SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Veteran sprint car racer Paul Nienhiser will shift from winged to non-winged racing this year to chase the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series Rookie of the Year title for KO Motorsports.
The 24-year-old Chapin, Ill., native captured the 2019 MOWA winged sprint car championship, a series in which he ranks second all-time in feature victories. This year he will take on a new venture with USAC as he switches from winged to non-winged racing.
“I’ve run 410’s with wings since I was 15,” Nienhiser said. “But, until about two years ago, I hadn’t done anything wingless with the exception of two or three Chili Bowls in a midget. I ran my own car a handful of times in non-wing races and really enjoyed it. I didn’t really have a non-wing car; I more or less took the wings off a winged car.”
Nienhiser will carry sponsorship from Peterbilt and CAM2 on his KO Motorsports ride, a driver and team relationship which began in October of 2020 during a dual World of Outlaws and non-winged sprint car program at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway in which Nienhiser received his initial opportunity to race for KO Motorsports alongside his duties in his own car for the World of Outlaws portion. During the night, he and Tyler Courtney became the only two drivers to qualify for both features.
“I really enjoyed working with those guys and I think we clicked really well,” Nienhiser recalled. “Then, about a week later, they called me and invited me to come out to the shop and talk about next year. Pretty much by the time I left their shop that night, we were going USAC racing in 2021.”
Nienhiser has only made one previous USAC Sprint Car appearance, which came during the 2019 #GYATK Night program, a non-points special event at Kokomo leading into the Sprint Car Smackdown. The limited experience without the wing, and the fact that many of the venues will be a new sight to him, are the items that he considers his biggest challenges.
“I feel like I’m more than capable of getting the hang of it, and we’ve got realistic expectations, but truthfully, I’ve been to a lot of racetracks over the last 10 years all over the place from Charlotte to Texas and everywhere in between, but in looking at the first 10 or 12 races on the schedule, I’ve been to like none of those tracks,” Nienhiser admitted. “That’s going to be the biggest thing for me, to not only learn a new type of discipline but also learning racetracks that I’m not as familiar with too, which will maybe make it a little more difficult.”
Nienhiser’s ultimate goal is to capture Rookie of the Year honors with the series while also competing for top-tens and top-fives. He admitted he doesn’t expect to win right away, though it’s not out of the question for him as he sets his goals high to push himself to attain.
Nienhiser is particularly excited to get the chance to be a teammate to Chase Stockon in the KO Motorsports stable. Stockon enters the upcoming season as the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car division’s ultimate ironman with a record 321 consecutive feature starts, 14 feature victories and an Indiana Sprint Week championship in 2020. Nienhiser hopes working alongside Stockon will ultimately prove to shorten up his personal learning curve.
“He knows what it takes to get it done on and off the racetrack and will be a great person to lean on as I learn the new tracks and the discipline,” Nienhiser said of Stockon. “(KO Motorsports) has a great team of crew guys with the Davis Brothers and “Rooster” Kent Schmidt. They’re all great people, so I’m looking forward to working with all of them.”
Schmidt, the team manager for KO Motorsports, has expectations for Nienhiser to compete for top-tens right from the start during the season openers in Florida and collect Rookie of the Year honors. He fits the mold of what the team is looking for and, together, they aim to compete at a high level.
“He fits the bill,” Schmidt said. “We like Paul; he’s from the same background we are. He’s a farm boy. He definitely knows how to stand on the gas and there’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment period for him to get used to the non-wing side of things, but a race car driver is a racecar driver. I think he’ll fit in just fine once he gets comfortable.”
KO Motorsports will bring a full slate of drivers to the season opener at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., on Feb. 11-13. Stockon and Nienhiser will join fellow series rookie Carson Garrett of Colorado, while Schmidt expects to pull out a car to race in during at least one of the three nights of Winter Dirt Games XII.