Knoxville: A Half-Century Catalog of USAC Sprint Car History

Rich Forman Photo

KNOVILLE, IA – There’s only one Knoxville Raceway. And it’s just once a year that the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship will pay a visit to the half-mile located in south central Iowa during the 2021 campaign.

That moment arrives this Saturday night, July 10, with the BRANDT Professional Agriculture Corn Belt Clash, paying the richest single-day purse of the entire season for the series with a winner’s share of $20,000 for the 30-lap USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature, co-sanctioned by both the Wholesale Batteries Midwest Wingless Racing Association and the Lucas Oil POWRI WAR Sprint Car League.

Super Modifieds, and later Sprint Cars, sans the wing, have a rich history at Knoxville Raceway, dating back more than a half-century. The Knoxville Nationals were run primarily without the use of wings between 1961-1981, as was its weekly program, with a few exceptions, all along the way.

USAC National Sprint Car history at the track spans throughout many time frames. Without cages (1968), with the newly mandated cages (1971), with wings (1988), and without wings in every spot in between.

The first USAC National Sprint Car race held at Knoxville in 1968, not only was conducted without wings, but without cages, where a young Gary Bettenhausen, the newest edition of the “Tinley Park Express,” drove the Willie Davis Chevy powered sprinter to the checkered flag. Greg Weld, the 1963 Knoxville Nationals winner in his own right, set quick time.




With cages affixed to their rides the next time around in 1971, Eastern invader Dick “Toby” Tobias ventured westbound where the 1997 inductee into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, located just beyond turn two at Knoxville, captured his only USAC victory on the western side of the Mississippi River.

Sammy Sessions buzzed to a flag-to-flag, 40-lap victory in June of 1972 at Knoxville. It’s a seminal win that vaulted the Nashville, Michigan driver to the midseason point lead and, subsequently, his first and only career USAC National Sprint Car driving title later that same year.

Tom Bigelow scored his initial victory on the 1973 USAC Sprint car circuit right at Knoxville. Bigelow’s Knoxville victory was a real thriller as he fought off the challenges of Billy Engelhart, Tony Simon and, finally, Rollie Beale to post his first USAC win of the year. Beale finally wound up a close second with young Pancho Carter finishing third after a spectacular drive from the 18th starting position in an event which was delayed by rain. Warmups saw Karl Busson, making only his second appearance after being injured at Reading, Pa., in March, flip his new Bernie Cedoz Sprinter on the fourth turn. Joe Saldana, in an attempt to avoid Busson’s flipping car, also got upside down. Both drivers were kept at the Knoxville Hospital overnight and then released. Busson suffered a dislocated left elbow and rib injuries. Saldana had a mild concussion and facial lacerations.

Sheldon Kinser’s USAC “Thunder & Lightning” Sprint car series point lead, and eventual third series championship, blossomed as a result of his 1982 victory at Knoxville. Sheldon drove the Ben’s Tire Clinic Chevy to victory in the 25-lap feature at Knoxville Raceway. Jack Hewitt flipped during qualifications at Knoxville while Parsons dumped during his heat race.

Sammy Swindell, the 1983 Knoxville Nationals winner, scored his first-ever USAC feature victory at the half-mile dirt track in 1988. That came not only with a cage, but with a wing, during the brief era of USAC sprouting aerodynamics devices atop their roll cages during occasional events between 1987-1991. Swindell drove the TMC Chevy to a $4,000 victory in the 25-lapper at Knoxville, beating Randy Smith to the checkered flag.

Bud Kaeding didn’t care of it was a rental car, a shopping cart or a sprint car. In 2010, the Campbell, California native had won at Knoxville. Kaeding nearly led the entire unusual distance of 26 laps to claim the non-wing Knoxville Sprint Nationals in 2010. Scotty Weir (1) and Brady Bacon (3) led early before Kaeding pulled alongside Bacon and roared around the outside of turn four to take the lead and the victory.

Brady Bacon of Broken Arrow, Okla. won the 2011 26-lap Knoxville Non-Wing Nationals, leading the final 14 laps, making a clean sweep of the night after earning the fastest qualifier honors, winning the first heat race, then moved past defending race winner Bud Kaeding when he “biked” and spun to a stop on lap 13, relinquishing the lead to Bacon.

Justin Grant made it a night to remember as he led wire-to-wire to win the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars’ return to the famed Knoxville Raceway in 2017 after a six-year hiatus. Grant, of Ione, California, was in a class of his own throughout the 30-lap main event. However, early on in the night, Grant couldn’t have anticipated the end result would go as smoothly as it did following a rocky beginning. The team fine-tuned their way throughout the evening, swapping out parts and pieces on the Sam McGhee Motorsports until they hit the sweet spot in time for the main event.

One year prior, Tyler Courtney rode out one of the wildest flips of the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season when the series visited Knoxville Raceway. Three-hundred-seventy-one days later, in 2018, the next chapter of Courtney’s Knoxville story played out like a fairy-tale as he swept each and every challenge he confronted: fast qualifying time. Check. Heat race win. Check. Winning the 30-lap main event. Check. Victory lane. Another check, but one he was able to hoist high over his head.

Following qualifying on the opening night of the inaugural Corn Belt Nationals in 2019, Brady Bacon and the Dynamics, Inc. team certainly had their work cut out for them. On the second of two qualifying laps, the engine began to sound sour. Immediately after pulling into the infield pit area, the team immediately went to work to swap out the engine for a new bullet under the hood. Under time constraints, the team prevailed. Under duress for much of the caution-free 25-lap main event, the team once again prevailed, firing on all cylinders figuratively and literally to capture the victory.

As it turned out, Brady Bacon’s strength in Friday’s opener was just a prelude sampling of how strong he and his Dynamics, Inc. were in Saturday night’s Corn Belt Nationals finale in 2019. Bacon backed up his opening night victory at Knoxville with a simply dominating win in the closer, leading all 30 laps en route to an 8.286 sec. triumph worth $20,000 that was never in doubt from start to finish.

In essence, it didn’t take long for Tyler Courtney to get to the front of the field in the 2020 Corn Belt Nationals opener. In another sense, however, the wait was more than long enough after a bevy of early season misfortune. The 2018 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champion started 3rd on the grid for the 25-lapper, but instantly split between both front row occupants Wyatt Burks and Riley Kreisel through the middle of turn one, then powered off turn two and never looked back the remainder of the distance.

A three-and-a-half hour rain delay and an engine swap just prior to the feature couldn’t deny Brady Bacon from Corn Belt Nationals domination for the second consecutive year in an event that concluded in the wee hours of early Sunday after a heavy half-hour-long storm doused the half-mile dirt oval with moisture just prior to hot laps, forcing a lengthy delay that set back the start of the festivities until about a quarter to 11pm Central time.

When things wrapped up just after 3am with a non-stop, green-to-checkered feature, the Corn Belt king had reclaimed his throne and a $20,000 winner’s share which came following an engine change before the feature as more of a preventative measure due to a persistent oil leak. With some down time between races, the decision was made, and they decided they weren’t going to take any chances risking it.

This Saturday night at Knoxville, general Admission tickets are $30 are $30 at the gate and free for ages 12 and under. Reserved seats are $35 in advance and $10 for ages 12 and under. Tickets on sale now at www.KnoxvilleRaceway.com.

Pits open at 2pm Central with the drivers meeting at 6pm and cars hitting the track at 6:15pm.

FloRacing will have live coverage of the entire USAC portion of the BRANDT Corn Belt Clash (practice, qualifying, prelims and the main event) exclusively at https://bit.ly/3dgONXz.

USAC NATIONAL SPRINT CAR WINS AT KNOXVILLE RACEWAY:

4-Brady Bacon

2-Tyler Courtney

1-Bud Kaeding, Dick Tobias, Gary Bettenhausen, Justin Grant, Sam Sessions, Sammy Swindell, Sheldon Kinser & Tom Bigelow

USAC NATIONAL SPRINT CAR WINNERS AT KNOXVILLE RACEWAY:

1968: Gary Bettenhausen (9/6)

1971: Dick Tobias (6/5)

1972: Sam Sessions (6/3)

1973: Tom Bigelow (6/3)

1982: Sheldon Kinser (6/5)

1988: Sammy Swindell (6/11)

2010: Bud Kaeding (8/8)

2011: Brady Bacon (8/7)

2017: Justin Grant (6/3)

2018: Tyler Courtney (6/9)

2019: Brady Bacon (7/5) & Brady Bacon (7/6)

2020: Tyler Courtney (7/10) & Brady Bacon (7/11)