Let me tell you about some of the greatest nights of my life.
The Cubs won the World Series in 2016. Iowa State beat Oklahoma State in 2011. We won a couple of hockey championships in high school.
And this past Friday night.
Pitting for Bobby Mincer’s Sprint Car Team during a Pandemic at Knoxville
So, I should start this by saying I didn’t have a media credential to cover the racing at Knoxville on Friday. I sent an email about an hour after the race was announced, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.
The point is I wouldn’t have gotten to see the race in person and so for that I’m very lucky.
Dennis Gainey is the normal crew chief on Bobby Mincer’s No. 15 car that races weekly in the Knoxville Championship Cup Series.
He had a high temperature on Friday morning, so he didn’t want to risk anything by attending the race. I went in Dennis’ place, but if you think I know anything about sprint cars to the level that Dennis does, you’re going to be disappointed by the end of this.
So, I made the trek down to Knoxville and got ready to enter the track around 4:00 p.m.
The crew included Bobby’s son and his friend – who both race and know more about these beasts of vehicles than I do, his wife Mandi – who’s the sweetest person in the world – and of course Bobby.
It’s a small team, even on a normal night, but they do what they can and try to have fun in the process.
Now, and sorry to keep going on tangents here, I’ve known the Mincer’s for two years and have become great friends with them.
It started on a qualifying night for the Knoxville Nationals. Bobby beat out Sheldon Haudenschild, Kasey Kahne, and Donny Schatz to transfer into the A-Main for the night.
I had never heard of Bobby, but I was walking around the track when he rolled into his garage.
His son – Cole – was overwhelmed with joy and it caught my attention. To make a long story short I got to know Bobby and the whole gang and they’re a treat to hang around.
So they agreed to let me help with the car on Friday with it being a non-points race for Knoxville and them being short on numbers.
The goal for the night was just to shake down the new car for the season and let Bobby get acclimated to how its running.
My goal was just not to break anything, and the Mincer’s seemed less worried about that than I was, so that was something.
We got in the truck and trailer to bring the car into the track and waited to enter the COVID-19 screening station. We were handed questionnaires asking if we’ve had any symptoms over the past week of standard colds and flu as well as masks we could wear that were way more comfortable than what all of us had.
There was a long line of people standing six feet apart, and one-by-one we entered the building. When we got up to the line, they scanned our foreheads to take our temperature and we were on our way into the track shortly after.
We entered the track and Bobby got the truck parked so we could start unloading the car.
It was pretty routine, we just had to get everything out of its respective spot in the compacted trailer.
The wing got put on top of the car and the tires got air taken out of them and an hour later we were ready for hot laps (that’s a practice session for the NASCAR fans reading this).
We pushed the car all the way up pit road to get it ready to go out. Years of mowing lawns with a dinky push mower for my parents and grandpa had finally paid off.
Bobby went out for his five laps and the car looked like it was bouncing from left-to-right all the way up the straight-away.
The times often don’t look as good as they do in qualifying during hot laps because the track is getting set in, but we knew it wasn’t good.
Bobby was the first to identify that and was very sure that he wasn’t fast.
For a second, I was worried that it was going to be a situation of four Nebraska fans trying to figure out how to change a light bulb – and it was, aside from Bobby.
He figured out that the lie of the car when it was stationary wasn’t right, and had to adjust the axels and tire rods in the front of the car to get it to the point where it was running straight down the track.
Thankfully, and the above is a very elementary explanation of what was fixed, Bobby knew what he was doing and got that issue resolved before qualifying.
Bobby ran his two qualifying laps and was about half a second off of the pace. We were basically starting in dead last.
After the car got to running straight, it wasn’t rolling onto the right rear tire well enough coming off of the turns, resulting in a lack of speed. The right-rear is where all of the torque comes into to get the car to launch on the straights.
We softened the springs up to try and fix that part of it and felt decent about where we were at. Bobby wanted to adjust the seat to a better position for him, but we didn’t have time.
That became the issue in the heat race.
Bobby started in 12th and got off to fast start. He actually ended up making up two positions on the track in the first four laps.
Due to his seat not being in the right spot, he got tired and couldn’t hold the spot. At the very least, though, the car was faster than it had been.
We ended up watching Bobby drive up to fourth-place in the C-Main for the night. Usually four drivers would transfer into the B-Main for the race, but they only took two on Friday so our night on the track was done.
We got the car loaded up during the B-Main and were waiting for the feature event to start.
The rest of the night was just about doing what we came there to do: have fun.
We watched the A-Main from the pits as best we could.
David Gravel is evidently doing Donny Schatz type things at Knoxville and isn’t looking back. I saw Madsen come down on Pittman and those two battling. It was all-in-all a great race for the Outlaws, especially for it being the first race back.
We were one of the first trailers out of the racetrack and we drove up a few blocks from the track to the campgrounds, where the Mincer’s stay for the weekend and kickback.
Some pizza was ordered and some drinks were had around the fire.
And just like that it felt like normal – or as close as we’re going to get any time soon.