KNOXVILLE, Iowa — First-time winners in the Knoxville Nationals have been few and far between in recent years.
Tim Shaffer won the 50th annual Nationals in 2010 to earn his first victory in the prestigious event, but defending race winner Donny Schatz has won five of the last six runnings of the event.
Schatz was a first-time winner in 2006 and Kraig Kinser won his only Nationals in 2005.
Two of the more than 90 drivers attempting to win the sport’s biggest prize for the first time, this year, will be World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series point leader Craig Dollansky and Shane Stewart, who posted his fourth Knoxville 360 Nationals victory last weekend.
Dollansky was the high point earner on night one of the Nationals despite failing to transfer through his heat race and having to run the B main.
“Last night was a good night,” Dollansky said Thursday. “We had to overcome not making it through the heat race, but we were able to get up through the feature.
“It is the Knoxville Nationals and there is always pressure,” said the former weekly racer at the half-mile black-dirt oval. “It was the biggest race of the year. For us qualifying well was a big deal because it got us a good starting spot in the B main even if we didn’t make it through our heat race.”
Despite a solid finishing record at the Nationals with 12 top-10 finishes, Dollansky is still chasing a victory in the biggest stage in dirt-track racing.
“It would be huge,” said the Minnesota native. “It is the granddaddy of the them all. They don’t get any bigger than that. We have a lot of work to do before we get there. I’ve never really had a good starting position here and to have a good starting position would be really good for us.
Stewart, meanwhile, drove Paul Silva’s No. 57 to a second-place finish last year and was third in 2010. Back in the Silva entry, Stewart was seventh in points after the opening night.
“You have to go through the trials and tribulations to win it and we’ve been knocking on the door and just haven’t gotten through it,” explained Stewart, who calls Oklahoma home. “We keep qualifying and starting too far back. Hopefully, one of these years we can win it. I just live this place. It is a special place.”
Schatz was third in points on the opening night, and with five victories in the $150,000-to-win classic, remains hungry to win again at Knoxville Raceway.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you win it,” he said. “There would be nothing better than to come here and get out of here with that trophy. I feel like I come here never having won it, and that just shows you how bad I want to win it.”
Hurry and enter! Winners will be announced Saturday at the Knoxville Nationals finale! Chance to win a $2,500 VIP prize package to the 2013 Knoxville Nationals and be on Donny Schatz’s pit crew!