Robbins Earned $1,280 For Winning 1st Knoxville Nationals

THE FIRST ONE: The first Knoxville Nationals was featured on page two of National Speed Sport News. (NSSN Archives Photo)

THE FIRST ONE: The first Knoxville Nationals was featured on page two of National Speed Sport News. (NSSN Archives Photo)

Roy Robbins, a 33-year-old mechanic from Louisville, Ky., earned $1,280 for winning the inaugural Super-Modified National Championship on Saturday night, July 29, 1961, at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway.

The brainchild of promoter Marion Robinson, race officials received 78 entries from 14 states and a turn-away crowd of nearly 14,000 watched as the eight-event program was run under nearly perfect weather conditions.

Robbins’s supermodified was one of only two in the 25-lap feature to utilize what is now known as a wing.

Here’s how NSSN correspondent Larry Scarpino described the device: “The scoop, which operates in reverse of an airplane wing by keeping the rear end of the racer on the ground, must have aided the Kentuckian as he won the 25-lap main event going away.”

Robbins, who set a track record of 23-seconds flat during time trials on Friday night, took the lead on lap 10 of the feature and was never seriously challenged over the final 15 trips around the half-mile oval.

Audie Swartz, of Muncie, Ind., made it a clean sweep for the winged supermodifieds as he earned $600 for his runner-up effort.

Earl Wagner, of Pleasantville, Iowa, was the top local finisher in third with Bill Corwin, of Topeka, Kan., and Red Andrew, of Lawrence, Kan., rounding out the top five.

Robbins completed the distance in 11 minutes and 9.4 seconds. There were three caution flags “when anxious drivers became tangled in non-serious crack-ups in the early laps.”

Knoxville regulars dominated the preliminary events, as Jim Blount, of La Paz, Ind., was the only outsider to top one of the 10-lap heat races. The other heat-race winners were Wagner; Gordon Woolley, of Waco, Texas; Thad Dosher, of Topeka, Kan.; and Gene Hockensmith, of Des Moines, Iowa.

Jerry Weld, of Kansas City, Mo., won the first seven-lap consolation race while Johnny Babb, of Ottumwa, Iowa, topped the second.

The event carried an advertised purse of $5,705 while reserved seats sold for $3 and general-admission tickets were just $2.

Ironically, the fairgrounds track in Knoxville, Iowa, wasn’t Robinson’s first choice at which to host the nation’s richest supermodified race. He originally presented the idea to the Hamilton County Fair Board in hopes of running the race at the Webster City Fairgrounds. The fair-board members deemed his idea too risky and denied his request.

Undaunted, Robinson then presented the concept to the Marion County Fair Board. Despite some reservations, the fair-board members eventually approved his plan and one of the nation’s marquee racing events was born.