A Trip to Knoxville, Iowa
…National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Museum
…National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies
…Sprint Car races at the Knoxville Raceway
By Stan Kalwasinski
I always wanted to attend the races at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway, so a five-hour ride was in order to visit the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Museum, take in the annual HoF induction ceremonies and, finally, watch some sprint car races at the famed Knoxville speed plant.
A quick trip through the HoF Museum was first on the agenda. You could spend hours there, learning more and more about the history of sprint car racing.
Saturday afternoon saw eight new members inducted into the Hall of Fame with the likes of current driver Dale Blaney, flagman Doug Clark, owner/mechanic Roy “Bud Grimm Jr., retired driver Frankie Kerr, Shirley Kear Valentine of Kear’s Speed Shop, old time speedsters Mark Light and Gus Linder in addition to photographer Gene Crucean being honored.
Born and raised in northwest Indiana, Crucean, who now calls Valparaiso, Ind., home, saw his first auto race, a stock car event, at Chicago’s 87th Street Speedway in the 1950s. Bit by the “racing bug,” Crucean got more and more involved in racing, taking a liking to open-wheel cars. Trying to get photographer credentials for the Indianapolis 500, Crucean found himself covering the famous race for the Northwest Times, a publication Crucean dreamed up in order to get media privileges.
Crucean met fellow race fan and photographer, John Mahoney, in college and their interest in racing fueled each other. Open wheel sprint car racing became their thing with the duo following the United States Auto Club (USAC) circuit in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and beyond.
But it was the era of the 60s, 70s and 80s that was something special for USAC sprint car racing. Crucean and Mahoney, who is also a HoF member, began publishing each year their Sprint Car Pictorial, which covered the previous USAC sprint car season. 14 issues of Sprint Car Pictorial were published, covering the 1968 through the 1982 seasons with some of Crucean’s and Mahoney’s finest photographic work inside each edition.
Crucean and Mahoney Adventures also owned a midget race car for a time, in addition to promoting a dozen or so midget racing programs, racing movie parties and just having fun at the races.
In 2014, Crucean authored his own book, Fearless – Dangerous Days in American Open Wheel Racing, Photography during the Era, which already has become a collector’s item.
Saturday Night’s Races
Saturday night saw a total of 65 sprint cars on hand at the Knoxville Raceway. Three divisions of sprint cars – “410”, “360” and “305” (cubic inch-powered cars) saw action. Brian Brown, of Grain Valley, Mo., captured the $5000-to-win, 25-lap, “410” main event for his second win of the season and his 32nd career “410” win at the half-mile dirt oval. Australian racer Ian Madsen won his first career “360” feature. Madsen also competed in the “410” division and finished fifth in the feature. Interestingly, four Aussie drives were in the “410” starting field. Knoxville’s own Devin Kline won the “305” main event, tying him for first place on the all-time “305” feature winners list with eight career victories.
Danny “The Dude” Lasoski is the all-time Knoxville “410” feature winner with 109 wins. Hailing from Dover, Mo., the 57-year-old Lasoski is a 10-time Knoxville “410” track champion, including winning the crown in 2015. Lasoski, the 2001 World of Outlaws sprint car champ, is a member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. Behind Lasoski on the all-time feature win list is Doug Wolfgang (60 wins), Steve Kinser (57), Terry McCarl (56) and Sammy Swindell (48), who finished sixth in Saturday’s “410” main event. Lasoski finished ninth in Saturday’s headliner after getting up into the cushion and spinning in turn two.
More about Knoxville
Knoxville is known as the “Sprint Car Capital of the World.” An old fairgrounds dirt track which was built in the late 1800s, the speedway is located on the Marion County Fairgrounds with Lincoln St., the main street through town, right outside of turns one and two. The first race was held there in 1901 with weekly racing beginning in 1954. The National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Museum sits outside of turn two.
With seating for over 24,000 fans, Knoxville will host the 56th annual Knoxville Nationals, which are scheduled for August 10 through August 13 with close to a million dollar purse at stake. North Dakota’s Donny Schatz, in Tony Stewart-owned cars, has scored nine wins during the last 10 Knoxville Nationals, being only shutout in 2010 by Tim Shaffer.
The trip to Knoxville – it was worth every minute of it!