Columbus driver aims to move up as he grows


As Elijah Knoke prepares for this third full year of racing, the son of Jason and Delena Knoke of Columbus looks back at the 2020 racing where he faced a few obstacles in his burgeoning career following his father and his cousin, Logan Hupp, in the open wheel world.

“Overall, we had a pretty good season. Many races were canceled due to COVID, and I also missed a few due to a broken wrist,” he said. “Although we had a short season, we were able to win seven out of 11 races. A highlight of the season was winning the Midwest Dirt Classic at Columbus.

“Getting into the kart last year, I felt that we were going to be successful. We put a lot of time and effort into getting ready for 2020 during the last offseason,” said the 12-year-old racer.

As for his plans for the 2021 racing season, Knoke plans on racing at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds and Jennings County 4-H Fairgrounds as much as possible. He also wants to travel to some out-of-state races. This will allow him to get more experience to prepare for his future.

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“For my next step in racing, I want to move up to 1000cc Mini Sprints,” he said. “I would like to eventually race sprint cars like my dad and cousin. Even though my dad doesn’t race anymore, he still enjoys going to the racetrack to not only help me but other drivers.”

The youngster is taking his racing career one step at a time as he looks to improve on his performances and gain valuable experience.

“In 2021, we have teamed up with Integrated Racing Concepts, and I will be driving a Charger Prodigy chassis,” Knoke said. “I look forward to working with Bryan and Gene Wheeler at IRC and ‘John Boy’ Stults at Tire Swag. If possible, I would like to win another points championship at one of our local tracks. If we are able to race at bigger events, I hope to be competitive and fight for wins. I would also like to win another Midwest Dirt Classic at Columbus.”

Knoke’s sponsors for the 2021 racing season include Integrated Racing Concepts — Charger Racing Chassis, Tire Swag — Tire Technologies and Tire Treatments, Advantage Heating and Air, Advantage Fireplace Center, Corey’s BBQ and Catering, Setser Fabricating and 3-D Construction.

Thomas takes USAC sprint opener in Florida

Kevin Thomas Jr. signaled a resounding return to USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car with his first time in victory lane in 16 months Feb. 11 in the series’ season opener at Ocala, Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park.

Thomas, of Cullman, Alabama, corralled the lead from Kyle Cummins in traffic on the 14th circuit of the 30-lap feature and led the remaining 17 trips around the 3/8-mile dirt track to triumph for the 28th time with the USAC National Sprint Cars, tying with A.J. Foyt, Chris Windom, Don Branson, J.J. Yeley and Levi Jones for 16th on the all-time series win list.

The nonstop, green-to-checkered feature event clocked in as the fastest 30-lap USAC Sprint Car feature ever run at Bubba Raceway Park, taking 7 minutes, 45.762 seconds to complete. The time defeated the now-former record of 8:27.00, set by Bryan Clauson in 2011.

It was an unforeseen winless drought for Thomas, one of the series’ premier drivers, who has endured a tumultuous year-plus. It was a period of time which resulted in a winless campaign in 2020 and a season that tested him like no other after last tallying a win in October 2019 at Lawrenceburg Speedway.

But Thomas just knew 2021 was going to be different. The addition of several key new personnel and the return of 2019 USAC Chief Mechanic of the Year Davey Jones into the fold on the KT Motorsports/Dr. Pepper — McDonald’s — KT Construction Services/DRC/Speedway Chevy gave Thomas a new air of confidence that he had long yearned for.

“It took longer than I expected to battle adversity, but we did it,” Thomas said. “I like to win races, and I like to do it with the people that are behind us. Ever since Dr. Pepper and McDonald’s came on board, I have not given them what they came on board for. I take full responsibility for that. I had to get things turned around because I’ve got a group of people that are behind me who are really good people and really fun to work with. I’ve got to have success for those people.

“I had to make some changes over the winter,” Thomas said. “The boys did a really good job with the race cars, but I had to do some other things personally. I just had to get my mind right. Whenever I get my mind right, I feel like I can win races and a lot of them. If that thing is not right between the ears, it’s going to be tough because there are a lot of other people out here that are really talented and have their stuff together.”

Whether it comes from the mental side of things or the car side, there are a lot of good car owners out there with a lot of good drivers in them and good crew chiefs, he said.

“There are just a lot of variables that can make you run eighth every single night,” Thomas said. “You’ve just got to be on top of your game, and you’ve got to get the right piece underneath you, and the one holding the steering wheel has got to have his head straight.”

Thomas translated that effort into going to work at the racetrack Thursday night. Starting third, he chased leader Cummins and second-running Justin Grant for the first third of the event before making his pounce, driving under Grant in Turn 3 while in the throes of traffic, then steadfastly zeroed in on Cummins one lap later off of the bottom of the fourth turn to secure the lead on the 14th lap.

Grant clamped down to slip past Cummins with five laps remaining for second, but Thomas had already staked his claim at the front by then, holding a 2.3-second lead, which would ultimately balloon to a 2.769-second advantage at the finish line with Grant, Cummins, hard charger Brady Bacon (from 12th) and Tyler Courtney following him to the checkered.

Former local racer passes away in Florida

Gene Barr, a Columbus native, died Jan. 16 at his home in Lakeland, Florida. He was 91.

Barr owned his own business, Barr’s Excavating, for 25 years. He was a member of the Teamsters 181 Union, where he ran heavy equipment for many years.

He raced stock cars, sprint cars, go-karts and motorcycles at local Indiana tracks. Barr’s favorite thing to do was to travel to see all of the car races he could. He was the older brother of former racer Allen Barr of Columbus.

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