By KEVIN HARRIS
Frank Kimmel was ecstatic after the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA Fall Classic on Saturday night at Salem Speedway.
But it was not because the Clarksville native finally broke the ARCA Racing Series’ all-time wins record.
After being down a lap for a good part of the 200-lap race, Kimmel rallied to finish third and added 60 points to his lead in the ARCA standings. Kimmel now leads Mason Mingus, who is second in the standings, to 330 points. Mingus, a former Louisville resident, placed ninth on Saturday night.
Kimmel is trying to win his 10th series championship this season and took an important step toward that title on Saturday.
“Absolutely,“ Kimmel said when asked if he was glad to get the third-place finish. “If there were different circumstances, we would’ve been in big trouble. That’s a great finish for us.”
After qualifying third on Saturday afternoon, Kimmel ran in third place for a good portion of the first 50 laps. But after that, he began to lose the handle on his No. 44 Toyota. Kimmel got lapped by leader Kyle Weatherman on Lap 79 and faded all the way back to 14th place on the 90th circuit.
Kimmel was on the verge of going down a second lap before the caution flag came out on Lap 115 when Tom Hessert, who had won the last two Salem ARCA races, hit the wall.
“At the very first [of the race], [the car] was very good. I was pretty much all over the two top cars in front of me,“ said Kimmel, who was battling a loose condition in his car at that point in the race. “Then we started losing grip. We’ve fought that the last few races, where we cannot keep traction [in the tires]. It started getting worse and worse and worse. For a while there, it was really bad. We caught that caution that kept ourselves from going two laps down and that saved our butts.
“It was real, real loose. We really couldn’t get forward bite and I was having a hell of a time getting off the turn. I was spinning the tires all the way down the straightaway. We’ve had that problem the last few races and I don’t know what is quite going on yet. We’ve done everything we know to tighten it up and it is not tightening up.”
Kimmel pitted for four times and a chassis adjustment, which was ordered by his crew chief, Jeriod Prince. The adjustment worked as Kimmel passed eventual winner Kyle Benjamin on the 138th lap to get his lap back and moved into sixth. But 34 laps later, the 15-year-old Benjamin, who is from Easley, S.C., caught back up to Kimmel and lapped the ARCA veteran between the third and fourth turns.
Kimmel got a major break with 25 laps to go when Las Vegas native Spencer Gallagher got into the wall in the short chute between Turns 3 and 4. Kimmel got back on the lead lap thanks to ARCA’s “Lucky Dog” rule, where the first car a lap down under caution automatically returns to the lead lap.
After pitting to change two tires, Kimmel was fifth on the Lap 181 restart. He passed NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader for third place on Lap 189 and remained in that position the rest of the race.
“Luckily, we caught a caution again and got the ‘Lucky Dog’ and we were able to come back and get a third. It was a good day,” Kimmel said. “On the last caution, we just put on two tires because that’s all we had left. We made a little bit more of an adjustment. The car ran good for a few laps, but it was starting to free up again.”
While it was good night for one member of the Kimmel family, the second Kimmel in the race had a disappointing outcome.
Sellersburg resident Will Kimmel wound up 12th after he was in third place on the final restart. On Lap 181, the younger Kimmel had a shifter linkage break in the transmission of his No. 69 Ford out of the Clarksville-based Kimmel Racing stable.
Will Kimmel said the car jumped out of fourth gear on five different occasions during the race. Frank Kimmel’s nephew only had first and second gear at the end of the race.
“Tonight, I thought we had a car that could win the race and things didn’t go our way again,“ said Will Kimmel, who also had to overcome a pit-road speeding violation during the race. “It’s really disgusting that I’ve got to wait another year to try to win the fall race here at Salem. This is definitely the one I’m after and I really want it.”
On the Lap 181 restart, Will Kimmel was behind Weatherman, who was leading at the time, and second-place Benjamin. Before the restart, Weatherman decided not to pit for tires, while Benjamin and the younger Kimmel each changed right-side tires.
Will Kimmel was confident he would have passed both drivers if it was not for the transmission problem.
“Yea, there is no doubt,” said the Silver Creek High School graduate, who thanked two of his sponsors — Eddie Gilstrap Motors in Salem and Circle Track magazine — for their support.
Weatherman, who is 16, ended up second. Schrader finished fourth, while West Des Moines, Iowa, resident Mason Mitchell placed fifth. Henryville resident Darrell Basham wound up 15th.
ARCA’s next race will be Friday at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky. It will be the series’ first appearance at the mile-and-a-half oval since 2009.
Frank Kimmel is glad that Kentucky is back on ARCA’s schedule as he will try to break his tie with ARCA legend Iggy Katona for the series’ all-time victories mark. He has four career wins at Kentucky.
“It’s great to go back to Kentucky and get to race there,“ Frank Kimmel said. “We didn’t get to test there, but our mile-and-a-half program has been doing pretty good all year. I think we’ll be a contender there and we’ll race hard there, too.”