CALIFORNIA, MO - June 8, 2021 - From start-to-finish, the smile never once wore off Clyde Knipp's face on Saturday night at Granite City Speedway.
Thanks to the trust and generosity of his Jason Johnson Racing team, he was able to live his dream of being a World of Outlaws driver again.
"That was absolutely amazing," the Missouri native said with wide-eyed grin following the race.
You see, Clyde is no stranger to The Greatest Show Dirt. At the ripe age of 17-years-old, he joined the tour full-time in 2016 and contested two complete seasons with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series. He finished 14th and 15th in the standings, respectively, but in 2018 he was unable to race full-time.
He made his way back to the Series in late 2019, in the form of Car Chief for Jason Johnson Racing #41. He got to work with David Gravel, and now Carson Macedo behind the wheel. It's been an enjoyable experience for the now 23-year-old, who is soaking up every single ounce of knowledge he can obtain on the road.
At the end of the day, though, Clyde's passion for strapping in and racing against the best of the best tops all.
On Saturday, he got to re-ignite that passion. It started off as a joke, but quickly turned into reality.
"There were only 17 cars signed-in at the time, so Phil [Dietz], Carson, and I were all kind of just joking that we should bring the second car down," Knipp noted on how the opportunity came about. "The more we thought about it, the more it seemed realistic, though."
Soon enough, the backup #41 was out of the trailer and being assembled with Clyde ready to make his season-debut for the $1,000-to-start purse money.
"Phil told me from the beginning, this is your job and you have to make sure Carson is taken care of first," Knipp continued. "I knew from the beginning he was the number one priority. You know we're competing for a championship, so obviously his car comes first."
So, it was decided. Clyde was racing. However, he still fulfilled all of his duties as Car Chief on the #41. Managing fuel, tightening bolts, changing torsion bars, and making any setup adjustments relayed from Crew Chief, Phil Dietz.
"I hadn't been in a car since 2019, so I was a little concerned with how rusty I would be, honestly," Knipp admitted. "I got in and it just awesome, though, like I was right at home and never quit racing. I compare it to riding a bike. You know the basics like how to fire the car, when to get on the gas, how much gas to give it."
The best part of it all? He wasn't just racing any old piece, he was driving one of the best machines in the country. It was a brand new Maxim Chassis, a car he helped assemble to run a backup car for Macedo this season. And, it was for Jason Johnson Racing. A car owned by the namesake of a man that he grew up idolizing as a boy in Missouri.
"I tried not to let it get to me that night," Knipp spoke on the magnitude of it all. "It's pretty cool that JJR trusted me enough to do it. It was amazing to sit behind the wheel, let alone fire it off and then race it."
After qualifying for the Feature, Knipp kept it cool and pulled into the infield once the leaders reached him in lap traffic. Ultimately, it was a good decision as a Lap 14 incident involved Macedo sent the JJR #41 to the work area. Knipp quickly climbed out of his own car and ran to the work area to help get Macedo back on the track.
Although, he's not behind the wheel full-time anymore, Knipp is just as happy to still be on the tour in his current role. He knows that next opportunity, just like Saturday night, can come out of nowhere.
"I'd say 75% of me being out here is just to stay familiar with the car owners, even local guys," Knipp acknowledged. "You never know what opportunities come about in Sprint Car Racing. Paying my dues, learning with JJR, it'll only benefit me down the road. Whether that's driving again in the future or maybe being a crew chief one day."
This weekend, Clyde will return to his full-time duty as Car Chief on the Jason Johnson Racing #41 at Knoxville Raceway where Carson Macedo goes for his fourth win of the 2021 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series.