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Old rivals reunited for another battle in Jacksonville

Frank Kimmel and Jeremy Mayfield to compete in Grand National Series race at Goodyear All American Speedway

Thorsport Racing & Getty Images photos

JACKSONVILLE, NC – An old rivalry between two recognizable figures will be reignited this weekend when the Grand National Super Series takes to Goodyear All American Speedway on Saturday night.

60-year-old Frank Kimmel, a 10-time champion of the ARCA Menards Series, and 53-year-old Jeremy Mayfield, five times a winner in the NASCAR Cup Series, will race head-to-head at the 4/10-mile track in Jacksonville, North Carolina.  The two raced against each other often in the late 1980s and early 1990s at Kentucky Motor Speedway in Whitesville – a track where Mayfield and the Waltrip brothers, among others, cut their teeth.

“Jeremy and I go back a long time, racing street stocks in Whitesville, Kentucky,” Kimmel said.  “That’s where David, Jeff and Mark Green, and the Waltrips all started there, in Whiteville.  We came down from Southern Indiana and raced against him.  We were pretty big rivals.  He was the guy to beat and I would come down and steal some of his thunder every now and then and it was a lot of fun.”

Mayfield’s memory of those battles was just as vivid.

“Frank and I have a lot of history together,” Mayfield stated.  “Back in the 80s and 90s, we ran Late Models back then and he would travel from Indiana.  A lot of people would race at Kentucky Motor Speedway on Saturday nights.  I was the only one in the Owensboro area that ran Late Models so I was against all them.  Frank and them, we raced hard every week, about as hard as you can race.  Frank would tell you the same thing.  That type of racing back then helped us both get to where we are today.

“It helped me with experience and looking back and the guys from Louisville,” Mayfield continued.  “You don’t get better racing than we raced back there.  We beat and banged.  It’s going to be exciting to race against him this weekend.  He’s accomplished a lot in his career.  To talk and reminisce old times will be cool as hell.”

Bother drivers went on to climb up the ladder and enjoy success in stock car racing’s major leagues.

Mayfield went on to compete in NASCAR, moving up the ranks and eventually into the top-tier NASCAR Cup Series in the mid-90s, securing a full-time ride in 1995.  A few years later, he would join Penske Racing and score three wins – including a famous victory where he executed a bump-and-run on the sport’s most prolific superstar Dale Earnhardt.

“I saw him the week after that and I thought he was going to be mad at me,” Mayfield recalled.  “He wasn’t.  He joked around with me.  Imagine the last lap of the Cup race and you’re racing against your longtime hero, Dale, and you’ve been running together all day long and I knew I only had one shot at it and I got a run off the tunnel turn going into turn three.  I drive up on my longtime hero that I’ve looked up to my whole career and I was able to get the pass and win the race.  It was a dream come true.”

Mayfield would win two more races driving for Ray Evernham before a contentious breakup with the team, including a win in Richmond, Virginia, in 2004 which locked him into the field of the first-ever installment of NASCAR’s postseason, then called the Chase for the Championship.  However, the win against one of the greatest drivers in the history of stock car racing will always stand out as the milestone moment for the veteran racer.

“Being able to do that on the last turn of any race would be exciting for anybody who races anywhere, I don’t care if you race drag cars or dirt cars or cup or late models, everybody would want the chance to beat Dale Earnhardt,” Mayfield continued.  “It was like a dream come true for anybody who would be in that situation.  It’s been the highlight of my career for sure and something that I’ll never forget.”

Mayfield’s final start in NASCAR came in 2009.  He would return to racing in 2014 in the now-defunct KOMA Unwind Modified Madness Series, and then raced some on dirt.

“I was very fortunate to be with some great race teams and not so fortunate to be with some that weren’t so great after all,” Mayfield explained. “You’ve got to have good people around you, good equipment, good R&D, and all of the people it takes to make a race team that puts themselves in position to win.  It’s huge.  It’s not just the driver, or engineer, or crew chief.  It takes a tremendous amount of time and resources to win in the Cup Series and that’s why you only see a few teams do it.”

Much of Kimmel’s success came in the ARCA Menards Series, where he scored 80 career wins and 10 championships – records in both categories.  He also spent some time in the NASCAR Cup Series, but only on a part-time basis.

“Jimmy Spencer got injured at Indianapolis [in 2000] and Travis Carter gave me a call and asked if I’d like to drive the car at Michigan and I said, ‘yep, let’s go,’” Kimmel explained.  “It was a wonderful opportunity.  Travis and everybody treated me really well.  There was no testing, no simulators, nothing like they’ve got now.  It was throwing you out there to the wolves very quickly.  The hardest thing for me is, I was a points racer all my life.  I was good at racing for points, being there at the end, and I didn’t like when guys would come in and run ARCA and mess that deal up.  You get somebody that’s only going to run four or five races, he’s messing up either your competition or yourself.

“I always thought that was wrong.  I felt like you had to show points racers a different level of respect.  I always raced that way, especially in the Cup Series.  Good opportunity, great car, a lot of fun, but it was hard for me to get in the real swing of doing that because those guys were racing for points, and it’s not like the deal now with the playoffs.  That was difficult for me.  I’m not making excuses, those guys were really good, and getting to race Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Darrell Waltrip, and Rusty Wallace, it was a great opportunity.”

Now, both drivers are competing in the Grand National Super Series, a V8 touring series founded by veteran racer Bob Schact and his wife Patti, running predominantly Gen-4 NASCAR Cup Cars, ARCA cars, and USAR Pro Cup Cars – similar to the Super Cup Stock Car Series.

Mayfield returned to the racing scene in 2014, competing in tour modifieds – including a race at Goodyear All American Speedway, then called Coastal Plains Raceway, where he led much of the race and finished 10th.  He also dabbled some in dirt racing.  A few weeks ago, he secured a ride in the Grand National Super Series, sweeping a pair of races at Franklin County Speedway in the mountains of Virginia.

“It doesn’t matter what you win in, it’s tough,” Mayfield mentioned.  “Everybody’s competitive and you can bet you’re gonna have to beat the best to win to come back and win anywhere is a good feeling.  It feels great to be back in victory lane and that you can still do it and not forget anything.  It’s definitely a fun deal when you win.”

Kimmel had also retired and went on to be a spotter in ARCA and NASCAR.  He was lured back into a car earlier this year for a Grand National Super Series doubleheader at Tri-County Speedway, sweeping the twins there.

“The second time I took the car out at Tri County, I said this is trouble because I remember why I liked doing this,” Kimmel added.  “It’s a sport that gets in you and it’s as bad as any drug that you want to take, I think.”

Saturday’s race in Jacksonville will be the first time the two drivers have competed against each other in decades in a field that will see at least a dozen other competitors.  The event will be broadcast live on Racing America for those who are unable to make the trek to the gem on the North Carolina coast.

Marquis comes from St. Charles, Maryland and has a widespread background in journalism, having covered politics in Washington and Maryland as well as nearly every form of auto racing, including NASCAR, IndyCar, AMA Motocross and IHRA Drag Racing. Now living near Emerald Isle, North Carolina, Marquis covers Late Model Stock Cars and Super Late Models in the Carolinas and Virginia.

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