Former Knoxville Raceway Promoter Ralph Capitani Dies

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Ralph Capitani
Ralph Capitani was a fixture at Knoxville Raceway since 1978. (Conrad Nelson Photo)

KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Known simply as “Cappy” by the sprint car racing community, longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter Ralph Capitani has died after a battle with cancer.

Capitani began his tenure as promoter at the historic half-mile oval in 1978. During his time at Knoxville Raceway he helped grow the facility and the events — most notably the Knoxville Nationals — that it hosts on a national scale.

He spent countless hours at the track and worked tirelessly to improve purses and car counts, helped created the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame and improved the safety conditions at the track.

Captiani spent much of his time at Knoxville elevating the stature of the Knoxville Nationals. He increased the purse multiple times, which in turn brought in more entries. He added national television coverage and increased the seating capacity of Knoxville Raceway to make room for the fans who wanted to attend the event.

He also helped create the physical location for the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum, which was built on the Marion County Fairgrounds alongside Knoxville Raceway and officially opened in 1992.

For his work at Knoxville Capitani received multiple awards and honors. He was voted the 1983 Promoter of the Year by Racing Promoters Monthly and the National Sprint Car Poll selected him as the Promoter of the Year in 1985, ’90 and ’91. He is also a member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

Capitani retired from Knoxville Raceway at the end of the 2011 season. Captiani has remained active at Knoxville ever since, with the track naming the Capitani Classic, a special 410 sprint car event held the Sunday prior to the Knoxville Nationals every August since 2012, in his honor.

Prior to going to work full time at Knoxville Raceway, Capitani was a school teach and a coach.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement on Monday night following Capitani’s passing.

“This is a sad day for Knoxville, Iowa, Knoxville Raceway and all of sprint car racing as we’ve lost Ralph Capitani. A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path. Cappy was a great mentor to everyone who had the privilege of working with him, whether here at the track or at Knoxville High School where he taught and coached. It may be a cliché, but in this case saying Cappy made Knoxville Raceway a better place could not be more accurate.

“Cappy will be greatly missed. Not only at Knoxville Raceway, but at race tracks around the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Marilyn, and their sons, Steve, Dave, John and their families.”

World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter also shared his thoughts on the loss of Capitani.

“Ralph was a visionary promoter in the sprint car racing world,” said Carter. “I enjoyed the opportunities I had to learn while working with him. We will miss him.”

Services for Capitani will be announced at a later date.