Knoxville Late Model Nationals in a tough spot on the racing calendar

Knoxville Raceway

Years ago, my son and I attended a Major League Baseball game between the New York Mets and the Florida Marlins back when the Marlins still played in the stadium also used by the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. There was little doubt upon entering that facility that it was primarily the home of the Dolphins and that the Marlins were little more than house guests.

I have never been to the Knoxville Raceway but even from afar I know that there is little doubt the half-mile track is primarily a Sprint Car venue. That is not to say that it cannot host other forms of racing such as the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series or the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and host them well. But at the same time, they are the house guests and Sprint Cars are the home owners.

All one has to do to confirm that is look just over turn two of the historic speedway to see the massive home of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. That said, the place is one of the most storied facilities in all of dirt racing and Late Models and other types of dirt racing machines can take advantage of that heritage under the right circumstances.

After all, there have been some very good Dirt Late Model races held there such as when Brian Birkhofer passed Scott Bloomquist on the last lap for the win in 2014. In 2022, Jonathan Davenport executed a late-race pass to beat Tyler Bruening to the checkered flag.

During this past weekend’s Lucas Oil Knoxville Late Model Nationals, it was announced that the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series will return in 2024 although a specific date was not immediately mentioned. As was stated on the broadcast during the weekend, it might be on the same September weekend as has become the norm or it could be moved to another spot on the calendar.

One issue with the Knoxville Late Model Nationals scheduling has to do with where it falls. This race weekend has the somewhat unenviable task of coming right on the heels of the World 100. Drivers and teams(and fans for that matter) put a tremendous amount of emphasis on the sport’s biggest event held annually at Eldora Speedway. No matter what comes next, it is going to feel a bit anti-climatic. It’s a tough position to be in.

Furthermore, the Late Model event comes one month after the Sprint Car version of the Knoxville Nationals. As far as hype is concerned for that form of racing, nothing can match it. Any big show that follows that show is bound to have the feel of being second fiddle, even if it comes a full month later. The track and the town of Knoxville, rightfully so, put an incredible amount of energy into the Sprint Car race. Following that up can be a difficult challenge.

Having the biggest event of the season at a particular track come before the second biggest can bring about some degree of letdown for even the most dedicated. There is little chance the Late Models will ever fill the massive grandstands built to facilitate the world’s most highly regarded Sprint Car event. That, in turn, causes people to think the place looks empty even when it does have what would be a very nice crowd for most other tracks.

After a crash in a preliminary race leading into the Knoxville Nationals, Jonathan Davenport used the word “dump” to describe Knoxville Raceway. But the fact of the matter is the facility is one of dirt racing’s most legendary venues. And with 19 years now in the books, the Knoxville Late Model Nationals has history on its side as well.

This is a place where Dirt Late Models should be racing. However, a better date on the calendar would benefit the event.

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