driver. Donny Schatz ranks second with six. Others to have started on the Nationals pole on multiple occasions are Danny Lasoski (4), Sammy Swindell (3), Mark Kinser (3), Joe Saldana (3), Dave Blaney (2), Ray Lee Goodwin (2), Tim Green (2), Roy Robbins (2), Stevie Smith (2), Kenny Weld (2) and Doug Wolfgang (2o). 

•  Streaks

When Steve Kinser started his streak of 34 consecutive appearances in  the Nationals finale in 1978, “Grease” was the No. 1 movie in the nation, “How Deep is Your Love” by the Bee Gees topped the charts and gas was 65 cents a gallon.  When it ended in 2011, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” was the favorite movie, “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele topped the charts and gas averaged $3.53 a gallon. In those 34 Knoxville Nationals features, Kinser won 12 times, recording 16 top-five finishes and 24 top-10 results.

That record was thought unbeatable, but then came Donny Schatz. Last year marked his 23rd straight main-event appearance. He’s chalked up a higher win rate with 10 wins (44%) and has 19 top-five efforts and 21 top-10 finishes.

Shane Stewart has qualified for 20 straight Nationals features. Others with active streaks in the category include David Gravel (9), Kerry Madsen (8), Brad Sweet (8), Rico Abreu (6), Ian Madsen (5) and Logan Schuchart (5).

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Mark and Karl Kinser pose in victory lane in 1996. (Paul Arch photo)

• Age

Kenny Weld lied about his age when he won the Nationals in 1964. Though 21 years old was the requirement, he visited victory lane at just 18 years, 9 months and 4 days old. Weld is the youngest winner on record. 

Steve Kinser’s 2002 victory made him the oldest winner at 48 years, 2 months and 8 days.

• Top 10s

Steve Kinser predictably leads in top-10 finishes with 27 top-10 efforts in his 35 features. Schatz (21) is second, followed by Sammy Swindell (20), Danny Lasoski (18), Stevie Smith (14), Craig Dollansky (14), Mark Kinser (13), Doug Wolfgang (12), Jeff Swindell (11), Shane Stewart (11), Jac Haudenschild (10) and Joey Saldana (10).

• Runners-Up

Coming one spot short and finishing second has been a cruel twist of fate and a harbinger of better things to come during the Knoxville Nationals. Donny Schatz blows the competition away in this category. Before he won his 10 titles, he finished second a whopping five times. He’s now finished second in the Nationals on eight occasions.

Other winners with multiple second-place finishes include Jan Opperman (3), Sammy Swindell (3), Davey Blaney (2), Steve Kinser (2), Danny Lasoski (2) and Doug Wolfgang (2).

Those who have had to settle for the bridesmaid role on multiple occasions include Brian Brown (3e), Joey Saldana (3), Jerry Blundy (2), Bobby Davis Jr. (2) and Jeff Swindell (2).

• Car Owners

As far as team owners go, Karl Kinser reigned supreme at the August Classic for many years. His 14 trips to the top of the podium have long gone unchallenged, but Tony Stewart has been hot on his heels in recent years. Tony Stewart Racing has won the race 11 times.

Winning as an owner is just as difficult as it is for a driver. Only eight owners have won multiple titles.  In addition to Kinser and Stewart, they are Bob Weikert (4), Steve Kinser (3), Taylor “Pappy” Weld (3), Jason Johnson Racing (2), Donny Schatz (2) and Bob Trostle (2).

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