However, after years of dominance — eight consecutive titles and 57 victories from 2000–08 — his success petered out, prompting a move to Sandusky-based ThorSport Racing. The title is ThorSport's first.
“I think that anyone that’s in sports of any kind, you get older — I’m 51 now, I understand that my reflexes aren’t as good as they were when I was 21,” Kimmel said. “I’d be crazy to think they were. I understand that, but I always felt like given the right situation, the right race cars, the right team, and having a good day, we could be competitive.”
But Kimmel wasn’t simply “competitive” this season. In 21 races, Kimmel booked 21 Top 10s and 15 finishes in the Top 5. He led a series-high 483 laps on the way to four victories, including the series finale at Kansas Speedway. Kimmel grabbed the lead at Kansas on Lap 35 and held it to the end, securing his series-record 10th championship.
“A lot of people have asked us, ‘What’s it like to get Frank back in victory lane?’ I don’t think Frank forgot how to win,” ThorSport general manager David Pepper said. “He just wasn’t in a position where he could showcase his talent at the time.” “Obviously Frank can still get it done at 51 years old,” Pepper added.
The Kansas victory was Kimmel’s 80th, breaking the tie with Iggy Katona for career victories in the series. After hitting a winless spell from 2009–11, Kimmel didn’t know if he’d ever see the mark.
ThorSport signed Kimmel before the 2012 season, starting an ARCA team in the basement of its Perkins Township headquarters. Kimmel left his family team after several stagnant years for a chance to start over. While ThorSport was new to ARCA, it was an established name in racing. Many in the ThorSport organization would moonlight when possible in the ARCA Series.
“I think our goals were very similar, even though we were in different stages of our life cycles in the series,” Pepper said. “We, just starting a team, and he, having been the face of the series for a number of years, we still shared a very similar and common goal at the end of the day.”
In two seasons with ThorSport, Kimmel has six victories. He finished second in 2012 before this year’s victory.
Since Kimmel’s last ARCA championship in 2007, five different drivers have won the title. The oldest of those five, Justin Lofton, was born in 1986, while two other champions were born in the ’90s. Kimmel won his first ARCA race in 1994, six months before the 2013 runner-up, Mason Mingus, was born.
“A lot of these kids — I’ve been running ARCA a lot longer (than they’ve been alive),” Kimmel said. “They’re a whole different breed of racers. Most of them do a good job. They race hard, and they’ve developed a lot of good skills already, and they’re still in their teenage years.”
ThorSport teamed Kimmel with Jeriod Prince, formerly the car chief for Matt Crafton’s No. 88 team. The 2012 season was the first as a crew chief for Prince, who is young enough to be Kimmel’s son. As Pepper saw it, it was matching Kimmel’s decades of experience with Prince’s fresh ideas.
“We felt it would be a really good match to have the two ends of the spectrum working together and find a good middle ground to go win races,” Pepper said. “Thank goodness it worked out for us that way. They’ve really done well bridging the age difference. The communication is the same because they’re both racers at heart.”
Kimmel called Prince “one of the smartest kids around a race car that I’ve ever worked with.”
“He knows what’s going on with the cars, and he understands the setups and roll centers,” he said. “I haven’t been around anybody who understands it better than he does.”
The No. 44 team’s streak of Top 10 finishes was threatened in Kentucky, the second-to-last race of the season. Kimmel hit the wall around Turn 3 during practice, forcing the team to use the backup car.
The weather helped, too — The race was postponed for a day due to rain, and Kimmel started on the pole by virtue of owner points.
“I told them when we had some bad days, ‘A mark of a championship team is how you do on the bad days,’” he said. “(The primary at Kentucky) was a phenomenal car. We would’ve been really fast with it. Within 40 minutes, we were back on the racetrack with the backup car. I don’t know of any other team in ARCA that could have done that.”
The championship is ThorSport’s first since it started in the Truck Series 17 seasons ago.
With the ARCA season in the books, ThorSport turns its focus to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, in which team driver Matt Crafton holds the series lead by 41 points with with five races to go.
ThorSport veterans Crafton and Sauter return to action Saturday at Talladega, where big wrecks make results unpredictable.
The Truck Series ends with five races in five weeks, capped by a finale Nov. 15 at Homestead.
“Our Number 1 focus now, being a ThorSport racer, is to do anything Duke and the guys want me to do to help with Matt (Crafton). We’ll do whatever it takes,” Kimmel said. “I told them the other day, I don’t care if they want me to go wash and wax his truck. I’ll do that. It’s just fine. Nothing would be better than to bring two championships back to Sandusky for ThorSport.”