Iowa History Daily: On July 29, 1961, engines roared and dirt flew at the “Sprint Car Capital of the World” as drivers competed in the first ever Knoxville Nationals. The annual sprint car event held in Marion County represents the premiere title in sprint car racing and draws tens of thousands of fans each year and features around 100 race teams.
With roots as a horse track debuting in 1878, the Knoxville Raceway started hosting stock car races weekly in 1954, initially racing in the Southern Iowa Stock Car Racing Association. However, in 1956 a progression began moving from stock cars to modifieds, modified to supermodifieds, and eventually to sprint cars.
Developed by promoter Marion Robinson, the first Knoxville Nationals welcomed Super Modifieds for a one-day event in 1961. Over 14,000 people turned out to watch Roy Robbins win the race and collect a $1,280 purse at an event billed as the “Super-Modified National Championship.”
Over the decades the event, purse, and crowds grew significantly. By 1971 the winner took home $3,000, and by 1982 winners collected $10,000. In 2010, winners received $150,000. As prize money grew, so did the crowds. In 1991, over 75,000 people attended the races held in Knoxville (population 8,200).
Many drivers continue to provide notable performances year after year, however, Steve Kinser holds the distinction as the greatest driver in Knoxville Nationals history to date. Kinser won the event a dozen times, and also leads in top-five finishes (17), top-ten finishes (26), prelim night features (14), leading qualifying (9), and A-Main laps led (301). #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar