King of Outlaws Kinser seeks crown in return to Lernerville
If your nickname calls you the “king” of anything, you had better be good — really good. Steve Kinser is the King of the Outlaws, and there's no disputing that moniker.
Kinser was there at the beginning of the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series; his first series victory came May 21, 1978 at Eldora Speedway. Since then he has recorded 577 WoO victories at 142 different tracks. On Tuesday night, Kinser and the rest of the series will be back at Lernerville Speedway for the Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup XXIII, which features twin 30-lap features that pay $15,000 to win.
“I fell in love with the place from the beginning,” Kinser said about Lernerville. “I really liked Don Martin, and I always enjoyed racing there. (Martin) made it special. I was even at Lernerville when (Martin's son) Kraig was born in 1984. It was just always a special place. I remember too they used to give out that big sandwich if you won the race.”
Kinser, in his final season as a full-time WoO driver, has astounding career numbers. Heading into Friday's Kings Royal at Eldora, he has won 20 WoO championships and finished in the top five 11 times. He has won the Knoxville Nationals 12 times, the Kings Royal seven times, but he's only won the Silver Cup twice, 1994 and 2008.
Even with all of his success in dirt racing's biggest events he is at a loss to explain why he has not done better in the Silver Cup, even though he leads all WoO drivers with 17 all-time victories at Lernerville.
“I can't really say why we haven't done better in the Silver Cup,” Kinser said. “Some things happen, and sometimes they don't.”
The 60-year-old Kinser won the first WoO race at Lernerville on Aug. 29, 1979. His most recent Lernerville victory was July 15, 2008, in the Silver Cup. Sammy Swindell, Kinser's longtime nemesis on the WoO tour, has 14 career victories at Lernerville, including three Silver Cup victories.
“In 1978 when this started, it was pretty much Doug Wolfgang, Sammy Swindell and me,” Kinser said. “We'd go around and race all over the Midwest then we'd go out east with the Pennsylvania guys and that was some very good racing there. It was really good competition.”
Kinser's relationship with Swindell long has been a source of discussion and while Kinser admitted that there have been issues, he was very clear in what he thought about Swindell.
“As far as Sammy goes, yeah, we've had our ups and downs over the years,” Kinser said. “But you know, as a competitor, he's the toughest I have gone up against all these years.”
Kinser wasn't sure he would have a career and not just a hobby. As a boy growing up in southern Indiana, he looked at the Indianapolis 500 as the pinnacle. He even went through rookie orientation early in the 1980s, which went well until he put a car into the wall. He returned to the Indy 500 in 1997 and, after a crash on Lap 185, finished 14th. Kinser also raced some NASCAR Sprint Cup races in 1995 as well as the International Race of Champions. His career with the WoO has taken him to races in Canada, Mexico and Australia.
“I thought I'd have a job and that I'd race a Sprint Car on the weekends,” Kinser said. “We had to do a lot of making things if something broke. We spent all of our money on the one motor. Now, you sure don't do that.”
Kinser's last series title was in 2005, but that hasn't dampened his desire or his appreciation for the sport.
“We are still going out and trying to win races — that hasn't changed,” he said. “Sure, I'd like to be running a bit better because it is difficult not to run well. It's still fun. The other day, a guy came up to me, an old racer, and he could see that I didn't have a very nice look on my face, and I was probably upset at something. Well, he told me that with the success I've had, and the fact that we are still competitive with these guys, that I ought to be thankful for that, and I am.”
Thomas Zuck is a freelance writer.