Family tradition Kimmel Racing soldiers on
Family tradition Kimmel Racing soldiers on
TOLEDO, Ohio (Nov. 29, 2016) - Unless you're living under a boulder, chances are you've already met Bill Kimmel, Jr. In fact, the Kimmel Racing brand, founded in 1949, is the longest running race team in the ARCA garage.
Like a lot of guys turning wrenches on ARCA cars, Kimmel, who crew-chiefed his brother Frank to eight of his 10 ARCA national championships, was also one whale of a wheelman back in his day, as his father, Bill Kimmel, Sr., was before him.
"One of my earliest memories of dad was him going over the wall in a sprint car (at Salem)," said Kimmel.
"I must have been about six years old. I remember it because my mom ran off to get in the ambulance, and I got left in the infield. I remember running up to the fence to see what happened. Somebody - dad could tell you who - had blown an engine off two. He got into the oil. The car slid along the wall. That was before roll cages and dad said he could feel the fence scraping across his helmet. Then the car hooked something on the fence and it flipped over and up into the trees...that's what saved his life. He would have come down much harder had the trees not braced the fall. He broke his arm...hurt the other. He's broken a lot of arms."
Kimmel, Sr. who turned 88 back on September 13, is the second oldest living ARCA winner behind only Frankie Schneider. He still comes by the Kimmel Racing shop every morning.
"He still drives every day. He meets Frank for breakfast, then I'll see him here at the shop at 9. He's been wanting an air compressor, so we bought one over the weekend, and took it to his house. When he meets Frank, I tell 'em...'that's where retired guys meet.' "
Outside of Salem, Kimmel recalls his boyhood days at Sportsdrome Speedway in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
"The Sportsdrome I remember because they still had wooden fences. Me and a buddy of mine would sit in folding chairs right on the other side of the fence, coming off turn four. Our heads were literally over the top of the fence...crazy I know.
"I remember when Fairgrounds (Motor Speedway) opened in Louisville. They paid dad to weld the guardrail up. My mom always sat 13 rows up. That way, if we got lost, we knew to count 13 rows, and that's where she'd be."
Kimmel is one of seven brothers and sisters who grew up in a tiny, two-story block house on the edge of town in Clarksville, Indiana. The parents, Bill and Mabel, occupied the upstairs while the seven kids fought it out downstairs, boys and girls separated by a tarp that hung from the ceiling. Kimmel, Sr. raced cars full-time to feed the family.
"As I got a little older, I would hurry home from school on Fridays. My dad would be waiting for us at the shop. On Fridays we ran either Danville (Ky.) or Monticello. Saturday was Richmond, Kentucky or Campbellsville. Sunday, we would go to Clay City Speedway, and on the way back home, we'd stop at Frankfurt for a Sunday night race. We pulled the car on a state bed truck. Frank got to sit in the front. I sat on the state bed with my back against the cab. I got a blanket when it got cold."
As you may have already suspected, it would be just a matter of time before Kimmel, Jr. climbed behind the wheel.
"Dad raced all the way up to '83. By then, I had put my own late model together and dad ran it. He quit racing and I started running full-time about '84."
Kimmel, Jr. had already been running part-time since '77.
"The first race I won was a bomber race at the Fairgrounds in '77...I still have the trophy.
"In '84, I was at the Sportsdrome in a late model regularly. I was able to win a feature in every year. Went to Charlestown in '89 and won the championship at Charlestown in late models."
From there, Kimmel ventured off to Louisville Motor Speedway where he finished third in late model championship points in four consecutive seasons '91, '92, '93 and '94. Then Kimmel put down four consecutive track titles.
"In '95, '96, '97 and '98 I was the Louisville late model champion."
Then fate stepped in.
"A good friend, Dave Embry - he owned Rite-Way Industries - he bought a NASCAR All Pro car...we were going All Pro racing in '99. Then Frank's deal with (ARCA co-car owners) Dan Falldorf and Larry Clement started to dissolve. Falldorf was quitting and Larry (Clement) needed a place for his equipment, so Dave (Embry) put all the equipment in his shop in Louisville. After Frank's (ARCA) championship in '98, his crew chief Jeff Lemons went to Bowshers. Then Frank said, 'why don't you be my crew chief', so I stopped driving.
"I figured I'd be crew chief for a couple years until Will was ready to drive. Let's just say it went on longer than I anticipated. We were very successful. Timing is everything. At that time, Tim Steele was not as dominant, and we had excellent sponsors with Advance and the Pork board."
After winning eight consecutive ARCA championships ('00 through '07), Clement backed away from ARCA and Kimmel Racing came back to life under Frank and Bill. Eventually, Frank went in his own direction while Kimmel Racing, with Bill solely at the helm, soldiered on with Will Kimmel in the driver's seat. Kimmel Racing has since fielded several cars for several different drivers, including Will.
"We're doing our best to put a full season together for the 69 car. Right now, Daytona is a little up in the air. Will and Erica are expecting a baby right in the middle of February. Rather than put pressure on them to run the race, he (Will) may just sit out for Daytona...not sure who'll run it. If I don't lease it...maybe Ricky Sanders. But if I can sell a deal, I gotta sell it.
"After Daytona, we're planning on Nick (Higdon) running the first race at Nashville...we'll probably follow that up with Will at Salem. We'll spread the season out between Will and Nick. We may run a few other guys at times too."
As always, longtime Kimmel Racing supporter Clarksville Schwinn will continue to play a big part.
"Bob Peters (Clarksville Schwinn) owns the shop. Clarksville Schwinn has been on every car Will ever raced. I'm sure we'll have some local help from Skyline Chili. Tommy and Tina Higdon of T&T Construction are huge supporters of our program. Steve Ogle...SO Contracting...helps a ton too."
Kimmel Racing had a tough season in 2016, but the chins are up for '17.
"This is all I've ever done...I can't complain. I've never worked (a regular job) a day in my life. I just love being at the race track."
Kimmel, who turns 60 this July, also credits the family support he continues to get from the people who matter the most. He and his wife Pam, who works at New Washington State Bank in Charlestown (Ind.), have been married for 31 years...together for 38 years.
"Both Will and I are very lucky to have the support we have. They put up with all this...can't ask for more. You wonder why sometimes at 60 years old you're driving home from a race at 4 in the morning, but you're always ready for the next one. I wouldn't trade any of it."