KNOXVILLE, IOWA (August 10, 2017) – Knoxville, Iowa in August is bustling with excitement as the best in the business head to the Sprint Car Capital of the World – Knoxville Raceway – to compete in the granddaddy of them all . . . the Knoxville Nationals. As the defending champion, Jason’s week got off to a quick start even though he did not qualify on the first night as he was honored as his champion’s banner was unveiled in a special ceremony in the newly named Ralph Capitani Avenue of Champions.
But when the sun came up on Thursday morning it was time to get laser focused as he was one of the 53 drivers and teams registered to take part in the second night of qualifying. The JJR Marshall Racing crew prepped the car, affectionately maned Mary Jane, and loaded up their trailer with spare parts and tires as they readied to head to the pit area with the Mesilla Valley Transportation (MVT)/Dissolvalloy Downhole Revolution #41 Maxim. They pulled the ‘59’ pill, which set them up 37th in the time trial order. David Gravel went out early and laid down a great lap to set the bar. When it was the Ragin’ Cajun’s turn he pushed out onto the black clay and stepped on the accelerator to let the horses run in his Kistler Engines powerplant. They were at full gallop as they trekked down the backstretch and he started the clock when he crossed under the green flag. His first lap was a good one at 15.663 seconds, but the Louisiana-born native stayed on the loud pedal and picked up almost a tenth of a second with a lap of 15.566 seconds. When all was said and done in time trials, his night was off to a great start as he was ninth quick overall.
Following the conclusion of the opening ceremonies with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, Jason’s son Jaxx exclaimed, “Let’s Go Racing Boys” to get the night’s heat races started. With an inversion of eight in each heat race, the Fischer Body Shop/CCC #41 would line up on the inside of row four beside Brian Brown. Kraig Kinser and Dale Blaney would start from row one with Cole Duncan, Don Droud, Jr., RJ Johnson and Paige Polyak sandwiched between row one and row four. With only four spots transferring into the A-Main there is no time to wait. The initial green flag was called back when Brown jumped, but when the green cloth flew again it was the Ragin’ Cajun charging down the front straightaway. He entered turn one in sixth and quickly went to work for the fifth spot. Dale Blaney was leading Kinser as Jason moved the forty-one into fifth. He now set his sights on the fourth and final transfer spot that was held by Don Droud, Jr. The Cajun got it and moved into third before Brown got by on the last lap. Blaney took the heat race win with Kinser, Brown and Johnson securing the final transfer positions to the 25-lap qualifying night feature event.
If you are not familiar with the Knoxville Nationals format it is all about points. You accumulate points every time you hit the track. Jason had accumulated enough points in time trials and his heat race to make the inversion of eight for the feature where he would start fourth. Behind Mark Dobmeier, Wayne Johnson, and Brooke Tatnell while Daryn Pittman, Brian Brown, Terry McCarl, David Gravel, Ian Madsen and Dominic Scelzi rounded out the first ten. After the World of Outlaws traditional four wide salute to the packed grandstands on both the front and back straightway it was time to go racing. The green flag waved and Jason jumped on the gas inside his Maxim Racing cockpit. He was wheelin’ his mount with his MPI Steering Wheel, but the car didn’t feel right. He fell back a few positions when Scelzi bounced through turn three before spinning and hitting Jason in a racing deal. Jason suffered extensive damage to the front end. The crew frantically went to work to replace the front axle, but encountered additional issues when they found a broken spud on the chassis which prohibited them from completing the work. Their night ended too early with a 24th place finish as David Gravel completed his perfect point night – 500 points, the first perfect night since Steve Kinser completed the feat in 1992. Jason and the team will be back at it on Friday night in the qualifying events and the Speed Sport World Challenge.
On Friday morning when the Ragin’ Cajun awoke his son Jaxx had some sage advice for his beloved daddy. He simply said, “Daddy, since David Gravel won your trophy last night, you need to win tonight to get your trophy.” A great way to start the day after a tough night for the defending Knoxville Nationals Champion. Family first . . . and, little Jaxx is always looking at the bright side for his hero and Daddy.