Not only is sprint car driver Erin Crocker the only woman to ever qualify for the Knoxville Nationals A-Main, she’s done it twice, most recently in 2010. She’s also on the board of directors of the Knoxville Sprint Car Hall of Fame.
pressdog: So in a sprint car you’ve got no mirrors, you’ve got no radio and spotter, is it just like mayhem? I always wondered about this .. are you just always focused forward.
Erin Crocker: You always focus forward.
pressdog: Can you hear other drivers?
Erin: Yeah, some of them get so far up beside that you can hear them, but the other drivers know that you don’t have radios and you don’t have mirrors. So they’re being defensive as much as they are ... You have to be respectful of each other because you could do that to them, the same way, but then it’s going to wrap them up too.
So if you get a good run on someone, coming the outside, but you don’t think they know you’re there, you’re not going to keep sticking your nose there, because it’s going to destroy both your cars. It’s not like a stock car where you just bounce, off problems.
You both are probably going to end up doing this (flipping motion with her hands). People in general are respectful of that, but not always.
You can race sprint cars a little bit dirty, and there’s those guys who do that, but there’s only a certain extent you can go to without hurting themselves. For stock cars, you can race dirty all the time, and (when she drove them) I didn’t like that. I’m like, “What the hell? I don’t like this.” I want to just race. I don’t want to worry about... I don’t know, the cheap way of racing, hit someone and knock him out of the way.
pressdog: So when you’re in the car, do you just hear your own engine, and what’s your sensory overload of it?
Erin: Generally you just hear your own motor, and you’re constantly, in a sprint car, trying to be smooth, to keep your momentum up, and search for the fastest line, whether you’re running at the top, you want to hit that cushion just right every time, or if you’re liking the bottom which at a track like Knoxville is really challenging. It’s kind of a combination of braking and gas to hug that that bottom like that and stay in the moisture and traction. So it’s a challenge by itself to race against the race track, let alone all the other cars around you.
Another thing about sprint cars, almost any track you go to, there’s usually a way, it seems to me as a driver, to make yourself better. A lot of times I feel like in a stock car, yeah, I drive around and it is important, but you kind of get what you get with stock cars. But in the dirt, you can try new lines; you can try something really crazy. Your car might not work here but you can try something here. It seems like there’s a bigger range for that.
pressdog: So you’re doing that during a race sometimes? You’re trying different lines...
Erin: Yeah. Absolutely. And sometimes the worst time is to be leading, because you’re like, “Run at the top, run at the top,” and then what do you know, all of a sudden someone comes by you on the bottom and you’re like, “Crap! The bottom must be good,” so you’ve got to go try it, and then yeah, it’s crazy.
pressdog: You must have to be kind of a quick thinker, because you only have maybe 20 laps.
Erin: You analyze the track the whole night. You’ve got to watch for things. When (Crocker’s husband) Ray (Evernham) first started coming to the dirt races with me, we were like, “You mean we have to watch the track all night?” Because you know when you have pavement, you get to keep it just like it is. The paved track will change in the sun and clouds, but over all, it doesn’t change much. But with a dirt track, you could run the same track four nights in a row and have a completely different track each night, depending on how much water they put in, how much it rains, how much they tore it up the last time, whatever.
pressdog: The groove gets wider or narrower...
Erin: Yeah. You’ll even see it here at Knoxville. The first night might be only three lanes wide, but the second night it might be all the way up against the fence. It’s just how dry the track is, or...
pressdog: I notice last year during the nationals finals, the track will widen constantly during the night.
Erin: Yeah. Usually by the A-Main and it’s up by the fence. That’s for me pretty cool, to run around Knoxville, with the ten-foot guard rail, and run into the corner at whatever, 140 (mph) and to keep your right rear yea far up on this pile of mud … that is really bad ass.
pressdog: it is.
Speaking of bad ass ...
pressdog: So when you’re airborne, what goes through your head?
Erin: It’s funny because the world slows down while you are flipping in mid-air. You hear silence and then you hear all this metal crunching around and then there’s silence and you’re like “Yup, I’m in the air again.” Sometimes it happens so fast you’re like, all right … sky-ground-sky … where am I? But really you’re thinking could his please stop, and no one else hit me? Because that often times is when you get injuries, when the car that is running that line and just can’t avoid you.
In part one of this three-part, Knoxville gets ready to host the world at Knoxville Nationals. Read it here.
In part three (Saturday), Knoxville Raceway general manager Brian Stickel discusses how Knoxville strives honor its heritage while evolving to meet the expectations of the modern race fan.