The four-way salute before the Knoxville Nationals. (Paul Arch Photo)
KNOXVILLE, Iowa — The 61st National Championships in Knoxville turned out to be quite interesting.
There were plenty of great storylines and plenty of takeaways from the prestigious four-night affair.
• The Donny Schatz era is far from over. The 45-year-old, 10-time World Outlaw Champion, has proven he still has the talent and drive to win big races. Schatz won the national championships for the 11th time. He has 11 wins and nine runners-up in a 24-year spell at nationals, but hadn’t won the big event since 2017.
• Kyle Larson’s Mojo has changed. After an 18-month stretch where everything Kyle Larson touched turned to gold, some of the horseshoe luck began to run out. With a car capable of winning the Knoxville National Championships, Larson suffered a flat tire in the familiar No. 57. He had the same luck throughout his season – both on dirt and in NASCAR Cup Series competition.
• Land sharks. Bobby Allen’s Shark Racing team had its best week ever. Drivers Logan Schuchart and Jacob Allen combined to take three wins in seven days and both finished in the top five at the Knoxville Nationals. Schuchart won the B main and charged from 17th to third in the 50-lap main event, while Allen was fifth.
Schuchart won the Capitani Classic and the pair each won a preliminary feature.
• Another obstacle for PPM. After surviving a battle with lymphoma in the offseason, 24-year-old sprint car driver Parker Price-Miller suffered a pair of broken vertebrae in a crash on the first lap of the main event of Saturday. Price-Miller won’t need surgery but will be out of action for a while. He’s a tough boy and he’ll be back.
• The happy farmer. Tasker Phillips is a farmer by day and an occasional runner on the weekends. After 11 years of trying, he finally qualified for the main event at the Knoxville Nationals. Phillips’ sheer joy of just making the final was a reminder of why we love the race so much. Phillips’ brothers, Sawyer and Rager, are also farmers and race car drivers.
• The future is bright. The veterans may have had the upper hand at the Nationals in Knoxville, but it’s clear the future for sprint car racing is bright as several youngsters had strong performances at the Nationals. While defending USAC Midget Champion Buddy Kofoid was named Nationals rookie, Justin Sanders, Cole Macedo, Josh Wise, Anthony Macri and Tyler Courtney showed they would be contenders for years to come.
• Is it compassion or respect? Well, in the case of Knoxville Nationals and Donny Schatz fans, it might be a bit of both. Booed heartily for years at Knoxville Raceway, the roar was deafening when Schatz took the lead from David Gravel. Maybe people have softened to Schatz thanks to what he’s been through over the past few seasons, or maybe they just respect what he’s accomplished on the track for nearly three decades.
• Brown’s legacy? Will Brian Brown go down in history as the best Knoxville Nationals rider to ever win the event? After a struggle on qualifying night this year, Brown fought his way through the pack on Saturday night but lacked the speed to fight for the win. Brown has now gone 12 main events in Knoxville without a win and three second-place finishes.
• Money, money, money. Saturday night, the Knoxville Nationals sold out before the event and large crowds were in attendance throughout the week as racers competed for the biggest purse in sprint car racing history. Over $1 million was available over four days, including $175,000 for winner Donny Schatz. Long lines at merchandise vendors and concession stands were also the norm, as fans proved once again that they would buy just about anything with their favorite driver’s name on it.