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KNOXVILLE — Collectively, they represent 137 years’ worth of Knoxville Nationals competition.
Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Jac Haudenschild and Danny Lasoski are the living history of Sprint Car racing, and nearly fill the pages of the Nationals record books on their own.
Each of the four have at least 30 tries at the sport’s biggest event — Saturday night’s main event paid $150,000 to win — and it’s the one that keeps them coming back year after year, even if their “prime” was passed years ago.
“Believe it or not, and this may sound like a cliché, but it’s the trophy,” Lasoski said of what keeps him coming back to the Nationals. “We race all year long for one event. This is our Indianapolis 500, our Daytona 500 all mixed up into one.
“I’m one of the fortunate ones that has won this, and words can’t describe it. The burn and the sheer fact of the glory is what you come for.”
The four veterans represent 17 Knoxville Nationals victories, with Haudenschild the only one among them not to make it to Victory Lane in his 32 years attempting the event.
Kinser’s 12 are most all time, Lasoski has four and while Swindell entered his 40th Nationals this year, only has one victory, in 1983.
The prestige of the event, as Lasoski said, is the initial spark, but the competitive fire lit under these four especially keeps them in the chase. Haudenschild has never had much luck at the Nationals, and won’t quit trying any time soon to change that.
“We’ve run good here — we’ve run second here one year in the big race — and I guess that’s what keeps you coming back,” Haudenschild said. “We’ve never won the Knoxville Nationals and haven’t run too good here the last few years. So I’m hoping to come back and try to run top three or try to win the race (in the future).”
Father Time and the increase in competition showed itself for the four veterans in this year’s event.
Swindell was the only one of the four to make the main event — the 32nd time he’s done so — while Kinser, Lasoski and Haudenschild each fell out in the C-Main. It was just the third time in “The King” Kinser’s decorated career he didn’t make the A-Main event.
He’s in the middle of his farewell tour on the World of Outlaws circuit — a championship he’s won 20 times — and was saluted by the throng of fans packing the stands.
“This is the last year I’m gonna do (the World of Outlaws tour). It’s been enjoyable, but it’s time to slow down,” Kinser said before the races on Saturday. He amended that just a bit when asked about the Nationals. “We’ll weigh at the end of the year what we want to do (for the Nationals). If I do race next year, it won’t be very much.
“The race has been good to me, and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.”
The four legends have seen just about everything to be seen in racing, and have been a huge part of the evolution of Sprint Cars. They’ve seen the sport grow from homemade parts to pristine machined equipment.
And they’ve seen the competition level grow ever-deeper to where some of the best in the sport come to the Nationals and have a hard time.
“It’s definitely hard. Guys run good all year long, then come here and struggle,” Haudenschild said. “There’s just so many more good guys, it seems like. There’s so many good cars.
“Everybody’s leveled out a little bit. Everybody’s got good stuff, and there’s a lot (more) good drivers. It’s pretty much the same as always (otherwise), just more competition.”
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