2021 Knoxville Nationals bring wild anticipation after a year off

Cavina T Morris

Fans of sprint-car racing and the Knoxville Nationals are a different breed.

And they seem to be making up for lost time.

After losing the iconic Nationals in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the thirst and anticipation among fans this summer has been off the charts. Ticket sales are well ahead of 2019 pace, with the final night of the 410 Nationals sold out. The Iowa presence of NASCAR’s most dominant current driver, Kyle Larson, adds to the buzz.

Knoxville marketing director Kendra Jacobs said all 950 of the track’s campsites sold out in May, way earlier than usual.

“We’ve just seen a higher demand for everything,” she said.

This is Jacobs’ sixth year affiliated with the track, but her sprint-car roots here dig deep as the daughter of a former World of Outlaws driver. In her experience, the only Knoxville Nationals that might’ve matched this buzz was when she was a radio reporter at the 50th Nationals in 2010 — when the Saturday night A-main expanded from 30 to 50 laps. (The 50-lap feature has since stuck.)

The total purse of $1.07 million is the highest in the history of the four-day spectacle that kicks off Wednesday.

The list of past champions of the Knoxville Nationals is shown, with the notable gap between this year and the last running in 2019 (won by David Gravel).

The iconic Dingus Lounge is buzzing, too

The festivities are well under way in Knoxville, with last weekend’s 360-cubic-inch division of the Nationals won by Gio Scelzi serving as the warmup act.

And there may not be anyone more grateful for Knoxville’s return to normalcy than A.J. Mottet, the owner of the Dingus Lounge across North Lincoln Street from the Knoxville Raceway. And that’s not the cash talking. Mottet is a die-hard racing fan who would rather close his bar and not make a dollar than miss a race. Mottet, 49, has been to every Indianapolis 500 since 1982 and to every Chili Bowl in Tulsa since 1993.

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