Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The 1990 Knoxville Nationals - Scruffy Sneaks By on the Low Side


Bobby Allen

By Lee Ackerman

Knoxville, Iowa - If you search the names of the winners of the world-famous Knoxville Nationals from the mid-80s through the mid-90’s in the middle of all the Nationals won by driver’s named Kinser or Wolfgang, you will find one of the most popular wins in Knoxville National history. It was the night that Bobby Allen (known affectionately as Scruffy) snuck by on the low side and claimed the biggest win in sprint car racing and a check for $35,000.

The 30th Annual Knoxville Nationals started off on Wednesday, August 15, 1990, pretty much as might expect. “The King of the Outlaws” Steve Kinser set fast time, won his heat, and then won his qualifying feature to earn a perfect score of 500 points to put himself on the pole for Saturday Night’s Knoxville National A Feature event.

On Thursday night things didn’t go quite as you might expect them too. Oh, Mark Kinser did his part as he also set fast time, won his heat and his qualifying feature to earn a perfect score of 500 and a starting spot on the outside of the front row of Saturday night’s A feature next to Steve.

But strange things were starting to happen. First, Hanover, Pennsylvania’s Bobby Allen, who never seemed to have much luck in his previous 22 appearances at the Nationals, set second quick time, won his heat, and finished fourth in the feature to earn a second row inside starting spot in the big dance by posting 492 points.

The bad news that happened on Thursday night was that defending Knoxville National Champion and five-time winner of the race, Doug Wolfgang, did not fare so well. In fact, his night was a total wipeout. After qualifying fourth in time trials, “Wolfie” collided with Rick Montgomery in the fourth heat and then slammed the front stretch wall total destroying is #8 Payless Hardware & Rockery Schnee and ending his night. Wolfgang did come back on Friday night, win his heat, finish well back in the A feature, and place fifth in the Race of States.

Doug Wolfgang


On Saturday night, Wolfgang had his work cut out to say the least. Starting in the D feature, “Wolfie” won the 12-lap affair. Tagging the back of the 15-lap C feature he charged up through the field to finish second to Pennsylvania’s Keith Kauffman, earning a starting spot at the tail of the 22-lap feature. “Wolfie” charged through the field to win that event and earn the 20th starting position in the feature. When the checkers waved in the 30-lap Knoxville Nationals, he finished fifth, successfully passing 62 cars in 79 laps.

When the green waved on the main event, most bets would have been on a driver named Kinser to win the contest, given that both Steve and Mark were starting on the front row and had been extremely fast all weekend. But first you have to finish to win and that’s where things began to happen.

Steve grabbed the lead, but on the backstretch, Mark took over the point when the magneto on Steve’s #11 mount started to malfunction. The engine lasted for 13 laps before the “King of Outlaws” night was over.

Meanwhile up front, Mark started pulling away from the field, opening up a half straightaway lead and by lap 10 was lapping back markers. But then on lap 23 the caution waved for Dave Blaney and Mark stopped on the backstretch with a broken rod, thus putting both Kinser’s and race favorites on the sidelines.

If you have ever watched Bobby Allen, chances are you didn’t find him up by the outside guard rail but more than likely much closer to the inside guardrail. Allen loves the bottom and has won races where it has taken the announcers and officials several laps to realize Allen is in the lead.

In this case, everybody knew “Scruffy” was in the lead, but he had a challenger, actually the TMC Stanton Challenger of Sammy Swindell, the 1983 Knoxville Nationals winner, who also had a bit of a history of bad luck at the Knoxville Nationals.

Swindell’s mount had started smoking and spitting oil midway through the 30-lap affair and he was fortunate to pick up some extra tear-offs during the caution. With six laps to go and smoke streaming from his engine Swindell was on the charge and determined to add a second Knoxville Nationals crown to his resume.

On lap 26, Swindell charged high by Allen to take the lead coming off the fourth turn but then a brush with the outside retaining wall caused his right rear tire to lose air pressure and slow him down. Allen regained the lead with a third turn pass as the two charged to the white flag and held of Swindell for the final one and quarter laps to win by three car lengths.

“Everything seemed to work my way tonight.” said Allen in victory lane. “The racetrack was perfect for me - they actually ran the top way up and some of the guys had trouble. I don’t care, I won and I’m happy.”

Knoxville Nationals winner Bobby Allen (center) is joined on the podium by runner-up Sammy Swindell (left) and third-place finisher Steve Smith Jr. (right). 


Allen picked up $35,000 for the win, Swindell $23,000 for second and Steve Smith, Jr. (who finished on seven cylinders) $15,000 for third. Danny Lasoski brought his overheating mount home fourth and Doug Wolfgang (who passed 57 cars during the nights activity brought him car in fifth.

Wolfgang was extremely gracious towards the man who replaced him as National’s champion. “Bob does it all and he has since about the 60’s,” Wolfgang said. “So, my hat’s off to him and I’m glad that if I couldn’t win it, I couldn’t figure out a better guy deserving to win.”

Allen remained at the victory platform signing autographs, for several hours after the awards ceremony was complete. 18,000 fans were on hand for Saturday night’s races.

Certainly, it was a well-deserved win for Allen and the crowd loved the exciting finish and the outcome. It certainly has to be listed as one of the most surprising wins in Knoxville National history. It also provided fans with the unexpected (both Kinser’s breaking), it provided them with Wolfgang’s amazing charge from the D feature to a top five in the A and for the drivers it was proof once again of the old saying from “Wide World of Sports”, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Bobby Allen was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1998.

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