Frank Kimmel: Reaching For The Record Book

Sunday, July 20 – Nine-time ARCA Racing Series champion, Frank Kimmel, will continue his quest for a record-breaking 80th win in the series. He tied all-time ARCA race winner Iggy Kantona with his 79th series win at Winchester Speedway on June 30. He also leads the series point standings and is trying to capture his 10th series championship. I interview Kimmel about his career and his feelings about his records in the series prior to Saturday, July 20 practice at Chicagoland Speedway.

Mary Champion – You have 79 wins, tied with Iggy (Katona), how does that feel?

Frank Kimmel – Unreal really. It took me three or four years to win a race and then another year or so after that to win another race, so it I don’t’ know I ever dreamt anybody would get that close to Iggys record. He’s a hero of mine, an icon of the series. He’s our Richard Petty and I just felt like anybody would never get close, and I can’t believe I’ve been doing it this long and had this much fortune to get this close.

MC – I’ve always considered ARCA probably to be the most versatile series in all of motorsports. You run on so many different types of tracks, the dirt, the short tracks, the superspeedways, the road courses. What’s your favorite type of track and most memorable moment in your ARCA Career?

FK – I get that question all the time, which one do you like the most? It’s pretty difficult to pick one I enjoy. Every racetrack has its specialty or whatever and it is a privilege to go to any racetrack but to pull into Daytona and to think you’re actually gonna race at Daytona, to me that’s just amazing. I went here and watched as a kid and never thought I’d get the opportunity to race there. That’s such a thrill. Talladega’s the same way and all these big tracks that you grow up watching on TV and just admire so much. Then you go to places like Salem and Winchester, which are tracks that I raced at as I grew up.

MC – I was going to say, isn’t Salem considered your home track?

FK – My home track and Winchester is just a few more hours up the road. Both tracks I really enjoy and Toledo’s the first race I ever won in ARCA. I think we’ve won nine races there now, so I’ve had a lot of success, but if I had to pick some place that I really look forward to as much as any is probably the mile dirts; Springfield and DuQuoin. So much history there and I was so bad at it when I first started. I was terrible on the dirt and my goal was to try to stay on the lead lap in the early races. And to think that we’ve had so much success there, and when you look at the people that have won at Springfield or DuQuoin, both of them, it’s very very special. It’s just such a cool place to get to go race.

MC – They’re such icons in all of racing,

FK – Exactly right. That’s something that I guarantee you. You go over to the Nationwide garage, and if you go over to the Cup garage, wherever you go, if you go over the ARCA schedule and say ‘which race would you like to go over and try?’ If you had any choice where you wanted to go, I bet 90% would say the dirt tracks

MC – Tying into that a little bit, I know you did the trucks (NASCAR Camping World Truck Series) at Iowa. How did you like running the trucks?

FK – I really enjoyed it. I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t run better, but there’s a couple of goals we needed to follow in that race and one was to stay in the top 20 in points cause we were really close, I think 16th thru 23rd or something like that, it’s all really close. We needed to stay in the top 20 for the dirt race coming up and they’re locked in now. So we did, we maintained speed there and stayed in 19th and fortunately the second, third in points had trouble, so we were able to put a point between them and our teammate, Matt Crafton, who’s leading in the points.

MC – Do you plan on running any more truck races?

FK – It’s kind of up to them. They already had been talking that I might get to run a couple more by the end of the year. I think some of it has to do with the ARCA schedule and how things are going. Definitely our main focus is to try to win to win the 10th championship and hope to get one more win.

MC – The potential of 10 championships has to be an incredible feeling too.

FK – Yeah. I think it’s been so long since we won a championship. It’s been three years, four years or five years, whatever it’s been. So its gonna be like winning your first one again. I always said you’re only as good as your last race. You’re only as good as your last championship. Last year we finished second so we’re trying to get back on top of the mountain. We’ve got a lot of good competition here. Mason (Mingus) and all the guys that are right behind us are gonna be battling all year long too, so its gonna be a good battle.

MC – You’ve watched all the kids that come and go, and yet you’ve made this your life series. What determined that this was where you were going to spend your racing career?

FK – It really comes down to money. Everybody always wants a big glorious answer for that but unfortunately, that’s what it is. We had great sponsors with Advance Auto Parts for many, many years and then we had the National Pork Board for a few more years and now we have Ansell and Menards, They’re both great companies but Menards already has a (Sprint) Cup car and the other two companies, Pork and Advance Auto Parts, they had the budget to run ARCA and they didn’t have the budget to run Nationwide, Trucks or Cup, of course. They really enjoyed what we were able to do here. They liked the success they were having and Advance Auto Parts sponsored some small decals on the Hendrick cars for a few years and things like that. It just worked out that that’s the budget that we normally had right here, and that’s where we’ve stayed.

MC – For many years you were teamed with your brother as your crew chief, you had your own team together for a while. How difficult of an adjustment was it for you when he went one direction and you went the other?

FK – It was very difficult. It was a very, very tough decision for both of us. We had so much success over the years. It’s brothers. It’s family. It’s hard on the family. It was a tough decision to walk away and leave that. We were trying to build something for our boys. Will, who will be racing this weekend, and my son Frankie, who’s in college. He’s in his senior year of college. That’s his goal but he’s a very good racer too. He’s won four or five track championships at Salem. He’s a very good racer and a good young man. They both are, and we were supposed to build something for both of them and, as it developed, there wasn’t going to be room for Frankie. So I made this move. We made sure that the Thorsons, Ansell and Menards knew that we were trying to build this down the road and hopefully, in a year or so, when he’s graduated and stuff, he (Frankie) can hop in and go race some too.

MC – You’ve won on all the different types of tracks except the road courses.

FK – That’s ’cause I suck at road course racing.

MC – Do you feel that’s something you would eventually like to accomplish? To do a clean sweep of it or is it not, in the big picture, that important?

FK – Me, personally, I would love to get to do it. I try to win every time we run one. It seems like every year we always have guys that are specialists come in and race against us and really they’re in a different league. We just don’t do it enough to get that good, or I don’t. I need to run it more often. But I really enjoy the road courses. Our goal is to go out and get the best finish we can that day for what we’re capable of doing.

MC – Have you ever done any road course coaching?

FK – I’ve gone to a couple schools. I’ve had people talk to me. I think my mechanics are all good. I’ve always said one of the biggest problems in road course racing for me is you feel like you’re punishing the car every single lap. You just feel like you’re really abusing the brakes, you’re abusing the transmission. That’s very difficult for me to do. All my life my Dad preached to me when I first started that you don’t get paid until that last lap. Take care of the equipment and make sure it gets to the end. Luckily, we’ve been very good at that, very fortunate over the years. It’s a tough deal, but I always feel like when I’m driving the car as hard as I think I can drive it, I feel like I’m gonna tear it up every lap. It’s just really tough. I’m actually looking forward to going back to New Jersey (New Jersey Motorsports Park) this year. This will be our fourth or fifth year there in a row so I’m very comfortable with that race track. The guys did a lot of work on our road course car last year. At Road America this year it was very good.

MC – I was going to ask how you liked running Road America.

FK – The car was excellent. It was better than me and I’d never been there. I think we ended up 11th (actually 7th). We got a lap down on pit strategy and of course you can’t make that up. We weren’t fast enough to do it. We probably should have finished in sixth, fifth. I thought we could finish in the top five but anyway we were the first car a lap down. What a beautiful race track. That was such a cool place to go. I really enjoyed it. But literally I was driving along, and it was late in the race before I really felt comfortable and I knew which turn was coming up, how to approach it, what gear I should be in, all the things that are important to go fast on a road course. It was late in the race before I really felt I was comfortable doing that. I’m looking forward to going back. I hope we do that and New Jersey, like I said, the guys worked so hard on the car, I thing we’re going to have a really good car in New Jersey so I’m looking forward. We should be better there.

MC – How many years do you plan to keep on going?

FK – I’m 51 now. We’re approaching our goals that I always felt like I set. I’d like to win the 10th championship. I think that’s a pretty cool number and of course to try to beak Iggy’s record. I don’t think I’d quit cold turkey. I enjoy the dirt races too much. I enjoy Salem too much. I’d very much like to, in the not too far future, let Frankie hop in my car and go race for a season championship and I could go run four or five races a year, and we’d both be real happy with that.

MC – You want to kind of gradually ease out?

FK – Yeah. I think that it would be a great way to end what you’re doing, still do the ones you love, still do the dirt tracks and I think we can be competitive on those tracks for years to come. Daytona and Talladega you can do. These intermediate tracks, you’ve got to be up on the wheel and really, really racing hard, so I’m looking forward to Frankie getting to do that and go out and experience that. I think if you had to sit down and draw your plan out that would be a pretty good plan,

MC – Thank you.

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