Knoxville Nationals 2022 Outlaw Sprint Car Race Highlights
Every year, thousands of people flock to the small town of Knoxville, Iowa for the most prestigious events on the Sprint car calendar. The 2022 Knoxville Nationals were held august 10-13th and our own Greg Nicol was on hand to catch the action. He also gives us a great look at what happens when 40,000 race fans, drivers, and crew members invade a sleepy little town in Iowa.
The big news of the weekend was a big victory for Donny Schatz, Tony Stewart Racing, and Ford. You read that right; Donny took home the big $175,000 dollar payout with a win in Saturday night’s A feature in his Ford-powered No. 15 car. This is the first big win for the Ford sprint car engine program that Schatz and TSR have been working so hard on for a few seasons.
The victory was the 11th Knoxville title for Schatz, putting him one away from the record 12 wins held by "King of the Outlaws" Steve Kinser. It was an exciting run in front of a sold-out crowd, and there were no "boos" this year, just cheers for a great race. Schatz came up from sixth position at the halfway point to pass second-place Tyler Courtney and ultimately pass leader David Gravel on lap 46.
2021 Champion Kyle Larson also had a busy week, flying in and out between tire tests and qualifying. A cut tire early in Saturday night’s feature landed him in the back of the pack, but he raced his EMi car back through the pack to finish 7th.
For years, Knoxville has had one of the biggest purses in all of sprint car racing. In fact, this year more than $1 million was awarded to drivers at the Nationals. But most drivers will tell you that it’s not all about the money. Instead, being able to say that you topped a field of 100 of the best drivers and cars in the world is the part that sticks.
Part of what makes it unique is the scoring format that makes every moment on the track count. Points are awarded for time trials as well as heat races, so just making it to the feature on Saturday night takes a solid week of racing.
“It’s a hard race to win,” says Speedway’s Greg Nicol. “It took “Speedy” Bill Smith years to finally win at Knoxville.” Jan Opperman came close. Before him, “Little Joe” Saldana’s Mechanical Rabbit was sure to win, only to have a broken wheel take him out of the running. It wasn’t until 1978 that Doug Wolfgang piloted the Speedway Motors/Vice-Grip-sponsored car to a Knoxville title.
But the unique experience of Knoxville goes beyond the action on the track. Things are sure to get interesting when approximately 40,000 people show up with RV’s, race trailers, and 900-horsepower sprint cars. Vendors set up in random parking lots around town. Trucks and trailers line the streets. But the town greets the insanity with open arms. “There are campers parked in people’s yards, people rent out rooms in their houses. Some of them become friends for a lifetime,” says Greg. “It’s less like a race and more like a happening, there’s something going on all night long…if you’re young enough to stay up for it.”