January 27, 2014 — Audio and story by Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — Getty Images photo — CLARKSVILLE, IN — 80 wins. 43 poles. 10 championships. 469 starts. And 23 years.
What’s left for Frank Kimmel to conquer in the ARCA Racing Series?
The short answer? Not much.
Over the past two decades, Frank James Kimmel has established himself as one of the all-time leading stock car touring series competitors, making his marks and leaving an unparalleled legacy in the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) ranks. The native Hoosier has won on nearly every track the series competes on in today’s modern era, and has become the benchmark for consistency, success, and leadership at the grassroots touring series level.
“You know, for a guy who races cars, there’s not really a whole lot more I could ask for over the course of my career in ARCA,” Kimmel said upon reflection of some of the moments in his career. “Some days it even surprises me when I look back on all the success we’ve had over the years.”
“I’ve never spent a whole lot of time looking at the records though, and maybe that’s why,” Kimmel said of his accomplishments. “Yeah it’s remarkable to think about all that we’ve done, but we have to keep our focus looking ahead. What I focus on is what I’ve always focused on, and that’s the next race. And there’s plenty to conquer at the next race, and the one after that. Winning does not get old.”
Kimmel may not like to harp on the numbers, but his career speaks for itself, and has already left a footprint all over the country that will likely never be matched. Earlier this year Kimmel scored his record-tying 79th career ARCA Racing Series win at the Winchester Speedway, matching his racing hero Iggy Katona’s ARCA benchmark. Kimmel went on to break the record and stand alone atop the wins list when he scored his 80th triumph in last year’s season finale at Kansas Speedway.
And beyond the wins, Kimmel’s unmatched consistency has spoken for itself in the form of the even bigger hardware. Kimmel is a ten-time ARCA Racing Series champion, scoring his first title in 1998 and winning eight-straight from 2000-2007. His return to championship form this past year included top ten finishes in every one of the 21 races on the schedule, a feat that had never before been accomplished in ARCA history.
In all, Kimmel’s career record in the ARCA ranks includes 80 victories, 261 top-five and 355 top-10 finishes in 469 starts with 11,034 laps led since his debut in 1990, all record marks that will likely never be surpassed in ARCA’s modern era.
The Indiana native has won over the years at numerous venues on the ARCA tour, taking checkered flags at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Berlin Raceway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, Elko Speedway, Five Flags (FL) Speedway, Flat Rock (MI) Speedway, Flemington (NJ) Speedway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Illinois State Fairgrounds, Iowa Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Kansas Speedway (where he notched his 80th win this year), Kentucky Speedway, Kil-Kare (OH) Speedway, Lake Erie (PA) Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, The Milwaukee Mile, Nashville Superspeedway, Pocono Raceway, Salem Speedway, Shady Bowl (OH) Speedway, South Boston (VA) Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Toledo Speedway, the West Virginia Motor Speedway dirt track and the high-banked Winchester Speedway.
However, though he has found success at all of these venues across the country, there is one track on the schedule that Kimmel hopes to add his name onto the winners’ list for.
In 22 consecutive starts at Daytona, Kimmel has eight top-five finishes including five consecutive from 2001-2005. During that five year stretch, Kimmel placed second back-to-back in 2004 and 2005 and third back-to-back in ’01 and ’02. Kimmel finished fourth in last year’s race, setting the tone for his championship run.
But Kimmel is keenly aware of the fact that the “World Center of Racing” has denied him a visit to Victory Lane.
“That’s one (Daytona) that’s not checked off my resume. We’d love to be able to do that. It would be huge for our family. We’ve been going down there for decades, since I can remember, to see my dad race. It would mean a lot. But Daytona would mean a lot for anyone, no matter where you sit in the win column.”
“But for me, just to go and try to win the next race is enough motivation for me, no matter where it is.”
Kimmel will continue the search for his elusive first Daytona checkered flag in next month’s Lucas Oil 200 presented by MAVTV American Real with a brand-new team in Win-Tron Racing. Though it will be the third team Kimmel has driven for in the last six seasons, the change will look near seamless on-track, as Kimmel will continue to pilot the No. 44 Ansell/Menards Toyota Camry.
“For me, it’s really not as much change as you might think,” Kimmel said of the team switch. “Win-Tron takes care of the cars much like ThorSport took care of all the equipment. Kevin (Cywinski/co-owner) takes care of the cars and motor side of things and Nate (Thiesse/co-owner) takes care of the business side of things. And I’m going to drive like I did at ThorSport so my role really remains the same. From here, it’s really just sorting out the nuts and bolts of how things work at Win-Tron and (outside of the ownership) who takes care of what.”
“Win-Tron’s been good to work with so far. They’re used to doing this deal. More than anything, I think it will be business as usual for them. They’re used to working with different drivers over the years. They just add me to their long list of drivers.”
Kimmel leaves his championship-winning team, ThorSport Racing, after two successful years which revitalized the Hoosier’s career. Five wins and a title was not enough to keep the pairing together for another season, but Kimmel says while it was a decision he had to make, it was not a decision he wanted to make.
“It really was a tough decision. I didn’t want to leave, and I don’t think (Duke and Rhonda Thorson) wanted me to leave. At the end of the day though, it was a business deal; I wanted to run a full ARCA schedule, and the cost of runnign a full ARCA season over there wasn’t what was available, and in the end we needed to keep the sponsors (Ansell and Menard’s) happy too, so it was a really tough deal. But it was all business. I left on good terms, Duke and I are still really good friends and I think will continue to be really good friends.”
At Win-Tron, Kimmel will be paired with veteran NASCAR crew chief Jamie Jones for the 2014 ARCA Racing Series season after working with Jeriod Prince at ThorSport. Jones has been atop the pit box for numerous NASCAR stars over the years including Terry Cook, David Green, James Buescher, Rick Crawford and David Starr. He most recently served as Mason Mitchell’s crew chief at Empire Racing in 2013.
“I know that Jamie has worked with a lot of successful drivers down through the years. He was taking care of Mason Mitchell’s stuff toward the back end of last year and did a heck of a good job with all that, then went to work for Win-Tron at the end of the year. He’s been around a while. He’s ‘old-school’ so we’ll get along well. He understands what makes these cars go fast. I’ve already talked with him several times.”
While Kimmel is certainly prepared for the 2014 campaign, he’s also looking ahead to the time when his son, Frank II, can hop behind the wheel and begin writing a successful career in his own right. Kimmel would not say that 2014 would be his last year driving, but hinted that the end of the tunnel, at least on the driving side, is in sight.
“I know I’m not gonna be driving forever, and it’s really made me proud over the last couple years to see Frankie and Will (Frank’s nephew) start to come into their own as well. My hope is that we can build a solid program underneath us here and that hopefully we can start getting Frankie in some races next year possibly. Shoot, the couple races he’s run (at Salem) the last few years, he’s led more laps than I have so, he’s ready, we just gotta have everything there first.”
But first, Kimmel looks to add that final notch to his sterling career, a career that doesn’t need any help as it is, but would certainly be completed with a win during Speedweeks.
“Absolutely I think I can win Daytona with Win-Tron. Our first goal will be to be competitive, and put ourselves in a position at the end of the race to win. Win-Tron’s equipment is fast, so we should have the car to do it. We just need lady luck to shine on us at the end.”
And should she happen to shine on the Kimmels on February 15th, one might just be willing to bet that there would be a special flag somewhere in Victory Lane waiting with a flashy #81 all over it. And that it might be the one time Frank Kimmel is more than willing to savor the history behind the moment.
Listen in to our full interview with Frank as he talked about his landmark career and his move to Win-Tron Racing for 2014: