Knight staying focused for WoO's Eriez visit
By Kevin KovacWorld of Outlaws Late Model Series
Mike Knight has been fast — but not fast enough — in the three World of Outlaws Late Model Series events that have been contested at Eriez Speedway.
So the rising young star from Ripley, N.Y., is planning to take a slightly different approach when the national tour returns to his home track in Hammett, Pa., for a 50-lap, $10,000-to-win race on Sunday.
“Every time we have the Outlaws (at Eriez) I try to overthink it instead of just running it like it was a regular race,” said the 23-year-old Knight, who won the 2007 Dirt Late Model championship at Eriez in 2007 and enters Sunday’s action ranked second in this season’s points standings despite missing one event. “I’m gonna do what I can not to do that this year. I just want to try to be smart about it and run my race.
“I’ve had a good car all year at Eriez, so I feel like I have a shot at winning if I don’t overreact and make the wrong decisions.”
Knight has become a familiar addition to the fields of WoO events held throughout the Northeast in recent years and has enjoyed several encouraging runs during his travels, but he knows that the place where he has his best chance of upsetting the touring stars is Eriez. It takes special finesse to negotiate the largely flat, one-third-mile oval promoted by Bob Rohrer, and Knight has figured out the secret to success.
“It’s one of those tracks the Outlaw guys just can’t come in and dominate because it’s a little different shape,” said Knight, who leads the Eriez Dirt Late Model division with three feature wins this season and has won more than a dozen times there over the past five years. “There’s lines you can run there that you don’t think you can run, which helps the guys who are regulars like me.
“One of these years we’re gonna use what we know about the place and win an Outlaw race there,” he confidently added. “I told these guys (his crew), ‘Our stuff’s rolling pretty good right now, so if we catch the right breaks we can win it.’ ”
Knight recorded his career-best WoO LMS finish in the tour’s 2008 A-Main at Eriez, placing fifth. But that was a slight letdown for him after he timed third-fastest, won a heat race and started third in the headliner — and was passed for fourth on the last lap by 2006 WoO LMS champion Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y. In his other World of Outlaws starts at Eriez, Knight finished 10th in 2007 (after qualifying 10th-fastest and finishing fourth in a heat) and 11th in 2009 (after again timing third-fastest, winning a heat and starting fifth in the A-Main).
“We’ve set ourselves up in the right spot twice with by qualifying good and getting in the redraw,” said Knight. “I’ve started in the top eight, but we gotta ‘feature’ better than we have. It’s just a matter of getting the right combo — and that’s the challenge.
“These Outlaw guys run 40-, 50-, 75-lap features all the time, and we run usually run 25 laps. Getting your car to be good those last 20 laps is the key — that’s where the race is won at, and that’s the only thing we lack. If you’re a little bit off with these guys, you’re way off.
“It’s just a matter of getting more experience and doing more research,” he concluded. “Hopefully we’ve learned some lessons from running with these guys and can use them this year.”
Knight has two family-owned cars — an 2009 Rocket machine more suitable for fast, heavy conditions and an ’08 Rocket that likes slick tracks — to choose between on Sunday. He’s won at Eriez with both mounts and enters Sunday’s event having driven the newer car to a solid ninth-place finish in the Ohio-Pennsylvania Speedweek show on Thursday night at Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio.
Knight currently makes his living overseeing Knight Operating Services, an excavating company he launched last year, and assisting at his family’s 450-acre grape farm off Interstate 90. But he would love to use a WoO victory at Eriez as a springboard to a fulltime assault on the tour in the near future.
“It would be the highlight of my career if I could win it,” Knight said, “and I think it would be a step forward if we could do it. I’m hoping to someday run full time with the Outlaws but it’s a matter of getting the money right, so a win might help us turn some heads and slap my foot in the right door.”