Steve Kinser had perhaps the greatest career that anyone has ever had behind the wheel of a sprint car. Over his time in the famed No. 11, Kinser maintained big-name sponsors, raced all over the world, and did it while collecting a long list of accolades and success. During his career, the Bloomington, IN native won 20 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series championships.
The greatest 40 years: Steve Kinser enjoys retirement
While 20 championships is an accomplishment on its own, the longevity of Kinser’s career might have been just as impressive. Kinser, who started racing sprint cars in 1973, was successful right off the bat. In his first season with the WoO, Kinser won 11 features en route to winning the 1978 series points championship.
Over the next 26 years, Kinser would win 19 more championships, with his last coming in 2005. On top of his series championships, Kinser was also the most successful driver to date in Knoxville Nationals – where the series was a week ago – history.
He currently holds the record for most event victories ever, tallying 12 wins in the four-day event that ends with a 50-lap A-Main. Kinser’s career stretched 40 years before it ultimately came to an end with his last full season in 2014.
Steve Kinser Speaks to Last Word On Motorsport (LWOM)
“I’m 64 years old and I’ve got my 40 years in,” Kinser said. “I’ve done plenty of racing. I would love to do another 40, but the body and stuff isn’t made to do that.”
Kinser opened up to LWOM about his retirement and what lead to it after an autograph session at the 2018 Knoxville Nationals. Towards the end of his career, Kinser started experiencing health concerns that held him back from competing at 100%. He called the health issues small, and for Kinser they might have been, but the list of concerns was not one to mess around with.
“There’s a lot of different things that [went] into making that decision,” Kinser said. “The biggest part of it was that my eye sight [wasn’t] as good as what had it used to be. Things started hurting a little more when [I] crashed.
“[I] had to have a few vertebrae shimmed up in the back of my neck and things like that. You always think of that stuff when you crash. It would hurt. Usually an hour or two later I was in pretty good shape, but it took a little time.”
Racing Takes Its Toll
Kinser was lucky and didn’t sustain any long-term injuries during his career. The only major injury that Kinser could recall was a hyper-extended elbow, that left him out of the car for just a month in the 1980’s. “I’ve been pretty fortunate,” Kinser said. Though, nothing really threatened Kinser.
“When they patch you up it’s usually just as strong as it was,” the veteran said jokingly. “Your bones [just] aren’t as strong when you age.”
In the final seasons of Kinser’s tenure, things got a bit more intense. After accidents, Kinser would nearly go unconscious in his car.
“What I did was I found myself having a hard time keeping my body conscious during a few wrecks where I would normally not have any problems. I don’t think I was ever out yet, but I was close a few times.”
The unfortunate reality for sprint car drivers is how grueling the schedule can get for them. With the WoO running nearly an 80-race schedule that stretches from February to November, sprint car drivers are under the most exhausting conditions they’ve ever been under.
“Whatever you do it’s a pretty demanding sport,” Kinser said. “I [had] just figured, I had a good career doing it and we’ll leave it at that. I’m finished. I’m not going to get back into anything.”
The Kinser Legacy
Even though Kinser is retired, his legacy still lives on. The driver, who they call the king, signed autographs for what seemed to be an endless line of fans. As one fan got his shirt, diecast car, or picture signed by Kinser, two more anxious fans would hop in line, almost on cue.
While the line grew, Kinser made sure to take time to converse with fans, answering questions, telling stories, and even pausing the session for a few minutes trying to identify what track a certain picture was taken at. That’s just part of what retirement is when you’re the best sprint car driver to ever step in a car.
Life After Retirement
“Retirement is never going to be as much fun as it was running around the race track. But I have enjoyed it, a lot,” Kinser said.
Although some would slow down, Kinser has managed to keep himself busy. Whether it was cleaning up around his house, or owning a race team that employs his son, Kinser hasn’t turned down the workload.
“I haven’t slowed down a whole lot,” Kinser said. “I’ve took on some homework around the house and the shop that I needed to tend to. You can only do so much of that.”
Steve Kinser Racing Team
Kinser, understandably so, wasn’t a huge fan of hanging around the house and not being behind the wheel. However, he made sure to stay involved in racing. Kinser still owns the WoO team that his son races for: Steve Kinser Racing.
“I was sort of involved in it pretty good, but those boys have been sort of do it on their own,” Kinser said. “I’ve told them they can do it well [by themselves]. I just let them take it over.”
Kinser’s team is run by his son, Kraig, along with his daughter and husband. Though some might think that the team would have the funds to run the sprint car world, Kinser has made sure to set some money aside.
“Him and Mikey (My son in law) and my daughter all sit up there with that team,” Kinser said. “I just let them take care of it. They don’t have the budget. I’d like to give them more, but I also want to make sure they have enough to worry about their kids also.”
That was just the type of person that Kinser was – one that would think about his son and daughter’s futures before worrying about sprint car success. On the track that sat across the street from Kinser’s merchandise booth – where he was signing autographs – his son was on the track doing something that Steve loved: racing.
“The main reason I come out here is to watch Kraig race,” Kinser said. “[Though], Knoxville is one of the biggest events there is. A lot of people from different parts of the country will go out of their way to visit here.”
Kinser said of Knoxville that that was something that he valued after retiring.
“That’s something, that when you retire, you’re used to seeing certain people and over the years you acquire a lot of friends,” Kinser said. “You’re used to running that same route and seeing those same people. This is a place where they can all get back together.”
Though Kinser’s career has come to an end, it hasn’t gone without great appreciation.
“The King” will forever be remembered as one of the best, and maybe the singular best, to ever race a sprint car. Now, Kinser is trying to figure out a new pastime, just one that doesn’t include him behind the wheel.
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