Talladega wreck brings new-found attention to ARCA rookie Dustin Knowles

Dustin Knowles
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SUNDAY ON ASN: ARCA Racing Series Menards 200 from Toledo Speedway, 2 p.m. (click logo for local listings)

It’s one heck of a way to get a little recognition, but, no matter. It worked for rookie Dustin Knowles.

The newcomer to the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards barely made a blip on the radar until he ricocheted off the backstretch wall at Talladega Superspeedway during the April 29 race.

“We have about 1,200 employees here at the Medical West Hospital … I work in the human resources department,” Knowles said. “I didn’t think too many of them even knew I raced … we didn’t really talk about it a lot. But after the wreck, seemed like 600 of them stopped by to check on me and get an autograph. It was difficult to work for a week.”

The Moody, Ala., driver was having the ride of this life, racing inside the top-10 in the closing laps of the General Tire 200 when he got moved from behind. His No. 14 Jent Motorsports Chevrolet bounced hard off the outside safer barrier, spun around a couple time before coming to a stop. He climbed out unhurt.

Despite a wrecked race car, Knowles remains upbeat headed to the next event on tour — the 75th running of the Menards 200 presented by Federated Car Care at Toledo Speedway.

“That meant a lot to me…just to be running on the same lap with the leaders. I had been going there (Talladega) since I was 7 years old. Just to have the opportunity to be in a competitive car was huge.

“Talladega did a lot for our team. We wrecked the car but we were very pleased with everything … that brought a lot of energy with the team…created a lot of buzz. Hopefully that will continue into the rest of the season.”

The rest of the season begins on ARCA’s home track in Toledo this weekend.

“I’m really looking forward to these next series of tracks starting with Toledo … all these tracks coming up are very historic … Toledo, New Jersey, MIS, Pocono, Winchester … been talking about it with all my friends. It’s huge. I’m really looking forward to it. Salem was my first race above the Mason-Dixon Line.”

Knowles cut his teeth racing modifieds on dirt and pavement tracks in the southeast.

“I thought modified racing was tough but ARCA is so much tougher than anything I’ve ever experienced in the past. The caliber of drivers is amazing. I’m enjoying it…it’s nice to get away from the local tracks and get out and run with the best of the best. These drivers that race in ARCA are not good drivers … they’re great drivers.”

Knowles started circle track racing in 2004.

“I started out in a little stock four-cylinder class … just something to do on Friday and Saturday nights,” he said. “Then I went to the Talladega Short Track and won in my first race … a ’92 Honda Accord … talked my aunt into using it. Put a roll cage in it, knocked the windows out and went racing. I won the first three races, and that hooked me.”

In 2005, Knowles stepped up into the 4-cylinder modified class and then the full-blown outlaw modifieds in 2007. In 2008, he won the last race ever at Birmingham Int’l Raceway and the ’08 track championship. In 2010, he won the modified track championship at Montgomery Speedway. Knowles also accomplished another major milestone in 2010, graduating from Jacksonville State with a bachelor’s degree in human resources management.

Then in 2014, Knowles got the chance to do a one-off deal in the ARCA Racing Series event at Mobile. In a mediocre machine at best, he finished the race respectively in 15th. Doing his best to get back to ARCA, Knowles got an opportunity to race for car owner Darrell Jent in 2016. Although Jent went with a different driver to start the season at Daytona, Jent put Knowles in the car at Nashville and never looked back.

“We’re in for the long haul this year. We need some more funding to help get our feet on the ground. We have Shepards Wrecker Service on the car … out of Sneads Ferry, North Carolina. We’re still trying to work out a deal with another sponsor to purchase the new composite body to put on our chassis. We’re looking for some consistent top-10s.”

In addition to a full season of ARCA racing ahead — a “dream come true” for Knowles he and his wife Kelley are expecting.

“Our due date is the day of the Kansas race,” he said.

Knowles already has a 4-year-old stepson Topher.

“Having a family is an adjustment but I’m really enjoying it … spending time with my family, going to T-ball games with my stepson. I’m really enjoying the family life … it’s been really rewarding, he said.

“Can’t wait to see Toledo Speedway.”

Story and photo courtesy ARCA