Kimmel not angling for ARCA title as much as he is for survival

Updated: August 20, 2008, 8:27 PM ET

AP Photo/Dick Whipple

Frank Kimmel, right, and his crew chief and brother Bill Kimmel, left, have reeled off eight straight ARCA titles. Starting their own race team in 2008 has proved much tougher, and a ninth-consecutive title appears unlikely.

ARCA: Starting own team has been hard on the Kimmels

As long as ARCA keeps running on the famed 1-mile dirt oval at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Frank Kimmel should be the man to beat. What's different this season is that, for the first time in more than a decade, Frank Kimmel isn't the man to beat in the rest of the ARCA world.

Kimmel knew that someday his amazing run of championships would end. He also knows that this more than likely will be that year, snapping an eight-year string of titles dating to 2000. He just hopes this won't be the end of his racing entirely.

The Kimmel family broke away from Tri-Star Motorsports, its home for nine championships (1998 plus the eight-year streak), to start Kimmel Brothers Racing this year. Frank and Bill, his crew chief brother, figured it was time to think about their long-term legacy in racing and use their equity in the series to build their own operation.

But this year has turned into one of the toughest in memory for motorsports teams to make ends meet.

"It wasn't the smartest thing, that's for sure," Frank Kimmel said, laughing and then stopping. "The timing has definitely been a challenge. We haven't had a [primary] sponsor all year. We've picked up sponsors for different races here and there, that's kept us going. If everything goes well, we should make it to the end of the season now. We're into the point of the year where the races are spread out. I think we'll make it every race this year, then we'll just have to see."

It's jarring to hear from a series legend that his next year in competition may not be guaranteed. But the 46-year-old Hoosier isn't letting it become a distraction at the track, in part because the on-track season has been a challenge in itself.

Kimmel's first 14 starts this year were winless, an unfamiliar streak for a driver who came into the season with 71 wins in 355 starts -- one in every five, on average. In a five-race stretch from Kansas to Pocono, he had only one top-10 (a 10th-place finish). Then, a four-race surge of third-second-fourth-third ended at the second Pocono race with a nasty crash.

On Lap 68 of 80, most of the field moved to the inside to pass a car slowing on the outside with a flat tire. Then someone hit the slowed car, pushing it into Kimmel and pushing his Ford into the fence. He sustained a concussion, and a doctor advised him to skip the next week's race at Nashville.

Kimmel started the race for points but left at the first caution, handing the wheel to nephew Will. It was the first race Kimmel didn't start and finish since Daytona in 1999, when he wasn't cleared to race after a qualifying crash.

But next on the schedule was the Allen Crowe 100 at Springfield, a 55-year-old mainstay on the ARCA schedule which in its United States Auto Club incarnations years ago was won by Al Unser and A.J. Foyt. Kimmel wasn't about to miss it.

"One thing about the dirt, all the downforce, all the power, all that is not important. It's all about setup and driving a race car. We expect to do well there," Kimmel said.

All Kimmel had done in 10 previous years at Springfield was win six times and finish second four others, and he added to that mark with his seventh win Sunday, tying the late Dean Roper for the most wins there.

"That win was a pretty good shot in the arm," he said.

It still left him fifth in points, 255 points behind Scott Speed. With six races remaining, a 10th championship would be more fantasy than reality. More wins are certainly possible -- especially with another Illinois date on the dirt Sept. 1 at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds -- but the bigger picture is now survival for 2009 and beyond, rather than championships.

"I raced a lot of years without winning championships and know how difficult it is and what a privilege and what an amazing run we had been on," Kimmel said. "I knew the day was coming, if it comes this year, that's just the way it's gonna be.

"We'll go out and race as hard as we can, then we'll probably have to figure out what table we're supposed to sit at the [postseason] banquet. But they'll tell us where to go."

That's an easier pill to swallow than not racing at all.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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AMA: 14-year-old Wilson dies after crash

Toriano Wilson, a 14-year-old AMA Rookies Cup racer, died early Monday morning from injuries sustained Sunday in a crash at Virginia International Raceway. He fell from his KTM motorcycle onto the track during the first lap and was struck by another rider while trying to get out of the way.

Wilson, a native of Bermuda, was touted as an international star in the making by former world champion Kevin Schwantz, among others.

"Toriano was doing so well, and he had all the big sponsors looking at him. This was his passion. He was so confident and comfortable out there," Bermuda Motorcycle Racing Club spokesman Paul DeCouto said in the Bermuda Sun. "For a small-town boy to go out there and do what he was doing was amazing."

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Actually, he'll have to win the final four races and hope two-time defending champion teammate Ben Spies doesn't keep finishing second as he did at VIR. Spies, who set a series record with seven consecutive wins earlier this season (a record Mladin could break next month at Road Atlanta), leads by 18 points. Mladin can make up only four points each time if the two Suzukis keep running 1-2.

"It doesn't look like it's going to go [my] way," Mladin said. "If we can win a couple in Atlanta that would be great. If we go eight in a row, obviously that would be fantastic."

CORR: Douglas takes over points lead

Scott Douglas didn't lead until the final laps Sunday at Pomona, Calif., which turned out to be the best path to a win. Round 10 of the Championship Off Road Racing's Pro4 class was ugly at the front.

On Lap 13 of 18, defending champion Carl Renezeder drove around leader Rick Huseman, and when Huseman tried to drive around him, he spun Renezeder and was black-flagged for rough driving. A second black flag came three laps later, when Curt LeDuc was cited after contact with Renezeder. That incident allowed Douglas to slip through and go on to win for the second time in three races.

"The best thing about this weekend is that it's over," Renezeder said after finishing 10th and third this past weekend, his worst since the second weekend of the season at Primm, Nev.

Douglas, with eight finishes of third or better in 10 starts, took a nine-point championship lead over Renezeder and a 16-point lead over Huseman with six rounds remaining.

Moto GP: Another Stoner crash, another Rossi win

Casey Stoner could recover in the standings from a crash at Laguna Seca. But the defending champion's second-consecutive mishap may have sealed an eighth championship for Valentino Rossi.

Six laps into the Czech Republic Grand Prix, the pole-sitting (for the sixth consecutive race) Australian had built a one-second advantage over points leader Rossi, only to slide his Ducati through a corner and into the gravel for his first DNF in 30 starts.

"The crash came out of the blue. That corner was an easy one, but I lost the front and it happened very quickly, very suddenly, and I didn't manage to save it," Stoner said. "It's a hard one to explain, and we will look at the data, but sometimes this kind of crash happens at this level of racing, and it was my mistake."

Rossi, on a Yamaha, went on to win his fifth race of the season, crossing the finish line 15 seconds ahead of Spaniard Toni Elias. His points lead doubled from 25 to 50, an almost impossible margin for Stoner to make up unless Rossi begins venturing off the course.

Moto GP's next race is the San Marino Grand Prix in Italy on Aug. 31. The series then will visit Indianapolis for the first time Sept. 14.

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