Racing on dirt is not a particularly new thing for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. However, racing at the historic Knoxville Raceway located in Knoxville, Iowa is a new thing. This Friday night the series will make its first appearance on the clay-surfaced half-mile track noted for the Knoxville Nationals event for the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series and the Knoxville Late Model Nationals for competitors on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
The Knoxville Raceway facility also serves as the home for the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum. But this weekend, it will be NASCAR that takes center stage at the famed dirt racing venue.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has a history of racing on dirt. The tour entered that form of racing in 2013 at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio and remained on the schedule there until 2019. Earlier this season, the competitors on the NCWTS also took to the track on the dirt covered Bristol Motor Speedway.
While there is no way to know for sure how the Knoxville Raceway will race with the untried NASCAR trucks, some of the regulars on that tour seem to believe they have an idea. And part of that idea, they think, will call for the use of the front bumper to execute passes on this particular speedway.
During a recent NASCAR media availability, defending NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed offered his thoughts on the upcoming race in Iowa.
“I’ve only been there once just watching a local Saturday night Sprint Car show,” Creed explained to the media via a Zoom call. “I don’t know, I used to get really excited about the dirt stuff but it’s not as cool or fun as you’d think. They just make it so hard to put our style of race car, it’s like it puts it back in the car’s hands a little bit for how good it drives when it gets slick like that. It just creates no passing. I’m still excited to go dirt racing. It’s still fun, but it’s just different.”
Creed believes the racing seen at Knoxville will be familiar with that already seen earlier this season. As a result, the driver of the No. 2 GMS Racing Chevrolet is of the opinion that aggression will be the order of the day.
“I think it will be similar to Bristol, just around the bottom,” the 24-year Creed stated. “There’s not a lot of banking there. Eldora was actually fun, it was pretty cool up against the fence. You had something to lean on where Bristol was around the bottom which I didn’t really like. I like it when it spreads out and you can run the top and then that creates passing down low where when it’s on the bottom it’s really hard to pass and you’ve kind of got to be dirty with guys and push them out of the way. I think it will be similar to Bristol but it’s a lot bigger, a lot flatter, the dirt’s different.”
Another GMS Racing driver and two-time NASCAR Truck Series winner Zane Smith is more optimistic about racing in Knoxville than Creed. Although the 21-year-old has relatively little experience on dirt surfaces, he did race on one-mile dirt tracks in the ARCA Menards Series prior to reaching NASCAR.
“I’m actually really excited about it,” Smith declared in his media appearance. “I felt like going into Bristol, that was really my first time- I ran a couple of ARCA races on dirt but they’re really different dirt tracks, not that Bristol isn’t- but it was the first time in a truck. We kind of struggled in practice but had a really good truck in the race and I was really happy with it. I don’t know how much alike Knoxville will be but I feel like it will be a fun time.”
Even with his lack of laps on dirt, Smith expects much the same as Creed in terms of the driving style needed this Friday night when it comes to passing a fellow racer.
“I feel like it will honestly race more like an asphalt track than a dirt track,” the driver of the No. 21 Chevy reasoned. “I feel like you’ll be kind of be glued on the bottom and you’ll have to move the guy off the bottom. I don’t think there will be a whole lot of grooves or a whole lot of options.”
Tyler Ankrum won a NCWTS race at Kentucky Speedway when he was only 18 years of age. The now 20-year-old racer believes that much could be learned from a recent appearance by another racing series at Knoxville. The driver of the No. 26 Chevrolet Silverado does agree with his GMS Racing teammates that the front bumper will be one of the most important pieces of equipment at Knoxville.
“I feel really good,” Ankrum said. “It’s so tough to say with not going there(before). I’m super happy the SRX cars ran there a couple of weeks ago. That was really good information to see how they raced and I don’t think we’ll be too much different from the SRX cars. In the truck series, we don’t have dirt specific race cars so we’re really heavy and we don’t have the power to get around a flat track such as Knoxville compared to Eldora or Bristol where there’s enough banking and enough momentum for you to be able to maintain and gain for you to be able to run the top there. But even at Bristol dirt we pretty much fed on the bottom. I think it will be pretty much the same at Knoxville and your front bumper will be your best friend.”
Anytime front bumpers are used, hot tempers tend to follow along. If these drivers are correct, there could be some fireworks not related to Independence Day at the Knoxville Raceway this Friday night.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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