By T.J. Buffenbarger
(August 14, 2021) — Amid a youth movement in the sport of sprint car racing where several of the biggest stars are in their 20’s and early 30’s Brooke Tatnell drew a lot of attention as the fastest qualifier on his preliminary night and locking himself into the Knoxville Nationals finale.
Two weeks ago, Tatnell’s friend and fellow driver Lynton Jeffrey got together with car owners Glenn Styres, who also owns Ohsweken Speedway, and Justin Webb to put together a Knoxville Nationals effort for the highly decorated driver orginally from Sans Souci, New South Wales, Australia and resides in Forest Lake, Minnesota.
“We have been friends for a long time, raced go karts when we were five/seven years old. He was like, ‘You know what, how many more opportunities are you going to get to run the Nationals in a good car?” Lynton put the whole deal together. I owe him a ton of respect and thanks to make it happen.”
The deal with Styres and was a perfect fit for Tatnell due to work and his family obligations at home.
“I didn’t really have anything going on. We were in limbo with my wife’s health issues and making sure I could be here, so it’s basically a two-week deal,” said Tatnell. “We had a couple of local sponsors, Midwest Seamless and Pubs on Grand, step up and put in a little money in to help us get here.”
Even though Tatnell has not been racing as much, his expectations for himself and the team were to be locked into the Knoxville Nationals finale on Saturday. The thing Tatnell didn’t expect to happen was end up being the fastest qualifier on his preliminary night.
“That was out of the expectations was setting quick time, said Tatnell. “It’s funny, I sit here and define our whole Knoxville career on based on two laps, a track record 15 or so odd years ago, and a qualifying night at the Nationals. We’ve always been a decent qualifier, but not a fast time qualifier. It just shows how strong the HP motors are.”
Tatnell has won at the highest levels of the sport in the United States and Australia but realizes at age 50 that the opportunities to drive quality equipment may be few and far between.
“Like Paul McMahan said, you don’t know how many more opportunities you are going to have,” said Tatnell about having a quality ride for an event like the Knoxville Nationals. “It’s not that we can’t get it done, its just that the opportunities are not there as much. I’ve got a family and I’m working jobs full time, so opportunities are very limited. I know what we are capable of doing, and I plan showing that tonight.”
• Dominic Scelzi arrived at the Marion County Fairgrounds this afternoon. After crossing paths after the public drivers meeting, Dominic was accompanying his brother Giovanni, indicating that staying with Gio was his duty for the day. Dominic indicated that it was unusual being on the grounds and not competing, but mostly wanted to talk about how excited and proud he was of his brother starting on the pole for tonight’s main event.
• One of the most enjoyable parts of the Friday Hard Knox program is to see how happy the drivers are after the race compared to the previous format where the winner would end up with the “honor” of earning the 11th starting spot in the C-Main.
• One of the most emotional moments we have seen since the new Friday format was implemented was seeing how happy Anthony Macri was to make his first Knoxville Nationals Saturday A-Main. Macri, who’s talents blasting around the rim of the Port Royal Speedway is appointment viewing on Saturday night, was visibly excited about the achievement for him and his race team.
I’m still kind of speechless honestly,” said Macri. “I don’t even know if this is my seventh trip to Knoxville, so to put it in the Nationals honestly is unreal to me and a dream come true. I’m honestly struggling for words right now.”
Macri indicated the team’s top goal for the season was to make the Knoxville Nationals.
• Shane Stewart echoed some of same sentiments that Tatnell did about making the Knoxville Nationals later in a driver’s career. With only a couple of races under his belt this season, Stewart charged through the field on Friday to secure a starting spot in the Knoxville Nationals finale. Stewart indicated though that the younger drivers in the sport have changed the game for veterans like himself.
“The speed here has changed so much over the last three or four years with the young guys,” said Stewart. “Kyle Larson has made me a huge fan of sprint car racing again because I know how hard it is to race these cars and he makes it look so easy. I was trying to study a little of what he was doing last night on restarts and you can always learn from somebody and I continue to try and do that.”
After the Knoxville effort, Stewart left the door open to see him in a car again possibly this season and even in 2022.
“I don’t know how many races I have left in me. Obviously my main focus is Port City, and we race all the way through the end of October. We’ve maybe talked about running World Finals, picking and choosing a few races next year, and maybe trying to do this race next year. We always take this weekend off at the racetrack.”
T.J.’s Thoughts leading into the Saturday finale
Earlier this week I stated this is one of the most wide open Knoxville Nationals I could recall. After two nights of racing I believe Saturday’s finale will come down to a race between David Gravel, Kyle Larson, and Brad Sweet.
Gravel and Larson have both shown tremendous speed all week. Gravel would love to add a second Nationals title with a second car owner, but based on comments earlier in the week earning that title by topping Larson could make it ever sweeter.
Larson has been so good the past two season in sprint car racing and was the winner of the “One and Only” last year at Knoxville. Larson has free reign at the moment for his short track exploits, but one never knows how long that will continue. Larson will be prime to capitalize on this moment.
Sweet has had a solid but quiet week so far. Going about his business and putting his car on the outside of the front row, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we saw the NAPA Auto Parts sponsored Kasey Kahne Racing entry in victory lane on Saturday.