DUQUOIN, Ill. — Clauson Marshall Racing, Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports and Tucker/Boat Motorsports have all added their entries for the USAC National Midget Series’ non-points Junior Knepper 55 on Dec. 16, bringing the field to a stout 53 cars.
A week out from the now-traditional winter stop at the Southern Illinois Center in DuQuoin, the powerhouses of the sport will duel for supremacy in a race that has become one of the most coveted on the USAC calendar.
CMR has entered six cars for the event, including the driver who won the inaugural Knepper 55 in 2015, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse won twice on the Cup circuit this season — at Talladega Speedway in May and Daytona Int’l Speedway in July — and is one of just eight drivers to win a NASCAR Cup, USAC Silver Crown, USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car and USAC National Midget race in his career, alongside Mario Andretti, A. J. Foyt, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Ken Schrader and Tony Stewart.
His teammates include this year’s USAC Most Improved Driver and defending Knepper 55 champion Tyler Courtney, as well as California’s Justin Grant, who won the Shamrock Classic at the Southern Illinois Center in March.
Inaugural Shamrock Classic winner Shane Golobic, Turkey Night Grand Prix Rookie of the Race Zeb Wise and King of the West-NARC sprint car standout Gio Scelzi will also suit up for Clauson-Marshall in DuQuoin on Saturday.
CMR head wrenches Tim Clauson and Tyler Ransbottom have been a part of the winning team in all four of USAC’s appearances at the Southern Illinois Center — courtesy of Stenhouse (2015 Knepper), Golobic (2016 Shamrock), Courtney (2016 Knepper) and Grant (2017 Shamrock).
Meanwhile, two major teams will be hoping to put an end to Clauson-Marshall’s three-year reign indoors at DuQuoin.
Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports has entered three cars for the Knepper 55, two of which will be driven by a pair that accounts for three of the last five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championships.
Norman, Oklahoma’s Christopher Bell needs no introduction to midget racing fans. The 2013 USAC National Midget champ recently wrapped up the NASCAR Truck title, then traveled to Ventura, California to win his second Turkey Night Grand Prix.
On the other hand, Matt Crafton has made over 400 starts in the NASCAR Truck Series, but the Knepper 55 will mark the two-time NASCAR Truck champion’s initial midget start.
Lincoln, California’s Tanner Carrick rounds out the Kunz/Curb-Agajanian driver lineup. Carrick was honored Friday night during USAC’s annual awards banquet as the USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year.
Chad Boat, a three-time winner on the USAC National Midget trail this season and a former champion of the Belleville Midget Nationals, will partner up with former NASCAR young gun Tanner Berryhill as part of a two-car Tucker-Boat Motorsports assault.
Saturday’s 55-lap event annually honors the memory of one of USAC’s most accomplished car owners — Walter “Junior” Knepper of Belleville, Ill. — whose famed yellow No. 55 midgets and sprint cars raced to 58 career USAC feature wins.
Of those victories, 34 came in the AMSOIL National Sprint Cars and 24 in the National Midgets, courtesy of drivers like Bob Wente, Tom Bigelow, Mel Kenyon, George Snider, Dana Carter, Rich Vogler and Walter’s son, Steve Knepper.
The current entry list for the third annual Junior Knepper 55 can be viewed on the next page…