By Matt Levins, The Hawk Eye
MIDDLETOWN — It’s good to be “The King.” For the last 36 years, that’s exactly what Steve Kinser has been to the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. For the last 36 years, the Bloomington, Ind., native helped make the World of Outlaws what it is today — the greatest sprint car series in the world. Kinser has 577 career World of Outlaws feature wins, nearly double
those of Sammy Swindell, who is second. Kinser is a 20-time World of Outlaws champion. He has won 12 Knoxville Nationals title. He has won the Kings Royal seven times, more than double anyone else. Yes, it’s good to be “The King.”
But “The King” is about to step down from his throne. Kinser announced at the beginning of the 2014 season that this will be his last as a full-time member of the World of Outlaws. Kinser, 60, has seen and done almost everything there is to do in sprint car racing. Now, he wants to scale back his schedule and spend a lot more time at home with his family. Kinser will make his final appearance at 34 Raceway tonight when the World of Outlaws makes its second straight appearance and fourth overall at the 3/8-mile oval dirt track.
It is the final time for fans to see “The King” at 34 Raceway. It’s good to be “The King,” but the time is clicking on Kinser’s racing career as the “Salute to The King” continues. “It’s time to slow down and stay around closer to home. I’ve been doing this for so long, I know I’m going to miss it,” Kinser said. “I’ve been doing this for over 35 years now. I don’t want to just step away from it all together. I’m going to race still. I just have to figure all of that out at the end of the year. I’m going to stay closer to home and I’m not going to race these midweek shows any more. I’ll stick to the weekend shows and race on this side of the Mississippi (River). It’s going to be nice to be home Monday through Thursday. I don’t mind racing on the
weekends.” Kinser almost never got a chance to race sprint cars. Growing up, he worked for his father’s masonry company. Instead of “The King of the Outlaws,” Kinser almost became
“The King of Masonry.” Well, not quite, but Kinser learned the value of hard work early on.
“It was very hard work, but back then that’s what I wanted to do,” Kinser said. “My Dad wanted to race and I wanted to race. Working in masonry definitely motivated me
to pursue a career in racing.” Kinser didn’t tale long to find the winner’s circle once he joined the World of Outlaws in 1978. He won his first World of Outlaws feature race at Eldora Speedway
in May of 1978. In fact, Kinser won his first three starts for the World of Outlaws. He has been the face of the series ever since.
Kinser was so dominating and so good, even early on, that he caught the eye of a young Tony Stewart, now a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion for whom Kinser races.
“I never missed an Outlaw show in the area when I was growing up,” Stewart said on Steve Kinser’s website. “We waited for those nights like they were holidays. It was
incredible watching Steve race with Sammy (Swindell) and Doug (Wolfgang). He was our guy, being from Indiana, and when he won, it gave us all something to brag about.
And he won a lot. A few years ago, when we had the chance to get him to drive for TSR, it was like a dream come true. When we got him on board, my goal was for him to
drive for us for the remainder of his career. I’m really excited for him to go out and have a great season. He’s the best ever and I’m couldn’t be more proud.”
Through the years, race fans became accustomed to seeing the No. 11 car out front and more often than not, watching Kinser hoist the winner’s trophy afterward.
Before he knew it, Kinser was popular from coast to coast and overseas. Everyone wanted to watch “The King” do his thing on the dirt tracks.
“Racing has given me a chance to make so many friends,” Kinser said. “I’ve made so many friends from all over the United States and other countries. Wherever I go I
can go out and do things with friends in all parts of the country. That’s special to me. I don’t know what I going to do when I won’t be able to get back and see a lot
of those friends any more.” Kinser’s one regret came in 1994 with his ill-fated attempt to race on the International Race of Champions series. That experiment lasted four seasons and saw
Kinser finish 14th in the 1997 Indianaopolis 500. Kinser likens it to Michael Jordan’s failed attempt to play professional baseball in the prime of his NBA career.
“That was a mistake on my part, a big mistake,” Kinser said. “I should have never tried a different class of cars at 47 years old. It was definitely a mistake on my
part.” Like Jordan, Kinser came back to his first love and his image suffered no lasting effects. And, like Jordan, Kinser picked up right where he left off, winning the
1998 World of Outlaws championship. Racing has been a part of Kinser’s blood and a lifeline for his family. His son, Kraig Kinser, won the Knoxville Nationals in 2005 and rejoined the World of Outlaws full-time in 2008. He is currently ninth in points with 4,836 points, just behind his father, who is eighth with 5,018 points and one feature win. Kinser is enjoying his last full season with the World of Outlaws. While he admits to being a little embarrassed by all the attention surrounding the “Salute to The King” this season, he knows this is more about the fans than it is about him. It’s his way of giving back to the fans one last time for supporting his career the last 36 years.
“I’ve had a lot of great things happen for me this year, but it’s getting a little tough. It’s demanding a lot of extra time from myself, but I am still enjoying it,”
Kinser said. “The best thing to do is enjoy this. This is my way of thanking the fans, my fellow racers and the track promoters. I really appreciate everything
everyone has done for me. I’m not having the kind of season I wanted to have , but I am really enjoying things right now.” The World of Outlaws series runs through Nov. 8, culminating in the World of Outlaws World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C. After that, Kinser will trade in his seat in the No. 11 sprint car for a seat on a riding lawn mower back
home in Bloomington, Ind. Well, at least during the week. It’s good to be “The King,” something Kinser will forever be, whether he is driving a sprint car for the World of Outlaws or a riding lawn mower in his back yard.
“When I go to each track, I have a little time to sit back and think about all the memories. I’ve enjoyed them all,” Kinser said. “I don’t know what life will be like
after the World of Outlaws, but things will be different, that’s for sure.”