The bad luck that plagued Shay Knight in 2013 is finally behind him.
The Columbus native switched from a MasterSbilt chassis to a Bob Pierce chassis at the beginning of this season, and after an up-and-down start to the campaign, Knight has notched three Crate Late Model wins between two tracks — Columbus Speedway and Magnolia Speedway — in each of the past three weeks.
It’s a far cry from a year ago, when the 2011 Magnolia and Columbus track points champion failed to win a race, despite a string of top-five finishes and a few wins in heat races.
Normally, new equipment is synonymous with “better equipment.” That wasn’t the case for Knight and his decision to switch chassis, at least not totally. Knight built his MasterSbilt chassis in the winter of 2012.
“Something just wasn’t right,” Knight said. “We were blowing motors, having bad luck … it was just something different all year long.”
Knight’s first time out with his new chassis — third in his late-model career — included a fifth place (out of 40 cars) finish. Knight hit a snag over a short stretch before catching fire close to a month ago.
He’ll shoot for four wins in as many races when he races in the Highway 45 Crate Late Model Throw Down, a $1,000-to-win feature Saturday at Magnolia Speedway. Knight will have another shot at a hefty purse Aug. 31, when Magnolia plays host to the NeSmith National Late Model Series $2,000-to-win race.
“You’re gonna get some drivers that come and race here some. They come more when it’s paying extra money or their tracks aren’t running,” Knight said. “Your cars from week to week, you got to outrun five or six stout cars every week. Hunter Carroll’s a threat, the (Jeremy and Kyle) Shaw boys, Johnny Stokes … when you unload each weekend they’re all a threat to win.
“I expect it to be the same crowd from this past weekend, with 10 if not 20 more cars.”
The extra competition shouldn’t faze Knight, 31, a veteran of open-wheel modifieds, late models, and super late models. Knight also spent the 2005-07 seasons running an every-weekend schedule across the Southeast. But as priorities go — namely his family, wife, Kristi, and sons, Jase and Brexton — Knight scaled back his schedule and races more locally, at Magnolia and Columbus, mainly.
He credits his family’s support for allowing him to continue racing — he works at Airbus and spends spare time in the shop with his family — and remaining competitive on the track.
“Today, my wife called me at 3 p.m. and she was already in the shop, doing cosmetic work to the car,” Knight said. “I didn’t get off work until 5. Things like that let me know how lucky I am. The boys are just old enough that they can come to races now. I love it.”
Knight’s greatest supporter has been his father, Roy, who has helped fund his racing ambitions since the age of 5, when Shay first started driving go-karts, a class of racing in which he ran nationally up until he graduated high school in 2001. From there, he spent seven years racing open-wheel modifieds.
“My dad has funded everything from day one,” Knight said. “We’ve had some tremendous sponsors, don’t get me wrong, but he’s funded so much. That’s all we were doing at one point — racing. I’d work for my dad some, then I’d be in the shop the rest of morning and afternoon. We’d leave, sometimes on a Thursday, to go to across the Southeast. But boy, it gets expensive.”
Though he hasn’t run that loaded of a schedule in nearly seven years, Knight gained valuable experience on the track and in the shop, particularly in building cars. He spent three weeks in 2007 working with Jeff Taylor, his chassis builder at the time, in Arkansas. Knight lived at Taylor’s house during the build.
“He’s still doing it today,” Knight said. “Being able to have the experience taught me so much about the car. Racing during that time period really helped me learn how the race car works, the set up, the front-end geometry.”
Knight races the No. 3 car, sponsored by Olive Branch Powerhouse, of Olive Branch; The Ranch House, of Columbus; and the Short Bus Cookers, of Columbus.