Knoxville Nationals’ “Hard Knox” Qualifying Night on Friday has consistently produced some of the most aggressive racing of the prestigious week with drivers vying to lock themselves into Saturday’s main event.
But this year, some drivers see the Qualifier as one of the toughest in recent years.
Eighty drivers are eligible to contend for the four transfer spots in the Feature, including several standout names that suffered issues during their preliminary nights. Of them include, 2019 Knoxville Nationals champion David Gravel, All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car champion Aaron Reutzel, 2005 Knoxville Nationals champion Kraig Kinser, Brock Zearfoss, Robbie Price, Ryan Timms, Zeb Wise, Cole Macedo and more.
“They call it Hard Knox for a reason, it’s not easy by any means,” said Brock Zearfoss, who earned a transfer spot in 2021’s Hard Knox race. “You just have to have your night go right just like any other night.
“This is probably going to be one of the hardest Hard Knox (nights) in a long time. There’s a lot of good cars that had trouble on their qualifying night and most of them probably should be locked into the Feature on Saturday. It’s just going to be a lot tougher than it’s been in the last few years… But everybody is beatable.”
The top four finishers in the night’s 25-lap Feature will lock themselves into Saturday’s $185,000-to-win/$15,000-to-start Feature, with the night’s winner starting 21st, second starting 22nd, third starting 23rd and fourth starting 24th.
However, even before then, drivers will be split into two 24-car Last Chance Showdowns with the top three from each transferring to the Hard Knox Feature.
For drivers like Ryan Timms – making his first ever Knoxville Nationals appearance – and Cole Macedo, who will be making his first appearance in the Hard Knox race this year, there’s a bit of an unknown going into the night. However, they both acknowledge it won’t be easy.
“We’ve all got our work cut out for us and have to be perfect if we want to get into the big dance,” Macedo said.
“We’re all hanging it out as hard as we can go. I’d say there’s going to be a lot of people hanging off guys’ right rears, sticking it in spots that they shouldn’t be. We all want to get into that big show. We’re here for the Knoxville Nationals. I’m sure that my car owner and Drew (Warner, team crew chief) are going to want me to push as hard as I can.”
Timms is one of the greenest drivers in the field, having made only a handful of starts in a 410 Sprint Car at Knoxville. While he has multiple starts in a 360, including a fifth-place finish in the 360 Knoxville Nationals, Timms said there’s almost no comparison between that he can lean on.
“It’s my fourth time in a 410 here, just getting a hang of the track, it’s really technical,” Timms said. “We ran good here in a 360 but running a 360 versus a 410 is way different. Just getting used to the power of the 410 here. It is constantly pushing you back in the seat. It’s a big difference.”
After setting Quick Time for Wednesday night’s preliminary, Gravel suffered a brake issue that put him into the wall on the first lap of his Heat Race. He then won his way into the Last Chance Showdown through the C-Main but was unable to secure a spot for the night’s Feature – leading to his decision to run the Hard Knox night.
“Obviously, it’s not ideal, not what you want, but very capable of running good tonight, so we’ll control what we can control,” Gravel said. “We’ve been fast every time we’ve hit the racetrack, so hopefully we’ll be fast enough to make it into the top four tonight… We’ll just come tonight and try to kick ass.”
We will split the field into two groups for Time Trials.