While his brother ran laps around the half-mile oval during a testing session last week at Toledo Speedway, Bill Kimmel paused to ponder what life in ARCA has been like without having Frank Kimmel as part of his racing team for 18 months.
“We’re more or less a start-up team right now,” Bill Kimmel said.
Bill Kimmel explained that while Kimmel Racing fields a rotation of young drivers, it has a different profile than it had when his brother was the face of the team.
The split, which happened at the end of 2011, provides a curious subplot for today’s ARCA Menards 200, which begins at 2 p.m. at Toledo Speedway.
Frank Kimmel, one of ARCA’s most decorated drivers, left his family team for Sandusky-based ThorSport Racing, and he grimaced when asked if the split was amicable. Then, he shook his hand as if to say, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
The nine-time ARCA points champion wanted to focus simply on racing and insisted it was a business switch. Nothing personal.
But, he added, “It was a tough deal."
“It was just time for a change," he said. "My brother Bill and his son Will, he’s ready to race. I wasn’t quite ready to quit yet. We decided to go in separate directions.”
Bill Kimmel had one word to describe the split: “Surprising.”
“We started Kimmel Racing for the kids,” he said. “That’s what we tried to do, and Frank was looking for something to prolong his career. When he left, the sponsors went with him. It left us trying to rebuild on other avenues. But we’re getting back on our feet.”
That could be problematic for an auto racing team, as its survival can depend on sponsorship — many race teams compete not just on the track for championships, but for dollars and cents from corporate entities who seek exposure.
“You just try to keep building those relationship and hope they build into something bigger,” said Bill Kimmel, who said his team has run this season with the help of sponsorships, including Gary Yeoman’s Ford, a Florida-based car dealership, and Mopar, an auto parts company.
Moving to ThorSport meant more sponsorship stability for Frank Kimmel, who will drive the Ansell/Menards-sponsored Toyota in today’s Menards 200.
“They just want me to come and drive,” Frank Kimmel said. “They’re very supportive, and we get along really well. The equipment I have now is better than I’ve ever had, and they just bring a first-class effort to the race track. It’s been a good year for them.”
Entering today’s race, Kimmel is the ARCA points leader with 865, ahead of Mason Mingus (835) and Tom Hessert (675).
“We’ve had fast race cars at every single race,” Frank Kimmel said. “We won at Talladega [May 3], and that’s really great to win, and we’re riding a pretty good wave right now. We have the potential to keep going and running well.”
While Frank Kimmel has all but dominated this year’s ARCA circuit, Kimmel Racing has primarily fielded two drivers, Will Kimmel and Korbin Forrister, both of whom are entered in the Menards 200. Will Kimmel finished third April 28 in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 at Salem (Ind.) Speedway, but finished 33rd after an accident in the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway and completed only four laps May 3 in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 250 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Forrister finished 14th in the ARCA-Mobile 200 on March 9 at Mobile International Speedway and finished 13th at Talladega.
“We haven’t had the sponsorship to let us compete at the higher levels,” Bill Kimmel said. “But to do things with your son, it makes it pretty rewarding.”
As Frank Kimmel circled the half-mile oval at Toledo Speedway, Bill Kimmel stood at the door of his team’s hauler and considered what might come next for his family’s racing team.
“I’ve enjoyed it a little more than I have because when you bring someone in like Michael [Lira] or somebody to the race track with little experience, you can see them grow really quick,” Bill Kimmel said. “That’s kind of fun sometimes. When Frank and I did it, and we won eight championships, you only had one way to go, and that was down. We had so much expectations to perform. Now, we really don’t have those expectations because we’re bringing young racers in. So when you do well, it’s pretty rewarding to you. Still, it’s a bit different.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.