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History, new traditions intersect for Truck Series’ debut at Knoxville Raceway

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is set to take on one of its most storied settings yet.

For the first time in series history, the trucks will race at Knoxville Raceway, the Sprint Car Capital of the World. The Corn Belt 150 will be held at the historic Iowa half-mile July 9 with live TV coverage on FS1.

Knoxville’s status in the world of dirt racing is nothing short of legendary, starting as a horse track built in 1878 that found its purpose as an auto-racing facility not long after the turn of the 20th century.

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After a years-long racing hiatus during World War II, stock cars became the vehicle of choice to work around the dark Iowa clay. That choice evolved to super modifieds and eventually sprint cars in a short amount of time.

But to have stock-car racing back in the heart of Iowa’s home for dirt racing? That’s as full circle as it gets.

“It’s going to be quite significant,” said Bob Wilson, the track historian at Knoxville. “It’s going to be the first time (the trucks visit) and it’s going to be a different sort of race than our regular people are used to seeing. However, I think the stands will be filled with NASCAR people who are really interested in this.”

Wilson is right — this will be a new endeavor for all parties involved.

Chris Dunkin has been Knoxville’s lead track prep director since 1995, but this role dates back far longer than that. He began helping his father prep the track as far back as 1977, and his father began working on the racing surface shortly after returning from serving the country in WWII.

Yet for all the experience Dunkin has, he knows this will be new territory for both him and the competitors.

On a typical dry summer week, Dunkin said the track will go through 100,000 to 150,000 gallons of water to prepare for a regular sprint-car show. Because those vehicles are less than half the weight of a Truck Series vehicle, there will be significantly less water involved.

“What I want to see when the trucks hit the race track is a surface that has some moisture in it,” Dunkin said, “but not to the point to where it’s definitely not standing water but almost to the point where it’s just starting to discolor.”

The hype around Knoxville is growing with each passing day. In the backyard of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum, Knoxville legend Donny Schatz will make his series debut in one of NASCAR’s national touring series.

Schatz is a 10-time winner of the Knoxville Nationals, one of the highest honors in sprint-car racing around the world.

“Donny Schatz is one of the premier drivers to ever race on Knoxville dirt,” Wilson said. “He has just been a phenomenal sprint car driver. And so for him to take the time to go to the Truck Series and try it out (says a lot).”

MORE: Schatz set for Trucks debut

Also joining Schatz around the half-mile in a series debut will be hometown hero Brian Brown. Brown has been finding every way possible to ready himself for his stock-car racing debut, including participating in the inaugural Superstar Racing Experience event held at Knoxville on June 19.

“He is one of Knoxville’s favorites,” Wilson said. “This is his home track for winged sprint-car racing. He’s from Missouri. He comes here basically weekly, and he’s a multi-time track champion. Just set a brand-new track record for one lap last year, 14.3 seconds on the half-mile.”

Wilson and Dunkin have both spent their lives around the facility. And while the track’s reputation has exploded over the past several decades, both acknowledged the significance of this event.

The importance goes both ways. In one aspect, heading to Knoxville legitimizes the Truck Series’ venture to dirt. While the series circuited Eldora Speedway for seven consecutive years from 2013-19 and put on great displays of racing, Eldora was the only dirt venue at which the series competed. To go to such a storied location this year after a successful trip to Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt-covered banks only bolsters the series’ reputation.

Likewise, a nationally-televised live broadcast of a NASCAR-sanctioned national series event further cements Knoxville’s status in the world of racing, proving its facilities are built to host an event of this magnitude.

“Understanding that the trucks were going to come to Knoxville, you get that sense of excitement,” said Dunkin, who also noted he was in “disbelief” when he learned this event was happening. “It’s a privilege to have an organization like NASCAR come to a local track in Iowa.”

Wilson admitted he was a bit jealous of Eldora when he went for the 2019 iteration of the Eldora Dirt Derby, wishing Knoxville would one day have its chance. That opportunity is finally here.

“I was a 9-year-old kid sitting in the grandstand in the ’50s, and to think that these races are going to be nationally live is just crazy,” Wilson said. “I never would have guessed it. Never. And I think Knoxville Raceway was already on the sprint-car map. And I think with these new races that more and more people are going to know about Knoxville.”