Racing beat

| August 01, 2006

The Automobile Racing Club of America isn’t in the same class as its bigger racing brothers. It doesn’t try to be. While NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Grand National are Dom Perignon and fine cheese, ARCA is more akin to draft beer and pretzels. And to the average working man, there is absolutely nothing wrong with draft beer and pretzels.

ARCA competitors are hardly household names – with the notable exception of Frank Kimmel.

In the past, the series has featured guys like Glenn Miller, who owned the Chicken Lounge Restaurant. And there’s Glen Morgan, who was an attorney with the Texas law firm of Reaud, Morgan and Quinn. Roger Blackstock was an auto painter; Alabama’s Craig Butts was a political lobbyist; Calvin Councilor was a real estate agent; David Hall ran Frog’s Import Salvage; and C.W. Smith is a retired Pennsylvania State Trooper.

Kimmel, however, has given the circuit some serious star power.

When fans think of motorsports champions, they think of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, the only two men to claim seven NASCAR Cup titles. However, the Intimidator and the King aren’t the only wheelmen to roll lucky sevens behind the wheel of a stock car. It’s on a smaller stage of course, but Frank Kimmel also boasts seven crowns – all earned on the speedways, short tracks and dirt venues of the ARCA circuit. Even more impressive is that the Clarksville, Ind., native has won a staggering six consecutive ARCA titles, a streak unprecedented in the sport.

Last season Kimmel ran away from the competition, logging eight victories – double the win total of the series’ second-place finisher, Joey Miller.

“Winning that seventh title was really big,” Kimmel says. “The championships never get old, but I guess the seventh was the biggest of all. Now we want to see if we can win our eighth.”

Once he walks away from ARCA, Kimmel will likely have most series records all to himself. In 303 starts heading into 2006 he logged 64 checkered flags and 184 top-five finishes. Kimmel is also the all-time ARCA money winner, eclipsing the $3 million plateau last season.

About the only feats yet to be accomplished are victories at Daytona and Talladega.

“It doesn’t really bother me that much, but obviously there’s nothing we’d like more than to win at both places,” Kimmel says. “The weird thing is that Daytona and Talladega, aside from being the most prestigious tracks our series race at, are probably the easiest ones to win on. We just haven’t been able to do that yet, and hopefully it’ll change.”

Prior to hooking up with ARCA Kimmel – who began racing at the age of 16 – was a three-time Late Model champion. He was ARCA Rookie of the Year in 1992 and won his first race in the series in 1994 at Toledo.

And in 13 years in the ARCA fold, he has adapted to the many changes the circuit has undergone.

“It’s a lot different than it used to be,” he says. “In the past, 80 percent of our budget was spent on our short track program, and maybe 20 percent went to intermediate and big tracks. Now, I’d say 60 percent of our budget is set aside for the intermediate tracks, which is where we race the most.

“The intermediate tracks are where you need the best motors, so when you’re limited in your budget you have to decide where to spend your money.”

ARCA was founded by John Marcum, a former race driver and official of Bill France’s upstart NASCAR circuit from 1949-52. In 1953, Marcum decided to form his own sanctioning body, called the Midwest Association for Race Cars. The initial season consisted of a 20-race schedule, with Jim Romine winning the MARC Championship over Buckie Sager and Iggy Katona.

In 1954, the series decided to expand beyond the Midwest and sanctioned three races in Georgia. Over the next 10 years MARC continued to grow, and in 1964 it changed its name to the Automobile Racing Club of America.

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