When was the last time a racecar pulled into Bristol Motor Speedway on an open trailer? I'm not quite sure of the answer, but I'd guess a car with a full factory frame and steel body on an open trailer would probably go back three decades. How about this...when was the last time a racecar with a full cast-iron engine, block, heads, and manifolds, along with a two-barrel carburetor competed on the high banks? That answer would be a lot longer than three decades ago. For most local racers, getting to Bristol Motor Speedway in northeastern Tennessee is merely a dream. For the majority, racing at Bristol would remain a dream, until Frank Kimmel came along.
The line for practice seemed...
The line for practice seemed to go on forever; over 50 cars in all at Bristol.
Bristol Motor Speedway is the most sought-after ticket in NASCAR with a reputation as one of the fiercest, highest banked, half-mile tracks in the country that produces a lot of bent sheetmetal and its fair share of hurt feelings, along with some great racing. When nine-time ARCA RE/MAX Series Champion Frank Kimmel floated the idea of bringing his Street Stock show to the famed half-mile to Humpy Wheeler, Wheeler listened and listened closely. It wasn't long after that conversation that the deal was done and Kimmel and company were headed to eastern Tennessee. Bristol would be the sight of the second ever Frank Kimmel Street Stock Enduro Nationals.
Fifty-four cars showed up to Kimmel's Bristol event, with 52 of those taking the green flag for what was scheduled to be 150 laps of action. Kimmel put a little of his own twist into the fray by having an Indy 500-type three abreast start, making 18 rows of three cars each. Of the 54 cars on hand, 14 states were represented including Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Iowa, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio. Canada was also represented by two racers.
One major change for the Bristol race was the mandated HANS, or similar head-and-neck restraint. Radios and mirrors were also allowed, and each team had a spotter. As with the Kentucky event, a mandatory pit stop for the entire field was in place for the halfway point at Lap 75, allowing teams to make adjustments, add fuel, and possibly change their Hoosier Comanche tires.
Street Stock pit crews must...
Street Stock pit crews must be resourceful. Nice funnel.
It's actually hard to say when the last time a racer showed up at Bristol to compete off of an open trailer, but as you walked the pit area it was clear that these low-budget racers are the backbone of the motorsports world. Each car was thoroughly inspected by a team of officials put into place by Kimmel. Headed up by Bill Kimmel, Frank's brother, the group goes over every car in an assembly line format with each official assigned a certain duty. This includes height and clearance check, and inspection of fuel cells, driver compartments, and valve covers. All this is followed by the final inspection check of weight and weight distribution. Being thorough and fair is the key to the success of the race.
In qualifying, five cars got into the 18-second bracket as Indiana native Todd Kempf set fast time with an 18.450 lap at over 100 mph. Not surprising that the top four qualifiers-Kempf, Chuck Barnes, John Collins, and Brett Hudson-all have logged many laps at Salem Speedway in Indiana. Kempf, the Salem Speedway back-to-back Super Stock Champion, took off at the drop of the green flag, holding off the charge of many racers. He endured a total of six caution flags, and some front end body damage, to capture the biggest win of his career with a $5,000 payday. This was a redemption of sorts for Kempf, as he had started 23rd at the 2007 Kimmel race at Kentucky and was leading that event by Lap 3 when he had to pit for a cut tire, ending his chance for victory. Leading all the circuits at Bristol, Kempf was passed one time by veteran racer and Kentucky winner Chuck Barnes Sr. on Lap 38 before pushing his Chevrolet Monte Carlo back to the point going into Turn 3.
The tech line opened early...
The tech line opened early for two days in preparation for the race.
Just two laps after the mandatory stop on Lap 75, rain showers moved in forcing Kimmel to call the race complete on Lap 77. Of the six caution flags, the most spectacular one of the day belonged to Loose Nuts Racing out of Alabama. On Lap 43, driver Marty Bean got clipped going into Turn 1 and turned into the wall, then swapped ends as the rear slammed the wall. A series of flips and barrel rolls followed before his car came to rest on all four wheels. A fire under the hood was quickly extinguished by the safety crew and, despite the viciousness of the accident, Bean emerged from the carnage unhurt, though a little dazed and dizzy.
"I came into Turn 1 three-wide, my spotter told me there were cars on both the inside and the outside," states Bean. "The inside car tapped me and the car on the outside hit my quarter panel and it just sent me head first into the wall. I have flipped a car before when an axle broke, but that happened so fast I didn't have time to grab my belts. I was just lucky I didn't get hurt badly. This time, when I felt the car start to roll I knew what was happening. I turned loose of the wheel and grabbed my harness because I knew I was along for the ride! When the car finally stopped rolling, I was still holding my breath waiting for someone to hit me. With 54 cars at Bristol, I feel lucky but I am disappointed. While racing hard I knew I was at Bristol so I was trying to be careful so I could be there at the end," says Bean.
"I had issues in qualifying and started 43rd, but at the time of the crash I had moved into the Top 20. My teammate, Richard Patino, made just four more laps than me and got caught up in the next big crash," says Bean.
When asked about the event, Bean seemed to sum up the feelings of every racer on hand at Bristol. "Unbelievable. Standing in the pits looking up at the banking and the stands was overwhelming knowing that I was driving my car that we built on this famous speedway. This didn't seem any different than our local Saturday night track. If we needed something, we would ask and somebody would always come up with it. It was neat seeing racers from all over the country and Canada and it still is like a Saturday night at Birmingham International Raceway. I would be remiss if I didn't thank my family, crew, and sponsors for making this dream come true. I am looking forward to next year, we'll be back. I would also like to thank Frank Kimmel and his awesome crew for making things safe. We went through tech four times to get just our window net passed. They should sleep well at night," finished Bean.
Street Stock racer Beau Mitchell...
Street Stock racer Beau Mitchell broke a motor in practice and had a late engine change. Beau started last in the field but persevered to a 13th Place finish.
The local flavor in the pit area came about due to the fate of a coin toss. Kingsport Tennessee driver Rick Smith won the flip of the coin to drive the car at Bristol over his nephew, Matt Smith. Even though he finished back in the pack, Rick had a great outlook. "If we can take anything away from here that's worth racing again, we're going to try to go to Kentucky next month and he's going to drive. This is our sixth season with this car and we have two victories at Newport and a lot of Top Five finishes. The corners come up quick here, but now I can say I raced at Bristol," says Rick.
The most serious melee of the day came at Lap 60 when a 12-car pileup ensued on the front stretch. Kempf was able to navigate through it but did take some damage that tore the front fender away from his car. Not so lucky were the second and third place cars of Barnes and Hudson. While Barnes and Hudson both rebounded to rejoin the field, at the checkered flag it was Kempf, followed by Alan Huddleston in second and Joe Williamson in third. Ironically, but not surprising, the Top Three finishers are former Salem Speedway Track Champions. Huddleston was able to snake past both Barnes and Hudson to get into the second spot and hung on from there. However, getting past the post race inspection was another story.
This racer found a unique...
This racer found a unique way to cool his Ford Nine-Inch Rearend for the abuse Bristol produces.
Huddleston failed the post-race inspection for not having the required ignition module setting, which limited the cars to 5,500 rpm. His was set at 7,500 rpm, well over the limits the rule book called for.
Huddleston was disqualified and Williamson moved up to Second. North Carolina driver Jason Leatherwood was credited with Third, followed by Kentucky driver Mike Velotta, and Indiana driver Beau Hendrich to round out the Top Five. Of the 52 starters, 36 racers took the checkered flag to finish the rain-shortened event at Lap 77.
"This is awesome, to lead flag-to-flag here at Bristol," says winner Kempf. "I have a great crew who came and helped me with this car today. I work a 10-hour shift then come home and work on this car. I have been living on about four hours a sleep a day for the last two weeks to get down here. Now it has all paid off. I came out of Turn 4 one time, cars were going everywhere, and I just picked a spot and went through, just clipping my front fender. The banking here is a lot like the tracks back home, but a whole lot smoother. Some guys said it was a little rough, but come to Salem and race. I run through holes four inches deep up there."
"I had a really good car," states Second Place finisher Williamson. "My car was fast, I was just trying to stay out of the wrecks. I couldn't be more pleased to debut at Bristol like this. If I could drive into the turn like I wanted, it would have been a little better. That was the only place guys were gaining on me; I could pull them coming off the corner. At the break, we took a little crossweight out of it to try to get in the corners better. It would have been close, but Kempf was the class of the field today. Winchester Speedway and Salem experience helped to come here. This is the same driving-style track; it is a smooth Winchester and Salem Turn 3 and 4. This track has a real grip. When you can flat-foot a car on 8-inch Hoosier Comanches in the center of the turn it's unreal. If you've never run here you're missing a real experience, I'm telling you that," finishes Williamson.
Following the event, both Kimmel and the Bristol management were pleased, even though Mother Nature didn't exactly cooperate. "I think it went really well. All in all, I am tickled with the performance," states Kimmel. "The weather was horrendous, but everyone seems happy. I have had a lot of feedback from racers and they all seem very happy with the effort and outcome. Not really any complaints, maybe just a little about a rule or two here and there, but everyone is happy and said they would go back."
Meyhem ensues on the high...
Meyhem ensues on the high banks of Bristol. In all, 12 cars were collected in this wreck.
Kimmel had praise for his competitors, too. "The guys proved once again they can flat race. They raced real hard all the way around the track and it was an honor to be there. We've got another one at Kentucky in May of this year and one in January 2009 at Rockingham."
Kimmel and his racers weren't the only ones elated with the results; Bristol management is excited as well. "BMS President and General Manager Jeff Byrd, after witnessing this event, has said several times that he doesn't want to see anything else at Bristol but Street Stock cars," says Bristol's Wayne Estes. "I think he was saying it in jest, but all of us who saw the race absolutely loved it. We loved it so much we have asked Frank about another date later this year. We'd love to finish what we started in April. As much as we all wanted to see the last 75 laps of racing, I have heard from many, many fans who said they certainly got their money's worth."
The thought of a return trip to Bristol's high banks for the Street Stocks has everyone excited. "I can say with 95 percent certainty that we will run another Frank Kimmel Street Stock Spectacular next year, if not before," continues Estes. "I would like to see us run a little later in the year. If we can work out a date where these guys can run a night race, that would be our choice. This is what race fans want to see."
Second Place finisher, and...
Second Place finisher, and former Salem Speedway Late Model Champion, Joe Williamson brought along a group of fine friends to work as his pit crew. Here they cut away the smashed exhaust pipes that occured just before the halfway break.
Street stock racing at night at Bristol? Move over NASCAR, Kimmel's coming to town.
Leaving a lasting impression on the race fan goes a long way to getting your division noticed and respected. "The most impressive thing was, without a doubt, the action," says Estes. "Things were happening all over the track every single lap. On one restart, I watched a car pass about 20 others by going to the apron. He had a head of steam and the cars in front of him were four wide all over the first corner, so he took to the bottom like Dale Earnhardt. Without a doubt this was the first truly Stock Car race run at Bristol in many years. The Late Models and NASCAR cars ceased to be Stock Cars long ago, so to see cars that were built to be Monte Carlos, Impalas, and Oldsmobiles back on this track again gave me goose bumps."
Just as the Street Stock division is both competitor and fan friendly, Bristol made fan access a priority. The back stretch became the front stretch as a portable flag stand was placed in the center between Turns 2 and 3. This meant that fans could park in Bristol's upper lot and walk straight into the stands, avoiding the long, tiring climb up the huge front stretch parking lot hill. It also meant that the fans wouldn't have to look into a setting sun to watch the race.
Fan-friendly access and awesome racing action at a mecca of motorsports. What more could the street-stock racer want? Affordable racing is getting to be something of a reach, but with good rules, a decent purse, and both fan-and-competitor friendly venues, Kimmel has created the next great series in racing.
Alabama's Marty Bean...
...took this wild tumble....
...took this wild tumble...
...after racing three wide...
...after racing three wide through Bristol's Turn 1.
Richard Pitino's car after...
Richard Pitino's car after he drove up under a slower moving car.
Four wide racing was the rule...
Four wide racing was the rule of the day in the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Enduro Nationals at Bristol.
Frank Kimmel enjoys victory...
Frank Kimmel enjoys victory circle at Bristol with race winner Todd Kempf and his crew.