By Don Ward
SPARTA. Ky. (May 2007) If the cold, brisk wind that blew on April 15 was any indication of the challenge Street Stock drivers may face May 26 in the inaugural Frank Kimmel Enduro Nationals event at the Kentucky Speedway, then fans are in for a real treat.
Photo by Don Ward
Owensboro driver Jeff Maysey is all smiles
April 15 after testing his race car on
the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway tri-oval.
The 8 p.m. race could feature as many as 125 cars, with starting positions determined by a random blind draw just hours before the green flag drops. The winner will collect $10,000 of the $25,000 purse. It is a format conceived by Kimmel, the Clarksville, Ind., native and record eight-time ARCA RE/MAX Series champion.
Its going to show fans what blue collar racing is all about, Kimmel said during an April 17 press conference to kick off the 2007 season at the track. Its going to be an amazing event.
Drivers were offered a free test day in April on the 1.5-mile tri-oval track in Sparta to get a taste of what it will be like on race day in May. Wind is one thing, but traffic is another. Add to that another challenge of driving with a wicker bill attached to each car to regulate the speed.
Our first priority is safety, so we added the wicker bill to slow them down, said Kimmel. Its a strict set of rules that we came up with to provide safety for the drivers.
Kimmel said he borrowed some ideas from the annual Halloween 200 race at half-mile Salem (Ind.) Speedway, where many area drivers compete on a short track. At the mid-point of the 100-lap, 150-mile race, drivers will be forced to pit and shut their cars down to re-fuel and replace tires or make other car adjustments. Then drivers will take the track again to finish the remaining 50 laps. Top speeds will approach 130 mph., Kimmel said.
We want to avoid hot pit stops and help reduce the cost for these teams to compete, he said. It will also make it a lot safer.
Several top drivers from area tracks have entered the race, and the list included 110 drivers as of late April. Track officials believe that number may approach 150 before the May event.
Its going to be a popular event because of all the cars on the track at the same time, said Tim Bray, the tracks director of communications. I think the fans will love it.
Kimmels own son, Frankie, and nephew, Will, son of Bill Kimmel Jr., have been rising up the ranks as successful young drivers, but they are not entered in the event due to what Frank called a conflict of interest. Bill Kimmel serves as Franks crew chief on the ARCA RE/MAX Series circuit.
Photos by Don Ward
Kyle Hadley of Louisville (above) and
Skip Whitaker (below) pose with their cars
in the garage at the Kentucky Speedway.
Street stock driver Jeff Maysey of Owensboro, Ky., was among the 33 drivers who braved the chilly wind in April to test on the track. He said the experience was valuable in sizing up his strategy, since he has been used to racing on quarter-mile tracks.
Its a lot different, but it was awesome. I had a blast, said Maysey, 23, who races full time. The biggest difference was in drafting and when you pull out to pass somebody.
Maysey predicts some big wrecks in the early going that will help eliminate some of the field.
His strategy is to hang back at first and stay out of trouble and on the lead lap, then in the last 25 laps give it a shot.
Kyle Hadley, 27, of Louisville grew up around racing when his father, Daryl Hadley, raced at Louisville area tracks. Now Daryl serves as car owner, spotter and crew chief for his son, who started racing street stocks in 2000. Now entering his seventh year, Kyle has consistently finished in the top 10 in area competition. He spent the day testing at the Kentucky Speedway and said he was surprised by how the wide open track affected his car.
The cars were not as stable maybe it was the wind, said Hadley, an assembler at the Louisville Ford Motor Co. plant.
Hadley believes his strategy for race day is to stay behind the leaders until it counts, then make his move. Ill probably try to lay back and wait for the right time to move up.
He expects to see a group run on the lead lap, a second group fall back to the middle of the pack, and then the trailing group who may not be as competitive but just wanted the chance to race there.
Skip Whitaker, 45, of Louisville expects to be among those drivers in the front group on the lead lap. His team prides itself on appearance and he has frequently taken home awards from Salem, Ind. for Best Appearance. A self-employed businessman, Whitaker believes in both looking good and racing fast.
He began racing in 1998 and has run in the top 10 of his series. But it was his first time driving on a 1.5-mile track when he entered the four-car-wide Kentucky Speedway. Its like driving 130 mph. on the interstate, he said. To go out there and be able to hold your foot to the mat and never let up was an experience. And the backstretch is so long I could eat a steak dinner in the time it takes to get down that straightaway.
Whitaker said coming off Turn 2 with the stiff wind at his back was like being shot out of a slingshot.
The wicker bill attached to the top of the cars is expected to take 30 mph. or more off the speed. With that in mind, plus the traffic of more than 100 cars on the track at the same time, Whitaker said: Its going to be interesting.
Gates open at 4 p.m. Race begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.