One of our favorite places to visit is the town of Knoxville in south-central Iowa. How come? Because no other municipality venerates the minimal, savage genre of motorsport that is Sprint car racing quite as enthusiastically as Knoxville. The stripped-down, open-wheel Sprint cars shriek around dirt and paved tracks all over the country (plus Canada, Australia and New Zealand), but Knoxville is the home of the sport’s biggest and more historic event, a happening that involves the local populace plus an international fan and competitor base, and it’s the home of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum, a shrine to this most primal variety of racing. This month, the hall of fame inducted its 30th class of Sprint car racing’s greats, bringing the number of individuals thus enshrined to 398.
This Dennis Krieger photo, furnished by hall of fame Executive Director Bob Baker, depicts the 2019 class in the front row at Knoxville, with past inductees such as Pennsylvania legend Lynn Paxton and Oklahoma star Shane Carson behind them. In alphabetical order, the 2019 inductees are Tennessee car owner M.A. Brown, who fielded top cars for a plethora of drivers including a very young Sammy Swindell; “Wild” Bill Endicott, an Indiana-born early pioneer of Sprint cars who raced an Inter-State in the first Indianapolis 500; Richard “The Gasman” Griffin, a New Mexico native who excelled in CRA and SCRA competition on the West Coast during the 1980s; Jason Johnson, a Louisiana native who won the 2016 Knoxville Nationals along with five ASCS national championships before dying in a 2018 Sprint crash; Thomas J. Schmeh, a New York native who volunteered to head the hall of fame’s construction effort and retired as its executive director; Stevie Smith, a second-generation Hall of Famer who ranks ninth on the all-time World of Outlaws victory list and raced in 21 Knoxville Nationals A-mains; C.K. Spurlock, a Tennessee car dealer and road manager for entertainer Kenny Rogers who founded the Gambler chassis company; and the Illinois videographer Greg Stephens, whose footage anchored racing reports televised on TNN, ESPN and the Speed Channel. The museum and hall of fame is a treasure of Sprint car history that overlooks the Knoxville Raceway backstretch. It’s a must-see for any automotive or racing enthusiast, and the annual Knoxville Nationals, held each August, is an absolute, flat-out must-see for anyone who’s into motorsports. Find out more, and buy tickets, at Knoxville Raceway’s website.