Street Stock racers Bill Wallace (133), John Baker Sr. (179), and Kevin Edge (021) race on
A little over a year ago, Frank Kimmel, the eight-time ARCA RE/MAX Series champion, had an idea. "Ron Drager [ARCA president] and I where traveling together and we discussed how car counts in the Street Stock classes around the country seem to be up," says Kimmel. "One day, I was traveling by myself and I thought how great it is that I get to race at tracks like Nashville, Talladega, Daytona, and Kentucky."
It was about then when Kimmel remembered the first time he ever saw Salem Speedway. "I thought back then how great it would be to someday race on that track, and I eventually did. I was one of the fortunate ones," says Kimmel. "There are guys all across the country who spend hours each day preparing for that weekend shot at their local 40-lap event. These are some of the same guys who are the backbone of our sport and never get an opportunity at the big tracks. I thought, Maybe I could help out."
Kimmel's idea was to stage a Street Stock race at a major speedway, giving local racers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run their cars on the same track as some of stock car racing's biggest stars. His first stop was Kentucky Speedway, a major facility just under two hours from his race shop, where he'd use some influence to set up a meeting to feel them out. Kentucky management was skeptical at first, but after hearing Kimmel's plan they warmed up. "The meeting went very well and Kentucky would become very supportive of this race," says Kimmel.
This has to be one of the largest Street Stock drivers' meetings ever.
Putting a Street Stock designed to run local short tracks on a high-banked 111/42-mile superspeedway, where speeds could easily top 150 mph, might seem a daunting task. But Kimmel and company were up to the challenge. The first order was rules. Frank got the Salem, CRA Street Stock, dirt track, and other Street Stock divisional rules together and used them as a framework to come up with his own set of rules for this event. Safety was first and most important. "My hope is that some of these racers will buy some safety equipment that they don't normally use, and after this event continue to use it at every track they race at," says Kimmel. "The HANS Device is one such piece of equipment. On these big tracks, as well as the short tracks, I think it is one of the most important pieces [of safety equipment] you could have."
Kimmel tested three times at Kentucky to get the rule package down pat, first with his own Street Stock, which had an engine spec'd to the rules of the event. With a 350 gear, he turned 6,600 rpm and broke all the rocker arms. He fixed the car and went back with a 300 gear and turned 5,800 rpm, but he was not happy with the high rate of speed. So he went to the garage and switched to a 275 gear, which brought the rpm down to 5,000 and was much more acceptable with speeds around 130 mph.
Kimmel's first priority was safety. Note the ARCA-style door bars.
Still wanting to get the speeds down a bit, Frank developed the Air Deflector, or wicker bill as it came to be known. It was a piece of equipment that would become mandatory for the event. The Air Deflector is 8 inches high, 48 inches wide, and is placed 10 inches back from the windshield across the roof of the car. Manufactured by C Line Products, the results were fantastic. In the third and final test, Frank invited five Street Stock teams to participate while he watched. They all ran the 275 gear and toured the Kentucky track for 50 laps. Speeds stayed down around 115 mph and the stock, cast-iron block and head, two-barrel carbureted engines never saw the first drop in oil pressure. Mission accomplished.
Naturally, with the speeds these stock-appearing cars would be reaching on the banks, some special safety rules were also implemented. A fourth door bar was added to the driver-side compartment first. Then came a plate of 11/44-inch steel welded on the inside of the door bars for further protection. A full windshield was also mandated, along with no less than three vertical bars to help secure the glass. Also added was a collapsible steering column with a pad in the center of the steering wheel. Aluminum brake calipers where deemed illegal, and the master cylinders had to remain in the stock location.
More safety inside the cockpit included a padded steering wheel.
"That final test went better than even I expected," says Kimmel. "The tire wear was at a minimum and the cars were very stable on the track. The Hoosier Comanche tire itself does not have a lot of grip. It is a very tough tire and carries a good temperature while helping to keep speeds down. As one car would pull away, the others were able to catch up. But even in a group, as a draft, they did not gain any speed due to the Air Deflectors. I was very impressed and believed the rules package was the right package for this event."
The purse itself was set at $25,000, paying $10,000 to win, and went back to the top 25 spots, paying $150 for 25th. Yellow-flag laps would be counted and there would be a mandatory pit stop for everyone at Lap 51. This would be the only time fuel could be added to the car. Other adjustments and tire changes would also be allowed at this time. The field would then be realigned at the time of the yellow, with racing resuming to the finish. The starting field would also be set by a blind draw. This event caught a lot of attention across the country from the word go and was well accepted by fans and racers.
Added safety features to a typical Street Stock included the wicker bill, or Air Deflector
"I wanted this event to be an event that the regular local racer could come down, bring his family, and do well," says Kimmel.
The response was unbelievable. Inquiries were made by racers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Georgia, and even as far away as Colorado.
Just two weeks before the big event was to begin, Kimmel landed a title sponsor. Harley-Davidson of Cincinnati (Ohio) and Thoroughbred Harley-Davidson of Florence (Kentucky) owner Robert Nolan came on board. "I see this as a great opportunity for my customers to come out and enjoy a day at the racetrack," says Nolan.
Not your typical Street Stock garage.
At Kentucky Speedway, on a warm 2007 Memorial Day weekend evening, it all finally happened. This was the Street Stocks' time to shine and show what they could do, as over 6,000 general-admission fans entered the Speedway. In a well-thought-out and planned event by both Kimmel and Kentucky Speedway, 69 of over 117 Street Stock entries took the green flag for 100 laps (150 miles) of competition. Drivers representing 17 states took advantage of the mid-afternoon, two-hour open practice before the event, with the top practice speed an astounding 133.035 mph and 40.5 seconds. After the practice session, the largest starting field in Kentucky Speedway history was ready to go racing.
Joe Williamson, the 64-year-old 2002 and 2003 Late Model track champion from Salem Speedway, said, "I came here and watched the final test. I have not raced in a few years, but my buddy had this old Louisville Speedway Sportsman car just set in the back of his garage, and he said, 'Take it if you want it.' So, in late April, I decided to give it a shot. I built my own engine, did some cutting and welding, and here I am. They went through a safety routine here that is as good as anywhere, but the cars are still Street Stocks and on a superspeedway. You couldn't ask for anything better."
Williamson loved the race, saying that it was a totally new experience. "You have to have everything as beefy as you can [get it]. With that wicker bill, it actually feels like you are pulling a boat out there. You don't feel the speed going down the straightaways around 130 mph, but in the corners you can sure feel it. There's a lot of pressure turning. This could be a once-in-a-lifetime deal. I hope it goes again, being as old as I am.
With Kentucky's big track, three-wide racing is typical throughout the field. Here, 64-yea
Springfield, Ohio's Mike South Jr. competes weekly at Kil-Kare Speedway in Xenia, Ohio, and decided to make the trip. "I built this whole car, 1972 Monte Carlo, over the winter myself along with some friends in preparation for this race," says South. "The total cost came to $2,875, complete, race ready. I named the car "Spare Parts" because most of the parts used to build it were parts that I had laying around from years of racing at Kil-Kare. My wife, Roxanne, sold fundraiser candy to help get us here and we held a community cookout of $5 per plate or donation. I also got some well-needed help from the John Stroble family in Springfield, Ohio, and here we are. I just want to compete."
With an opportunity to gain recognition and respect from the racing community, the often overlooked and seldom recognized division would shine on this night. For most of these drivers, this was their Daytona 500. In a race that saw three-wide racing virtually every lap, and a lot of times four-wide, only six caution flags would fly, and one of those was for the mandatory halfway break. During that break, 37 cars where still running and only three more would drop out before the checkered flag fell. The race took just over two hours, including the 20-minute break for fuel.
Even more safety. Check out the newly bolted on retaining bars on this fuel cell.
Chuck Barnes Sr. took the lead on Lap 19 after starting 41st in the field. Barnes blazed through the field to lead a total of 77 laps, but it was the final caution, flying on Lap 89, that would set up a four-lap shootout for the win.
When the green flag dropped, Barnes hit the gas. Joe Williamson sat in Fourth, a tremendous drive after starting the race in the second-to-last row. Williamson pounced on an opportunity and sailed into Second but couldn't catch Barnes, who held on to claim the win in the first-ever Frank Kimmel Enduro Nationals. Behind Barnes and Williamson, Beau Hendrich finished Third, Pete Mayden came home Fourth, and Brian McDonald rounded out the Top 5.
"When I got the lead I thought, Yes, this car is going good," says Barnes. "Then, all at once, the other guys started gaining behind me, getting together and drafting me. At the break, my crew put four fresh tires on and adjusted the sway bar a bit. I think I could have made it on the tires, but all racers like four new tires versus used ones."
Chuck Barnes Sr. in Victory Lane with his family. His son, (left) Chuck Jr., built the win
Barnes' ride for the event came courtesy of a family member. "This whole car is a new 1988 Monte Carlo built by my son, Chuck Barnes Jr., from scratch. He started last Thanksgiving Day."
As for the race itself, Barnes was impressed: "This is unreal. The speeds where unbelievable. This is the longest track I have ever raced on. At the end, they started getting by me a bit and side by side, and I said, Well, that's it. We're going to the back. But we got a couple of breaks, traffic got in the way of a couple guys, and we lucked out." Barnes walked away with the $10,000 winner's check saying that he would take his car to Salem later in the year for some of the bigger races there.
On this day, the Street Stocks put on a strong showing for the fans and racers alike. At press time, Kimmel was still tallying the numbers from the event. He says that he would love to bring it back next year. If he does, Frank Kimmel's $10,000-to-win Street Stock spectacle could quickly become one of the nation's premier racing events.