Welcome to “Thread The Needle!” A weekly column that explores the rich history of motorsports by way of the thrift store t-shirt.
Let’s talk about sprint cars. No, not the Sprint Cup, we dealt with that last week. I’m talking about the be-winged weirdos who hang it out on short tracks across the country. The sport combines the best elements of oval racing and drifting but lacks the prestige of NASCAR and the novelty of Formula D. World of Outlaws Indeed. Still, the lack of glamour hasn’t stopped legions of dedicated fans from congregating in Knoxville, Iowa since 1961 for the premier sprint car event.
Marion Robinson, a local garage owner and team operator conceived the Knoxville Nationals. Hired in 1956 by the Marion County Fair Association to promote the local raceway, he convinced the board of directors to put up a $5000 purse for the 1961 race. The gamble paid off, and the event has run every year since. Marion was known for his unpolished demeanor, a shop-owner and mechanic by trade, he was never one for the conventional style of promotion. His gruff straightforward style rubbed off on the event, whose slogan is “ALWAYS A RACE, NEVER AN ENDURANCE CONTEST”.
This week’s specimen is a significant stylistic departure from the last piece we examined, despite being only a year younger. It eschews impressionistic computer generated vector graphics in favor of more traditionalist comic styling (and technique). Likewise it is not a hybrid-composite; rather, the background and subject are styled in a consistent manner. Ironically the shirt’s exaggerated realism makes it a particularly un-dynamic piece. The sprint car’s raised wheel tells me it is in motion, mid-turn even, but it fails to successfully convey the implied action. The lack of any reference point for the background and the poor suspension modeling has an unsettling effect on the subject. It seems as if the car is raising its hand, eager to offer an explanation of what it is doing rather than just showing me.
Unlike the shirt, 1992 Knoxville Nationals winner Steve Kinser was more about showing than telling. He dominated the sport in the late 80s, taking home the win at Knoxville in 1986-1988. He faltered in ’89 and ’90; but returned with conviction and won in ’91. His 1992 performance is often called “perfect”. He won every heat and took the lead on the first lap of the final, never losing a position.
Ask any racer and they will tell you that speed is subjective. A Miata at its limits feels faster than a Veyron cruising at 200. By that measure, if you take into account the high horsepower, short wheelbases, and close quarters of a sprint car race; it’s got to be the fastest wheel-to-wheel racing there is.