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Stock car great Kimmel nears 500th career ARCA start

Updated at: 08/21/2015 5:52 AM
By DAN GELSTON

Frank Kimmel says he's a distant relative of outlaw Jesse James and his family has a six shooter with JJ carved into the revolver that has become a prized heirloom.

Turns out, the infamous gang member wasn't the only one in the family tree who could pull a trigger.

"I met him when I was 8 years old," NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski said of Kimmel. "We used to call him the big kid because he was a big guy, right, and he would walk around with squirt guns and squirt us as kids. We'd play with him back and forth and we had a grand old time."

Keselowski's father and Kimmel were both stars in the ARCA series. The relationship forged in the early 1990s would lead to a moonlighting gig decades later for Kimmel — from the big guy to the big sitter.

When Keselowski and his girlfriend needed a break over Brickyard weekend in July, they asked Kimmel and his wife to watch their infant daughter.

"He had a good time," Keselowksi said, laughing.

Kimmel has had a good time — and forged a great career — for 26 years as one of the great champions in the ARCA series. Kimmel is a 10-time series champion in the stock car series and is closing in on 500 career starts.

Kimmel makes his 499th career start Sunday in Springfield, Illinois, before No. 500 on Sept. 7 in the Southern Illinois 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. The 53-year-old Kimmel will be only the second series driver with that many starts. Iggy Katona, who won a race in 19 straight seasons, made 630 starts.

"I never thought I could do it at this level for this long," Kimmel said. "Thank goodness I found (owner) Larry Clement that liked me, had faith in me and was able to put money behind me and get me going."

Kimmel holds ARCA records for career wins with 80, money won in a season ($496,368 in 2001), most consecutive seasons with a top-10 finish (22) and was the oldest series champion at 51 when he won his 10th title in 2013. He is winless this season in eight starts driving for team owner Bill Venturini.

Kimmel has watched the series, which often runs as a support race on NASCAR weekends, evolve through the years and raced fender-to-fender against NASCAR drivers such as Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch.

"When I first started doing it, it was a crash and burn and bang type of place," Kimmel said. "There was a lot of old guys like me doing it. But as I've gotten older and the field's gotten younger, it's kind of a setting stone. Our races are generally clean now."

Kimmel, an Indiana native, has been involved in the sport from a young age. His father, Bill Kimmel Sr., won three ARCA races. His brother Bill is the crew chief/owner of Kimmel Racing and won some late model track championships. Kimmel's son, Frankie, is winless in a handful of ARCA races. And his nephew, Will, made his Sprint Cup debut earlier this year.

Kimmel, married 30 years with two adult children, certainly tried racing in the big leagues. He made 14 starts in the Truck Series, one in Xfinity and seven starts (six in 2002) in NASCAR's Cup series. He never finished better than 26th driving for team owner Travis Carter.

"I wish I could have done it better across the board," Kimmel said. "We had a really short budget. They brought the best equipment they could."

Kimmel, though, said he had no regrets about making his mark in relative anonymity driving stock cars in ARCA instead of NASCAR.

"You take money out of what they get, (NASCAR drivers) would rather do what I do," Kimmel said.

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INDYCAR HEATS UP: Juan Pablo Montoya holds a nine-point lead over Graham Rahal and a 34-point margin on Scott Dixon for the IndyCar championship with two races left in the season.

Up next, Sunday's race at Pocono Raceway where Montoya is the defending winner. Dixon won on the tri-oval track in 2014 when the series returned to Pocono after a 24-year absence.

The top 10 drivers in points are still mathematically eligible for the title heading to Pocono.

Defending series champion Will Power is in fourth place. Power, with one win this season, needs a bit of good luck — and checkered flags — if he has any chance of defending his championship.

"I feel I have a pretty good chance if I win my last two races," Power said.

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GO-GO KESELOWSKI: Gogo Inc., a global aero communications service provider, has reached a partnership with NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski.

The company is involved with in-flight Internet, entertainment, text messaging and other communications related to the commercial and business aviation markets.

Keselowski currently owns and operates a Learjet 45 business aircraft with a full suite of Gogo capabilities.

"For me, the airplane is a business tool, it's a time machine, and the ability to take my entire digital lifestyle with me when I fly is simply invaluable," he said.

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This story has been corrected to show that the gun in the 1st paragraph belongs to Kimmel's family.

(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)