By T.J. Buffenbarger, Mike Campbell Photo
20 Years after Bobby Allen produced one of the greatest upsets in sprint car racing history the Knoxville Nationals created another drama surprise when Tim Shaffer posted the victory in the 50th Anniversary Edition of the event. With an event that had seen a decline in attendance the 50th anniversary combined with memorable preliminary racing and a thrilling finale should bode well for the future.
After Knoxville Raceway officials took quite the blasting from critics (myself included) over the 50 lap feature with a pit stop, the A-Main shaped up to be a classic and one of the most memorable of all time. My new theory is changing up the format slightly was a good thing to help keep teams on their toes. Maybe the 30-lap distance was “too figured out” by some of the larger teams, and throwing a longer distance in helped shake up the biggest event in sprint car racing.
Saturday’s great feature also strengthens my theory that Knoxville sees some of its best nighttime racing following a day race. In the 12 or so Nationals I attended in the past some of the best night races I witnessed followed up a daytime makeup on the same day. The crazy thing is this occurrence is completely backwards of what logically should happen to the racing surface.
Shaffer also marked a true people’s champion that struggled through his early career in sub-par equipment, but his talent always shined through. Grinding through the All Star Circuit of Champions and Western Pennsylvania circuits in his own car, at stint in Central Pa, and road time on the World of Outlaws finally led Shaffer to CW Motorsports with Aaron Call, Janet Holbrook, and Brian Kemenah to create one of those magical combinations that just clicks. Shaffer was my “dark horse” pick to win the Nationals, but I didn’t choose him as such until after his preliminary win the Ironman 55.
Most of the feedback received by us via conversation and reading is positive from the 2010 Nationals. It appears a lot of people that had stayed away from the event fell in love with it again this year and plan on coming back. The attendance appeared to be up over all four nights and one has to wonder what this means for live television at the Nationals. I foresee tape delay for the near future.
The best part is seeing all most buzz around the Nationals that I’ve seen in about four or five years. Personally between my new son and family life I could not make it this year, but it would have been too “trendy” to show up at the 50th. The 51st edition is already on our calendar for 2011.
• For the first time since I can remember the World of Outlaws only had two of the top three finishers at the Knoxville Nationals as they head west. Shaffer is a regular with the All Star Circuit of Champions while third place finisher Shane Stewart runs with the ASCS Lucas Oil Sprint Car Series.
• The most talked about thing at Knoxville besides the good racing? The Budweiser Clydesdales appearing during all four days of the Nationals. Even though Kasey Kahne moving to Red Bull Racing on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit for 2011 and the Budwieser sponsorship going to Kevin Harvick, hopefully the Nationals sells enough “brew” to warrant the Clydesdales return in the future.
• The Canadian Sprint Car Nationals entry list was posted earlier this week. Some of the notable early entries include Shane Stewart as a teammate to Darren Long on the J.G. Motorsports team. J.G. Motorsports partner Tim Norman told me earlier in the season it was just right to come back with Shane to defend the title as a teammate to Long. Look for one of the cars to be pulled on Norman’s open trailer to Canada. Could this lead to the first team to win the Nationals with an open trailer?
As of Wednesday 29 cars were entered including Randy Hannagan in the Miles #77x car, Lou and Thomas Kennedy from Alberta, all time ASCS SOD feature winner Dustin Daggett, and two time Candian Nationals champion Steve Poirier.
• The other faction of sprint car racing that is creating real buzz is the new ownership behind the Golden State Challenge series in California. Dan Simpson and his group have been extremely active behind the scenes with video and promotion preparing for a breakout 2011 season. Reaction by teams and west coast promoters has been positive to date. Keep an eye on this series.
• Get well wishes go out to Jack Dover, who was injured at Nebraska Raceway Park during a Sprint Bandit TNT event. Dover is currently in the hospital at Creighton University and is making some progress in his recovery from some pretty painful injuries.
I’m getting back into the swing of things with this altered routine for Fatherhood. Hopefully, now that I’m in the groove, this blog will become frequently updated again.