Six-time ARCA champ has no regrets
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, Frank.''
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 series.
"We did OK,'' Kimmel said. "We held our own for the most part.''
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 asks: Regrets?
His answer: "None.''
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press