Even the most obscure Nextel Cup driver would have been besieged
for autographs. But Frank Kimmel walked through a crowd of NASCAR
fans at Talladega Superspeedway without so much as a "Hey,
Such is the lot of the man who has won six ARCA championships,
including the last five.
"I don't mind,'' Kimmel said, shrugging. "I'm not in this
thing for glory.''
The 42-year-old driver started his career racing on short tracks
near his home in Jeffersonville, Ind. Off the track, he and older
brother Bill, also a former short track racer and now his crew
chief, worked in their parents' small auto parts business until
1999 to pay the bills.
Frank didn't race in ARCA -- a step below NASCAR's three top
series -- until he was nearly 30.
"I was married, raising a family and doing all that normal
stuff,'' the white-haired Kimmel said. "For four or five years,
that was pretty much a struggle, running for a very underbudgeted
team. Great people, but we didn't have what it took to win races.''
That was before he met team owner Larry Clement and came up with
Advance Auto Parts as his primary sponsor in 1996.
"Since that point, we've kind of taken off,'' Kimmel said.
After finishing ninth in his first year with Clement's Tri-State
Motorsports and second in 1997, Kimmel won the first of his
championships in 1998. He crashed in the season-opening race at
Daytona in 1999, but went on to finish second to Bill Baird for the
championship and hasn't lost a title since.
Kimmel won his latest championship in September, several races
before the season finale earlier this month at Talladega. His six
victories in 2004 raised his career total to 56 and Kimmel became
the first ARCA driver to reach $3 million in career earnings.
"He's extremely smart,'' his brother said. "He doesn't tear up
race cars. He's always been a finisher. I always tell people he's
the perfect car owner's driver.''
All that success might indicate that Frank is more than ready to
move up to one of the NASCAR series, where he has dabbled in the
past, running occasional races in the Cup, Busch and Craftsman
"We did OK,'' Kimmel said. "We held our own for the most
So, why does he remain in ARCA?
"Two or three years ago, when it was probably the best time for
me to go because I was still in my 30s,'' explained Kimmel. "I
would have had to pack up and move to Charlotte and really
aggressively start knocking doors down.''
But Kimmel is happy with his role in ARCA and loves driving for
Clement. Also, there's plenty to be said for not uprooting his
family. Staying put allows Kimmel to enjoy life without the added
burden of racing in the high-profile NASCAR series.
"My brother and I both have good jobs, we get to work on the
race car and race for a living and we have other employees that are
counting on me,'' he said. "I could pack up and go, but that's a
pretty selfish thing to think about doing.''
And Kimmel says there's still plenty of motivation for him in
ARCA. He insists it's difficult to win a championship. To repeat is
even tougher, and now that he's won the title five times, Kimmel
likes the challenge of being the one to beat.
"You've got to work extremely hard to stay ahead of everybody
that's trying to catch you,'' Kimmel said.
Despite his titles, winning races is not so easy these days in
ARCA. Rick Hendrick, Ray Evernham and Chip Ganassi, all owners of
elite Nextel Cup teams, have raised the competitive bar by backing
developmental drivers in ARCA.
Although he welcomes the competition, Kimmel knows his team is
going to have to do more to stay on top.
"We didn't win an intermediate track race this year at all,
which was very tough and I don't like it,'' Kimmel said. "We're
doing a lot of work to try to get caught back up to those guys.''
Part of the attraction of ARCA is racing only 22 weekends a year
and having time to spend with family and watch teenage sons work on
their own racing careers, as the Kimmel brothers are doing.
Will Kimmel look back at some point and wonder if he could have
made it to the pinnacle of stock car racing?
In the biography posted on his Web site, there are a series of
categories with short answers from the champ. One of the categories
His answer: "None.''