The 59th annual Knoxville Nationals are officially in the books. After days of racing, the town is finally able to take a breath and return to its everyday routine.
While Knoxville Nationals can sometimes create chaos for the community’s residents, the event serves as a get-away for many of the visitors who flood into the Sprint Car Capital of the World each August.
Debbie Darr, of Kirksville, Missouri, has been attending nationals for several years. The event serves as her family’s vacation each summer. With the opportunity to relax, watch the races and spend time with family, Darr says nationals is one of her favorite parts of the summer.
“We enjoy it,” says Darr. “It’s a nice place just to hang out and relax. I think you have to experience the whole thing.”
This year marked Ronald Frakes’ first Knoxville Nationals. The Lincoln, Illinois resident had attended races held in Knoxville in previous seasons but never had been able to witness nationals in person. With a larger attendance at nationals, Frakes said the atmosphere was better than other races he had previously attended.
Frakes was joined at nationals by his friend Charlie Hunter, who has been attending nationals since 1996. Hunter said he comes back every year because of the fun he has, along with the cars and the people.
“The public is just awesome over here,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it.”
Hunter, along with other nationals attendees, says that being a spectator for sprint car racing is addicting.
“You get hooked and you can’t stop,” he said.
Roger Schmidt, a self-proclaimed sprint car junkie, would agree.
“It’s a nice, family clean sport, but it’s addicting,” Schmidt says.
Originally from Marshalltown but now a resident of Tampa, Florida, Schmidt and his wife live in an RV and travel the country between the months of April and September watching sprint car races.
“We’re living the dream,” Schmidt says.
Schmidt has attended Knoxville Nationals since 1980. Calling Knoxville “Little Daytona,” Schmidt says Knoxville is unique to the other places he travels to because the town makes racing the center of their universe.
“The town is involved because of the people and money that come, but they also get behind it with places to stay and the shops doing decorations,” Schmidt says. “Other towns don’t do that.”
After traveling around the sprint car circuit for several years, Schmidt is also able to say the facilities in Knoxville are nicer than other places. He says that most places are not primarily sprint car tracks, but Knoxville is “straight sprint car,” which sets it apart.
Ron and Fay St. Amand have traveled from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for the past four years to attend nationals. The couple enjoys making the 1,200-mile trip and camping at Elk Rock State Park. They especially appreciate the hospitality they feel when visiting Knoxville.
“It’s the best races in the country,” says Ron. “The people are nice. Everyone is nice… this is down home for us.”
“We love the people of Knoxville, itself,” Fay said. “ They are just great! Every time we run into someone or meet someone at a restaurant or store, they’re so nice.”
Knoxville Nationals brings sprint car fans together for what many would consider the highlight of their summer. Many of these fans will tell you that Knoxville is unlike any other place they visit, which adds to their experience.
Between the people of the community and the atmosphere of the races, there is something unique about Knoxville Nationals that continues to draw in fans from across the country and has many already looking forward to attending nationals in 2020.