(Bill W) September 9, 2016 – It was the early 1990’s. I pulled my Ranger into a gas station in Canton, Illinois. I asked the employee behind the counter where I could find Spoon River Speedway. “Take the highway out of town south,” he said. “Take a left at the white church. Go a couple miles and you’ll come to a ‘T’ intersection. Take a left. In a couple miles you’ll see a blue barn with a sign for the speedway pointing left.”
I followed his directions. I took that left at the barn, and I was in the woods. The pavement turned to gravel. And there it was. I had arrived at “The Spoon”. Almost 30 years later, I can count the Tom Knowles Memorial events at Spoon River Speedway that I have missed on one hand. To say it had an impact on me would be an understatement! If an open wheel fan sees one race a year, and it’s this one, they will not be disappointed.
As I approached the edge of the track, it dropped off. It had every bit of the banking of Eldora Speedway (the old Eldora). It still does. The differences are, this track was a 3/8-mile on the outside. The absence of a wall on the inside or outside would lend to a wide track. I was not disappointed!
The Tom Knowles Memorial commences every September (usually the second Saturday). I’ll be heading there tomorrow. Wouldn’t miss it! The two premiere classes are sprint cars and midgets. The sprint cars were unsanctioned for years until the MASS series came along. Then, the Sprint Invaders dropped the cubic inches to 360 for two years, before the formation of the 410 MOWA series, which took over sanctioning with its inception in 2011. This year will continue that.
The midgets have been sanctioned by MARA and now the POWRi series. The event always draws a talented field, as USAC and the Badger series have typically been off. Keith Kunz, from nearby Springfield, has been a mainstay at the Tom Knowles Memorial. He usually campaigns two or three cars.
The sprint cars are obviously lightning fast at “The Spoon”, but watching the midgets will get you up on your seat. I like to sit at the top of the stands in turn four, and watch them come through the corner. Four and even five-wide action can be the norm in the feature. A midget sliding from the bottom of turn three to the top of turn four (passing one, two or three cars at a time) will take your breath away! For me, the excitement makes my four-hour trip home fly by.
The late, great, Kevin Doty has to still reign as King of this race, joining Donnie Beechler and Christopher Bell as drivers to have won both in the sprint and the midget. Doty has five midget victories at the Tom Knowles to his credit, as well as a sprint car win. Jerrod Hull leads all sprint car winners with five wins. I’ve seen Rico Abreu in contention to win a few midget features there, but so far, he has just garnered the sprint win. The win list (see below) is an impressive one that includes National Hall of Famers in both divisions. The late, great, Bryan Clauson, Kyle Larson, they are all on the win list.
Part of the fun is seeing just who will be there. There are always surprises. Who will be doing double duty?
Tomorrow, I’ll be heading west again in a different Ranger, but the route will be a familiar one. The sign on the blue barn has been gone a while, but the Ranger knows the way. The track, save some new grandstands a few years ago, remains unchanged. Getting out in the sticks to the Spoon River Speedway needs to be experienced by everyone. There will be no PPV. There will be no audio broadcast. There will be no mufflers. It may not register on your GPS. But the daredevils will be turning it loose with pure speed and victory on their mind! I hope to see many of you there tomorrow night!
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Tom Knowles Memorial Winners
Year Sprint Car Winner, Midget Winner
1985 Dave Feese, Dave Ray
1986 Rick Pennell, Bob Schneider
1987 Rocky Hodges, Steve Knepper
1988 Ron Standridge, Steve Knepper (2)
1989 Tony Weyant, Donnie Beechler
1990 Dave Feese (2), Kevin Doty
1991 Donnie Beechler, Steve Knepper (3)
1992 Kevin Doty, Kevin Doty (2)
1993 Tim Montgomery, Dave Ray (2)
1994 Terry Gray, Donnie Beechler (2)
1995 Gary Wright, Kevin Doty (3)
1996 Tony Weyant (2), Kevin Doty (4)
1997 Donnie Beechler (2), Dan Boorse
1998 Gary Wright (2), Jeff Flesher
1999 Jaymie Moyle, Donnie Lehman
2000 Terry McCarl, Aaron Fiscus
2001 Dennis Moore Jr., Brad Kuhn
2002 Jerrod Hull, Jay Drake
2003 Jerrod Hull (2), Bobby East
2004 Cameron Dodson, Kevin Doty (5)
2005 Blake Feese, Danny Stratton
2006 Don Droud Jr., Chad Deselle
2007 Jerrod Hull (3), Thomas Meseraull
2008 Jordan Goldesberry, Daniel Robinson
2009 Jim Moughan Jr., Bryan Clauson
2011 Jerrod Hull (4), Kyle Larson
2012 Jerrod Hull (5), Brad Kuhn (2)
2013 Christopher Bell, Christopher Bell
2014 Rico Abreu, Zach Daum
2015 Paul Nienhiser, Justin Peck
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