June 13, 2024

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‘Sprint car capital’ races in a big way in Iowa


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Even the city’s logo has a checkered flag.

Glenn Lyons, the executive director of the economic development in Knoxville, Iowa. He’s only been in the position since November but he knows that sprint car racing is woven into the fabric of the city of about 7,000 in south central Iowa.

“Knoxville has a brand,” Lyons said.

Sprint car races are held all summer long at the Knoxville Raceway which is proclaimed to be the “Sprint Car Capital of the World.”

The city of Knoxville’s logo.

“It’s part of the culture,” Lyons said of sprint car racing and the race track.

The race track has had either car or sprint car racing for 69 years. The Raceway has three multiple days of national sprint car racing. The first block is the nationals for 360 sprint cars from Aug. 4-6. The second is 410 nationals from Aug. 10-13 and the final block is late model sprints from Sept. 15-17.

Big races and big payouts are part of the tradition at Knoxville. The Raceway’s website and the website for the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum in Knoxville tell of the history of the sport.

“In 1961, there was a $1,000 payout to the winner and total $5,000 purse,” said Bob Baker, the executive director of the museum. People thought that was maybe ridiculous, Baker said.

But, the purse for 410 sprint nationals held in August has grown to nearly $1 million, Baker said.

“There’s over $50,000 in total prize money every Saturday,” Baker said.

The Knoxville Raceway’s payout to winners is part of the reason why sprint car races from across the country and from around the world move to the area to race, Baker said.

The race track has grown with fan interest.

Where do they sit at the races?

The front deck of the raceway seating holds 12,938 fans, said Laura Shepherd, who works in marketing and other services at the track. “That’s always open for our weekly (races),” Shepherd said.

The back stretch capacity is 7,383. “We open that during the nationals,” she said. The total capacity is about 20,000.

“It was larger than this (20,000) until four years ago when we did a ‘seat widening’ project,” Eric Arnold, director of media relations at the Raceway.

The crowd size increases on Saturday during the 410 national races, Arnold said.

But when suite seating, the pit area and vendors are combined, the second night of the 410 national races on Saturday can draw about 30,000 people, said Eric Arnold, director of media relations at the Raceway.

“We can handle some overflow seating in the infield. We estimate 24,000 people total with fans, race teams, media, vendors and employees,” Arnold said.

The race numbers are nearly three times that of the city’s estimated population of 7,000.

The Knoxville Raceway and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum. Photo courtesy of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum.

About 3 1/2 hours away from Knoxville, depending on the route, is Huset’s Speedway in Brandon, South Dakota.

Huset’s seating capacity is about 9,000, according to its website. That’s about 2,000 fewer than the city’s estimated population of about 11,000.

Money at the track

Both race tracks are part of the sprint car circuit.

Huset’s just completed a multi-day 410 nationals block. Another three-day event is set for July 8-10.

Like at Knoxville’s national races, there’s big money for the winners as up to $100,000 could be won at the championship at Huset’s.

“We’re paying out $150,000 this year,” Arnold said of the payout to the winner in the championship of the 410 nationals in Knoxville. The total purse for the multi-day event is $970,000, according to the Raceway’s website.

Huset’s will be paying $250,000 to the championship winner next year, but Knoxville’s overall purse will likely still be larger than Huset’s, Baker said.

Knoxville pays the last place finisher in the championship $10,000 compared to $5,000 at Huset’s, Baker said.

The Knoxville Raceway has a long-standing relationship with the Marion County Fair Association. The association determines the winning prize money. The fair board governs the race track and owns the grounds.

The fair association invests into the race track as well as the grounds.

Huset’s sat empty from 2017 to mid-2020 as Badlands Motor Speedway. Owner Chuck Brennan sold it Tod Quiring, the owner of the Jackson Motorplex in Minnesota, in mid-2020. Quiring is well-known figure in sprint car racing.

Sprint cars at Huset’s in 2021. KELOLAND News photo

The success at Huset’s is good for all of sprint car racing, Arnold said.

“Sprint car racing is as healthy as it’s ever been in the midwest,” Arnold said. “In the past five to 10 years, we’ve seen an upward trend in cars, getting participants and fan support.”

Although the city and its residents have been supportive, it may also be getting a resurgence of sorts in support.

Twenty to 30 or 40 years ago, the city “Used to do a lot more (related to racing),” Lyons said.

Now, “the city is working on ways to increase the opportunities to experience the downtown during the nationals,” Lyons said.

The city is working on events and changes to draw people to the town during any breaks in racing, Lyons said.

This is a supermodified sprint car that won the Knoxville Nationals in 1965. The driver was Kenny Weld out of Kansas City, Missouri. The car is in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa. Photo courtesy of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum.

Economic development recently completed a 36-page magazine filled with advertisers and information about the town, he said. Twenty-five thousand copies will be distributed to racing fans.

“This is the first time we’ve attempted to do that,” Lyons said of the magazine.

Where do fans stay?

There aren’t enough motels in Knoxville to hold all the racing fans, Lyons said.

“We estimate the number of people staying in town for those four days (of nationals) to be roughly 5,000,” Arnold said.

The area has several different campgrounds. Many racing fans drive to Knoxville in their campers.

“Knoxville Raceway has about 800 spots total between the fairgrounds and the North Campground that sits 3/4″ of a mile north of the fairground/raceway,” Arnold said.

Knoxville Raceway in Knoxville, Iowa. Photo courtesy of the Raceway.

Fans come “from all over the U.S.,” Shepherd said. “We have international fans that come from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England…”

A chunk of the fans come to national events each year, she said.

Arnold said there are about 1,150 camping spots within the city.

“However, being in the middle of town, a lot of local residents allow people to set up camp in their yards or rent bedrooms in their houses,” Arnold said.   
Knoxville Raceway has its own campground with several hundred campsites near the race track. The area also has county, city and state parks for camping.


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