Nick Knepper will be driving on his home-town track Friday night when the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series races at Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill. It’s an event he approaches with mixed emotions.
“I love it and hate at the same time,“ Knepper explained. “I love the race track, the racing is unbelievable. It’s second to none. But I hate having a bad showing there. It’s a track in my home town and you kind of feel a little more pressure.”
Knepper is the POWRi Midgets points leader going into Belle-Clair and Saturday’s event at Macon (Ill.) Speedway. The 24-year-old finished second in the season opener at the Southern Illinois Center’s Mini Magic Mile in Du Quoin, third Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Mo., and fourth at Lucas Oil Raceway in Wheatland, Mo., and leads Dereck King, of Vienna, Ill., 540-490.
Knepper closed out the 2010 POWRi season strongly, ending fourth in the championship, and his family-owned-and-run team have carried that performance level into this season.
“It’s all started from last year,“ Knepper said. “I never counted them, but the last seven or eight races, I don’t think we finished out of the top five. We rolled into Chili Bowl in January and kept it going.
Knepper advanced with second places in his heat and A qualifying races and was third in Thursday’s A main to reach the featured, grand finale A main on Saturday night at the legendary Midget event in Tulsa, Okla., that has more than 250 entries annually and brings together the best Midget drivers and teams from coast to coast.
“I was running fourth behind the two Swindells (Kevin, Sammy) and Bryan Clauson and Clauson got crossed up and I got taken out with nine laps to go,” Knepper said. “We’ve been rolling since then.”
Knepper has one victory at Belle-Clair, in May, 2009.
“After I won in 2009, a month later we came back and I was leading the feature with 10 (laps) to go and a lapped car flipped and I got collected,“ Knepper said. “lt felt like I could have won that race, too.”
Knepper has been racing in the POWRi Midgets since 2005, steadily adding the number of events.
“We did five in 2005, half the season in 2006, three-quarters in 2007 and 2008 and all but about two or three shows in 2009 and 2010,” he said.
Knepper had a strong start in 2009, but didn’t sustain it. He and the team, which includes his grandfather Walter Knepper and father Steve Knepper, have made strides forward since then.
“In 2009, we started out good as well,” Nick Knepper said. “My maturity level as a driver is a lot higher than 2009 and I’m more prepared as a driver this year than I was then. We’ve gotten better as a team and that’s 85 percent of the battle. It’s a team group effort. My grandpa takes care of the motor and my dad and I take care of the chassis.”
The POWRi season moves on to Macon, like Belle-Clair a 1/5th-mile, high banked track on Saturday.
“We’ve got momentum and I’m happy to start racing on a regular basis,” Knepper said. “The way things are going, we plan on going for it all (championship).”
The POWRi Midgets will be joined by the POWRi Speedway Motors 600cc Outlaw Micros and Super Late Models at Belle-Clair. The Micros also race at Macon on Saturday.
POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series top-10 points (after three of 30 events): 1. Nick Knepper 540, 2. Dereck King 490, 3. Brad Kuhn 460, 4. Tim Siner 420, 5. Zach Daum 390, 6. Chett Gehrke 360, 7. Tyler Robbins 350, 8. Brett Anderson 340, 9. Brad Loyet 270, 10. Austin Brown 185.
POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series 2011 race winners: Du Quoin–Tony Roney; Grain Valley–Brett Anderson; Wheatland–Brad Loyet.
For more information on POWRi Racing, go to www.POWRi.com.