Mike Marlar knows his way around Knoxville. And no, that’s not a reference to the Knoxville close to his Winfield, Tenn. home. Instead, the veteran driver has shown that he can get around Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway better than anyone over the past two seasons. The veteran driver and his Ronnie Delk-owned operation outran the best drivers and teams the sport has to offer on the famed half-mile dirt track to win the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series sanctioned Knoxville Late Model Nationals in both 2016 and 2017.
This weekend Marlar will seek his third consecutive Knoxville Late Model Nationals crown.
So what is the secret to success that has led to consecutive $40,000 victories in Knoxville?
“You know, I’m not sure,” Marlar said in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “We went there once in ’05 in our Rayburn car and was actually running pretty good in the feature after we started way back. We got up to about fifth or sixth and had a flat that ruined it for us. Then we didn’t go back for a long time. We finally went back and we’ve run pretty good and I really don’t know what the magic is there, but hopefully we’ll have some more.”
The 40-year-old driver who has won five World of Outlaws Late Model Series features and currently sits second in the standings for that national tour believes that the layout of the Knoxville oval suits his style.
“I do seem to have some good results on those big half-mile type race tracks so for some reason,” Marlar pointed out. “We have had success on those places. We won a race at Port Royal(PA) a few weeks ago and it’s a big ole track somewhat similar to Knoxville. But it’s a tough deal, and to win anything is nice, so we’ve got high hopes, but it’s a humbling sport too. It’s just as hard to win this one as it was the first one.”
Marlar has nothing but praise for the Knoxville Raceway. The facility may be more noted for Sprint Cars than for Late Models but the ‘Winfield Warrior’ says that any form of racing would benefit from staging competition on the Iowa clay.
“It’s just an awesome track,” Marlar insisted. “It wouldn’t matter if you were racing dune buggies on it. They completely invert the heat races there and guys come from the rear to win their heats. I honestly don’t know of another track in the country where they could do that and it actually work. It’s just so racy and that’s the key to it. The layout of it and the soil up there is a big deal.”
Marlar’s No. 157 team has raced Rocket Chassis for much of the 2018 season but recently added a Longhorn Chassis to their stable as well. The driver contends that the cost of all forms of racing is escalating at a rapid rate but he also believes that could work in favor of the dirt side of the sport with so much attention during this stretch of the season being focused on the big money races that populate the schedule during late summer.
“The cars are so expensive that your local races are getting fewer and farther between,” Marlar explained. “But we’re not getting a lot more big races. We seem to mostly have the same stuff we’ve always had with a few extras here and there. I personally would like to see the costs come down on everything to where more people can play. It’s getting to where it’s very hard to afford one of these things and keep it running up and down the road. But it could come to that. I know the NASCAR deal has fizzled out pretty bad and there are fans who want to see racing. I think our sport provides really good racing. There’s a swing toward the dirt right now for sure.”