The World of Outlaws’ return to Devil’s Bowl Speedway this past weekend also featured a farewell.
Multi-time champion and arguably Sprint Car racing’s top star Steve Kinser is in the midst of his “Salute to the King Tour.” He has announced 2014 will be his last year on the circuit.
Five-time Outlaws champion Donny Schatz and reigning champion Daryn Pittman each won main events at the half-mile dirt track. But on both nights Kinser, who now drives for NASCAR star Tony Stewart, was honored for all the wins and championships he’s earned over the years.
Even after nearly 40 years of plying his trade on dirt tracks in nearly every corner of the country, and even struggling this year without a win, he’s still revered.
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“He’s made this sport appealing to fans, and he’s the one that made a $20,000 [winner’s] purse for us tonight,” said Joey Saldana, who finished fourth and second over the weekend at Devil’s Bowl. “If it wasn’t for him and what he’s done, we wouldn’t be racing for 20, we‘d be racing for two. He deserves everything he gets. It’s an honor racing with him every week.”
Kinser’s decision to leave the sport wasn’t easy.
Kinser still loves to race, but at his age — he’ll turn 60 in June — he’s not as consistent as he once was, and all that goes on around the racing has begun to wear him out. He said he’s still undecided on plans for next year, but he knows he still wants to race.
“The racing, I’ll never get burned out on the racing,” said Kinser, who finished 14th in Saturday night’s main event at Devil’s Bowl. “You have good nights where you run good, and have bad nights. We are a little inconsistent right now. I didn’t even want to run the whole season this year, but with the influence of Tony, and Dana my wife, they wanted me to hang in there for one more year.”
The series will seem odd next season without the driver that helped put it on the racing map, but Kinser won’t go away completely. He said he might do a schedule that includes 15 to 20 races.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me that have been race fans for a long time,” Kinser said. “I thought I’ve talked to every race fan there is, but there’s a lot of strangers that might be fans of other drivers and never been a Steve Kinser fan that come up and thank me for all the memories they had and all the races they’ve watched me run. I didn’t realize it was going to be that way.”
Kinser’s absence will be tough to fill, and it might be up to drivers like Pittman, Schatz and Saldana to carry the torch. They’ll remember what the “King” meant to the sport.
“Steve is, was and always will be the king and the benchmark,” Pittman said after his third victory of the 2014 season. “Everyone either came to see him win or came to see him get beat. It’s a sad day when he’s gone, but the sport is in great hands that I think it will still keep going.”