KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Steve King’s main goal for 2006 was making the feature at the Knoxville Nationals. He was so close to reaching that goal when he was killed in a crash on the white-flag lap of his qualifying-night feature.
In the nine years since his death, his family has worked tirelessly to help the dirt-track community and its injured racers. Each year, his mother Naomi King and sister Danette King Amstein, are at the Knoxville Nationals and dirt tracks throughout the Kings’ native Kansas, raising money for the Steve King Foundation.
Through the 501(c)3 Steve King Foundation, the King family has raised more than $200,000 and helped 150 dirt-track families in the United States, Canada and Australia. So it was second nature for Amstein to get to work raising money for Kevin Swindell, who was injured in a crash during his heat race Thursday night at Knoxville Raceway.
“We started first thing this morning. Last night was about processing what happened,” Amstein said. “I hate to see accidents anywhere, but I really hate to see accidents here (Knoxville). But first thing this morning, I decided we were going to fill that tire for Kevin.”
“That tire” is a donation box set up at the Steve King Foundation booth on the midway at Knoxville Raceway. In addition to the donation box for Swindell, volunteers led by Naomi and Danette, longtime friend and race team sponsor Linda Leiker are hard at work selling t-shirts to raise money for other dirt trackers in need. SKF raffles off two gift baskets every day during the Knoxville Nationals with the help of several sprint car drivers.
Amstein said what the family learned in the aftermath of Steve King’s accident is that dirt-track fans are some of the most generous people but there was no national conduit to distribute the money raised to those in need. They started the non-profit to provide a national support system for injured racers and their families and to help those struggling to cope with what happened.
Dirt-track racers like Brian “Cowboy” Steinman, who suffered a spinal cord injury at Lernerville (Pa.) Speedway in 2012. Steinman completed physical therapy and had a wheelchair but couldn’t return to work.
“One of my favorite stories is “Cowboy” Steinman. It was muddy in Pennsylvania and his wheelchair kept getting stuck in the mud. He couldn’t work,” Amstein said. “We were able to do a matching grant with the generous racing fans in Pennsylvania and get him a ‘track chair.’ It allows him to be mobile in all terrain and he is back to work.”
Steinman is now helping others through the Steve King Foundation. Steinman and his family recently hosted a 5k run at Pennsylvania’s Lernerville Speedway and raised $5,000 for the foundation.
All the donations are used to help injured drivers, pit crew members, officials and track personnel who are seriously ill, severely injured or killed. The by-laws of the non-profit specify that a person is eligible if they miss, at least, 10 days of work.
“We’ve paid for physical therapy when insurance ran out; to get a spouse to a place where the injured person is; hotel rooms for families to stay with their loved one while they are in the hospital — we do it all,” Amstein said. “Of course, the saddest is tombstones, but that is important too.”
Steve King grew up in a racing family in Southwestern Kansas — his father, Danny, raced and in 1989, Steve King crawled in a race car. He won the NCRA 360 sprint car championship in 2002 and 2003. At the time of his death, he was the second-winningest driver in NCRA history.
“He loved life, his family and racing. He would stand for hours and sign autographs until the last person had theirs. He was always helping others,” Amstein said of her brother. “This foundation is just an extension of him and what he already did. Someone stopped by yesterday with a story about him I’ve never heard — those are always special.”
Donations can be made on the Steve King Foundation website, stevekingfoundation.org, and can be directed specifically for Kevin Swindell with a note in the comments.
Amstein is determined to reach her goal this weekend.
“We will be here for Sammy, Amy and Kevin when they need us,” Amstein said. “Right now, what we can do is fill this tire up.”