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Steve Kinser is king of the spring car world

February 20, 2006|by JASON STEIN / Wheelbase Communications

In Steve Kinser's home town of Bloomington, a college town in the rolling hills of Indiana just 45 minutes south of Indianapolis, they typically have two seasons: Indiana University basketball season; and the time spent waiting for Indiana University basketball season.

Kinser has Bloomington thinking about a new, but not-so-new sport.

"Steve Kinser is one of Monroe County's greatest athletes," Bloomington mayor Mark Kruzan said on Steve Kinser Day back on Dec. 16, 2004. "He is definitely one of our local heroes."

To the unaware, Kinser is the King. He is to "Outlaw" Sprint Car racing - the top tier of dirt-track racing - what Richard Petty was to the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).

For nearly three decades, Kinser has ruled the dirt tracks in places called Eldora and the Big H and the Devil's Bowl.

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His mantra couldn't be simpler: "My job is to run the race car and to win races and championships," he once said.

And the 51-year-old Kinser has won everywhere and just about everything.

In 27 seasons he has collected an incredible 20 World of Outlaws crowns, won more than 500 World of Outlaws races and finished first in 30 percent of the races he entered.

"I have a few more years left," he said after collecting his 532nd win last year. "All the travel does get tiring, but I still enjoy racing. I have no intention of pulling back for a while."

A state champion wrestler from Bloomington South High School in the early 1970s, he joined his father, Bob, in the bricklaying and racing business when he graduated. Bob earned his own reputation winning races on weekends at dirt tracks across the Midwest. Steve would make everyone forget his father.

In 1978, Kinser's first year as a full-time driver in the World of Outlaws series, he won the whole thing, collecting 11 victories and blowing away the field. The competition wondered where the skinny 24-year-old kid had come from. He won the championship the following year and the one after that. Beginning in 1983, Kinser won 12 of the next 13 championships and earned himself a new name: King.

"When you are racing Steve Kinser, you are racing the best," said Danny Lasoski, one of Kinser's chief rivals on the circuit. "That's why they call him 'The King.'"

In 1987, King Kinser won an incredible 46 feature races, including 12 in a row and 24 of the final 26 that year. For perspective, only eight drivers have ever won as many as 46 main events . . . in their entire careers.

Over the years, Kinser has even earned himself a spot driving at the yearly Indianapolis 500 (1997, finishing 14th) and in two NASCAR races in 1995.

"Those different circuits are great fun, but sprint cars are what I love," he said.

In his own garage, Kinser surrounds himself with a talented and loyal staff, traveling across the United States every summer weekend in search of the next victory. And he hasn't slowed a bit.

In 2000, Kinser was voted sprint-car racing's greatest driver by a panel assembled by the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum. Last year Kinser racked up 61 top-10 finishes, finished a whopping 543 points ahead of the second-place driver and earned $500,000 in a 91-race season.

"We have been running awfully well the last four years," Kinser told ESPN.com, a sports Web site. "The depth of the field is deeper than it has ever been, and there are 20 cars and drivers out there that are capable of winning. You can win one night and miss the show the next night."

But Kinser rarely misses, and now he has passed on that tradition to his son.

Twenty-one-year-old Kraig is slowly working his way into victory lane at tracks around the country driving a car owned by his father. Kraig has already been named a rookie of the year.

"I'll always view him as the King of the Outlaws," he once said of his father. "If I can race with him, I know I've got a good car."

In Bloomington, they know.

They know there is a special sprint-car driver with a special son.

They know there is more than just Indiana University basketball.

They know they have a King.

Jason Stein is a feature writer with Wheelbase Communications. He can be reached on the Web at: www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.

Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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