CALIFORNIA, Mo. — After a host of blood, sweat and tears, Clyde Knipp picked up his first win with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series last Friday at Knoxville Raceway.
However, that victory didn’t come in the capacity that Knipp’s fans may have expected.
Knipp, a former full-time World of Outlaws racer, became the car chief for the Jason Johnson Racing No. 41 prior to the start of the season — after two prominent crew members left their posts at JJR — and has been working with driver David Gravel since the start of the DIRTcar Nationals in February.
When Gravel pulled into Knoxville’s victory lane Friday night as the fourth different winner to open the World of Outlaws season, Knipp found himself celebrating as well — becoming an Outlaw victor as a crew member, instead of as a driver like he once thought he might.
It was a different experience, Knipp admitted, but one that was “just as gratifying and equally as rewarding” as if he had driven a race car into victory lane.
“Man, even though I wasn’t driving, you would’ve thought I was the one who won that race just because of how many people were congratulating me afterward,” Knipp said. “David shouted me out on DIRTvision and it just felt awesome just to be able to be part of a team that literally was fast out of the box. We set quick time in our flight, we finished our heat in a decent spot, started fourth in the A-main and won it. So for me to communicate with the crew chief and the tire guy and have all of us be in sync … it was really cool. We just put together a solid night as a team.
“Phil (Dietz, crew chief) did a really good job of making adjustments when he needed to, and I was able to help perform changes on the car that he made Gravel more comfortable. At the end of the night, even though there weren’t any fans to help celebrate, we had our own little team celebration,” Knipp added. “It was just surreal, especially to win in Knoxville because I grew up not too far from Knoxville and I’ve always wanted to win there, no matter what the circumstances. It was pretty cool.”
After a rough two-and-a-half year stint as a driver with the Outlaws from 2016-’18, Knipp transitioned to the crew side of the industry last year and has slowly gained more and more respect from his peers.
Knipp was hired as Gravel’s car chief after working with Paul McMahan for much of the 2019 season. He noted that he’s learned as much or more about the sport from working on race cars as he did when he was driving on a full-time basis.
“Personally, I think that’s one reason why I like it on the crew member side, because that’s the side that I never knew about as a driver,” Knipp noted. “It’s crazy and there’s a lot of pressure, just like if you’re driving the car at the top level. It’s just a different kind of pressure. What I do, being the car chief now for JJR, is a huge responsibility. I’m more or less building everything there is on the car and it falls to me if something goes wrong in that regard, so to speak.
“One of the biggest things about it, in my opinion, is that crew guys are hard to come by … and that’s another reason why I wanted to go this route, because I know how tough it is on car owners that can’t get good help,” he added. “A lot of the younger kids just don’t want to put in that much work on a race car to see it go around 50 times in one night. It’s busting your butt and more at three o’ clock in the morning and it’s a side that people don’t see, but working on these cars has taught me a lot about what it takes to be successful beyond the driver’s seat that maybe I didn’t always see or account for before.”
As the laps wound down in the 30-lap feature last weekend, Knipp admitted he felt many of the same worries as he would have inside the helmet — just amplified, because he wasn’t in control of the situation at that point.
“As a crew guy, I realized that in that position, you go through your head asking yourself again and again if the car is going to perform the way it should, because you’re the person that touched it last. So in that respect, it’s a little bit of an edgy position to be in,” he explained. “But when he won, I was like, ‘Man, this is cool.’ And I felt jitterier than I probably would have if I probably would have been driving. When you’re driving, you’re in control and it’s in your hands. It’s your fate. When you’re a crew guy, it’s not in your hands. You work on the car and then you send your driver out on the track and that’s it. Then it’s up to them.
“For (David) Gravel to go out and win was a satisfying feeling for me, just because I knew then that I did my job and I had the car right, where nothing happened to it and it could go out and be fast.”
Despite the fact that only four World of Outlaws events are in the books so far, Knipp believes this most recent victory by Gravel won’t be the last by the No. 41 team this season.
In fact, he added, it may just be the beginning.
“I feel like our momentum has shifted tremendously. The team is really confident right now,” Knipp said. “I know Bobbi (Johnson, team owner) is pretty happy with where we’re at, and as long as she’s happy, I guess everybody’s happy. I think we’re going to be a threat come the point race with the Outlaws, as long as Gravel’s truck schedule allows us to be.
“If it doesn’t, then we’ll still be chasing trophies and the owners’ title, and I think you’re liable to see us celebrating like we did last Friday a lot.”
The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series season continues May 22-23 at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Mo., with limited spectators allowed to attend the event.
For those unable to attend the race, a pay-per-view streaming option is available. More information on the event broadcast can be found here.