Kraig Kinser; Contributor

Contributor

Kraig Kinser

We actually had two preliminary nights at the 2005 Knoxville Nationals. Our initial preliminary night was rained out. It was a rainy weekend in general.

At first, I thought the first night getting rained out was going to hurt us because we had qualified like second or third quick. We had missed the show through our heat race by one spot. We started in the first two rows of the B-main, but we never got to run the B-main because it rained out at that point. I was kinda bummed because we were actually gonna be pretty good in points as long as we got through the B-main.

When all was said and done it helped us because we qualified third the next night and this time we finished third and made the feature straight through our heat race. We really didn’t do much in the feature, we just kind of maintained at eighth place, but it was enough to get us pretty good points.

We were pretty happy going into Saturday night’s show.


It actually ended up being a pretty good night and we’d had two solid nights at Knoxville in general. We were pretty happy going into Saturday night’s show.

Kraig Kinser driving the Arctic Cat; no.21 | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
Kraig Kinser driving the Arctic Cat; no.21 | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

The lead up

Heading into Knoxville we were having a great year. We had won six or seven Outlaws races leading up to the Nationals and had actually won the first night of the spring race at Knoxville before the second night rained out. So, things were rolling pretty good for us. We’d had quite a few wins, our motors were hitting good, our cars were feeling great and I was driving really well. We had some confidence built up going into the Nationals that we could have success.

At the time, Mike Cool was my crew chief, Gary Dubois was mechanic and Matt Giese was a mechanic. We had a pretty good team, it was about the most I’ve ever had on a team even to this day and we were working good and winning a lot of races together.

We had a Maxim chassis, 87-40 raised rail car at that time. We didn’t have the tire rules that we do today and we could do a lot of different stuff with the wings. The rules were quite open and the weight rule was lower.

The rules were quite open and the weight rule was lower.

I had a great crew chief in Mike Cool. “Coolie” was the strong, silent type. You never got much out of him, he just never talked much. The only time he talked was if he had a few beers in him and then you couldn’t get him to be quiet some nights. He knew his stuff but he was a really hard read.

When I was just starting out he ran the United Express U2 team which was a pretty popular car back in the Midwest around Indiana and Ohio. Paul McMahan was driving it when I was first starting out, so we travelled around with them a lot, and I knew him from a real young age. When they closed down the U2 car it worked out perfectly for us.

“Coolie” was perfect to fill that role because he wanted to travel and he wanted to race.

At the time we had my uncle Randy Kinser and he wanted to be home more. He didn’t want to be on the Outlaws tour full-time. “Coolie” was perfect to fill that role because he wanted to travel and he wanted to race. “Coolie” stepped in really nicely and we had success right off the bat with him.

He was just one of those guys who could look at a car and have a good idea of what it was doing.

He could listen to me and understand what I was trying to communicate, he understood what I was trying to tell him and he could just read me right. He could usually make the right adjustments to the car and we were doing really well.

“Coolie” was really good at fueling the cars and getting everything he could out of the motor without hurting it. It was a big advantage for us especially when you’re fighting over hundreds of a second. He had everything rolling good heading into Knoxville.

Sadly, we lost “Coolie” a few years ago. It was a shame and a really hard hit for me personally. In my lifetime he was probably one of the closer guys that I’ve lost. We had a really good bond.

Kraig Kinser flies through turn 1 at Volusia, Florida for The 2016 DIRTcar Nationals | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
Kraig Kinser flies through turn 1 at Volusia, Florida for The 2016 DIRTcar Nationals | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

Battling Mother Nature

As I said earlier it was a rainy weekend so I can’t remember exactly how it all played out. Knoxville still ran the scrambles back then on the Friday night but they got rained out. They planned on doing the scrambles the next morning and then go into the show. Sure enough we got rained out Saturday night too.

We started around 10-11 o’clock Sunday morning and we did the scrambles first. The track was already gone. There was just a little bit of rubber on the bottom. We were lucky enough to start pretty close to the back and inside in the rubber. The guy in front of me got too tight on the start entering turn 1 and kind of washed up and gave me an open run on the bottom which helped me pass about three or four cars which was enough to put me on the front row for the A-main. Brian Paulus and I knew we were on the front row at about noon and then had to wait until about 9 o’clock that night.

Brian Paulus and I knew we were on the front row at about noon and then had to wait until about 9 o’clock that night.

It was still a 30-lap race back then. When we hot lapped later on that night we were really quick. Normally if you’re locked into the “A” you put a big fuel load in the tank just to see how your car is going to react early. Some guys put it close to full, some guys put it half full just to put some weight on the rear of the car to help you know what you’re going to be like in traffic with fuel in it. When we went out there we actually went out there like we were on a qualifying run and only had like five gallons in it.

I was pretty calm. “Coolie” doesn’t get too excited, so if he was worked up you never saw it. His personality probably helped to keep me calm. I remember Gary was a nervous wreck and Matt was probably more nervous than “Coolie” and so was I and obviously my dad was a little bit too.

I tried sleeping between the races here and there.

It was actually a pretty relaxed afternoon to be honest with you. All of us stayed in the pit area pretty much all afternoon while the races were going on. I tried sleeping between the races here and there.

Kraig Kinser leaning hard into turn 1 at Volusia, Florida in 2016 | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
Kraig Kinser leaning hard into turn 1 at Volusia, Florida in 2016 | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

The big show

It was a 30-lap race, but I remember we talked before the race about maybe pacing ourselves a bit if we got out to a lead but we figured we’d pretty much run as hard as we could and save just a touch.

I ran pretty much as hard as I could about every lap. I set a pretty good pace and was hoping for a long run. I didn’t want to catch a late race caution, especially when you’re going as hard as you can because your stuff could be used up and you lose any kind of gap you had built up.

We took an early lead and ran the top. We were also pretty good on the bottom. I don’t ever remember seeing Donny (Schatz) but I remember hearing him a little bit just past halfway. Later when I got to go back and watch the deal, I made some good moves that kind of blocked him where he was running at but I didn’t have any idea he was there.

I knew pretty early that I had a good opportunity to win. In a 30-lap race, especially at Knoxville, if you’re good early sometimes you’re not going to be there at the end when your fuel load burns off, and I was kind of a little worried because we were so good early. I was worried about getting to free at the end of the race but that never really happened. We had a nice cushion that we could lean on and it never really moved that much during the race.

I remember going through traffic and about screwing up a couple of times trying to pass somebody on the outside. I can’t remember who it was but I tried jumping outside between the cushion and the wall and it was probably an unnecessary risk but we got through it okay and everything worked out good.

We caught a late caution and Danny Lasoski and Donny started racing each other at the end and that kind of helped me get away in open track over the last six or seven laps.

Kraig Kinser driving the Arctic Kat no.11 in 2016
Kraig Kinser driving the Arctic Kat no.11| Photo: Jeffrey Turford

We caught a late caution and Danny Lasoski and Donny started racing each other at the end and that kind of helped me get away in open track over the last six or seven laps.

I never realized I was going to win the race until I crossed the finish line. I remember thinking that someone was right on me. I knew I had open track so I knew it was going to be tough for them to get around me if I didn’t screw up. I remember asking “Coolie” later on how far ahead I was at the end because to me it felt like someone was breathing down my neck during the last five or six laps of that thing so I kept trying to run harder and harder and harder. It turned out that we were in good shape there, we had Donny tracking us the whole race. He was always there but we just never gave him the opportunity to get us.

At that time Donny had not won the Nationals yet, but he was right there every year. Even at that point, in the last five years before he finally won, he was one of the cars to beat at Knoxville. He ran second a couple of times. I remember probably the year he was going to win his first one he started on the front row, went into the first turn, peeled the tire off and flipped. It was a heartbreaker for him but he rebounded very well. I don’t think any of us knew he was going to be what he’s turned into but we all knew he was a big threat at Knoxville and he was always talented there even before he put it all together.

I knew Donny was going to be a tough one to keep behind me, him and Lasoski both. There’s just a lot of good cars all of the way through the Nationals field. I think we did ourselves a huge favor by putting ourselves in a position to start in front of those guys. All we had to do at that point was keep them all behind us. The only car we had to pass was Brian Paulus who started on the pole of the race. We were just fortunate enough that it all happened like that.

Kraig Kinser battles hard during Speedweek at Volusia Speedway in 2016 | Photo: Jeffrey Turford
Kraig Kinser battles hard during Speedweek at Volusia Speedway in 2016 | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

The celebration

After I won I tried climbing the fence right where Doug Clark’s flag stand was. The problem was that Doug has chicken wire there to keep all the mud broken up so it doesn’t hit him. I couldn’t climb in there so I had to go down like another 10 feet where there was no chicken wire and I ended up climbing up to the top.

My dad was out on the front straightaway so I obviously gave him a hug. He was pretty pumped. I remember seeing him pretty pumped up but it wasn’t until afterwards when I watched the videos and stuff like that when I really realized how excited he was.

It was typical “Coolie.”

It was typical “Coolie.” He was there in victory lane after we went through the scales and said ‘Good job’ and I didn’t see him until an hour and a half after the race. I didn’t get any team pictures with him or anything. I actually sent Gary out to try and find him but to this day I still don’t have a picture of all of us all in victory lane.

“Coolie” is just that guy who didn’t want to be in the spotlight about anything and Gary is probably mad at me because he doesn’t have too many pictures in victory lane because he was off trying to find “Coolie”.

I have some photos with the family and Matt was still there I got a couple of pictures with Matt and the rest of the crew was kinda gone. It was just a great night and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it for as long as I live.


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