Ryan Newman Enters GAF Open Modified 80 at Stafford
Jun 21, 2022
Frankie Kimmel sometimes wonders how he got here.
That was especially true after his driver, Daniel Suárez, crossed the line at Sonoma Raceway in earning their first career NASCAR Cup Series victory together. Naturally, much was made about Suárez ending the winless drought that preceded his first triumph at the highest level but how Kimmel found himself navigating traffic for the Trackhouse Racing No. 99 is equally remarkable.
Kimmel, 32, is the son of ARCA Racing Series champion Frank Kimmel and motorsports is all he has ever known and it’s all he has ever wanted to do.
"I started racing mini cup cars when I was 8, so I always wanted to race," Kimmel told Racing America. "We would race on Sundays, so dad was usually free and we would do it together as a family. I wanted to race cars, but dad raced ARCA so it's not like that was going to pay for me to race so I knew early on that I'd have to find another way to make it."
Kimmel was building his own shocks by 15.
"I thought that’s maybe what I wanted to do."
He then went to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he graduated with an engineering degree in 2015.
He applied for a job at Hendrick Motorsports after graduation but wasn’t hired. He made a handful of ARCA Racing Series starts alongside his dad at Venturini Motorsports including a head-to-head appearance at the Salem Night Race but didn’t have the funding to keep the dream alive.
That’s essentially how he made the pivot to providing Dartfish data to ARCA and Super Late Model teams.
"I wasn’t even sure the short track world was ready for that kind of data or wanted to spend money on it."
Dartfish is a program utilized by teams in which video of one driver's lap is overlaid on top of another. The footage allows teams to see where they are either getting beat or gaining an advantage over the field. It effectively details how a driver should adjust their driving line, entry and exit.
It’s also how he built the foundation for becoming a full-time spotter.
Christian Eckes needed a spotter for the inaugural CARS Tour race at Southern National Motorsports Park and Kimmel was already working on the roof after setting up his video equipment for Dartfish recordings.
He had spent time spotting for his dad in practice over the years and wasn’t a complete novice, so it became a side hustle of sorts over the course of the season.
"I picked up the race for anyone who needed a spotter on race day," Kimmel said. "I was already at the track, already had an armband and wouldn’t need a hotel so it worked out for everyone."
The first time he thought he could make a career of spotting was on August 8, 2015 when he called his dad to a third-place finish in the ARCA race at Berlin Raceway. After the race, Billy Venturini said he wanted the younger Kimmel on top of the spotter stand for one of his drivers the rest of the season.
Kimmel has earned a reputation over the past several years as a difference-making driver coach and spotter. For example, his work the past several years with Sammy Smith has been transformative in smoothing out some of the driver’s rawest edges.
A lifetime spent in racing made him an ideal candidate as a secondary spotter for when NASCAR teams raced on road courses or at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It helped, of course, that Kimmel had known crew chief Travis Mack for 20 years.
"His first job out of high school was working for dad," Kimmel said.
When the decision was made partway through last season that Suarez would be paired with a different spotter, Mack wanted Kimmel. Driving back from a short track race somewhere in the Carolinas, he got a call from Trackhouse president Ty Norris, essentially offering him the job.
"I’m thinking, what is my life," Kimmel said. "I maybe have two Truck Series starts as a spotter but did win a race with Tyler (Reddick) and one other Xfinity Series start with Garrett Smithley, but that’s really it."
Kimmel, who has wins at Rockingham in the Street Stock Nationals or several others in Champion Racing Association competition credits his background and experience in the transition to working as a spotter at the highest level.
"I grew up listening to Tony Hirschman call dad’s races," Kimmel said. "I know the kinds of things I wanted to hear from when I was racing. It’s no surprise that some of the most successful spotters up there are racers, and the pictures that racers need painted up there."
Kimmel isn’t sure where the win ranks on all of his accomplishments. He explained it as a 1a versus 1b situation along with winning at Rockingham.
The satisfaction of the win at Sonoma had more to do with what it meant to the team and driver.
"After Daniel crossed the line, I keyed him up and just said how happy I was for all of them," Kimmel said. "Daniel had been in a lot of really good cars over the years and finally was able to break through, and I was just proud to be a tiny part of that.
"I was so happy for Justin (Marks) because I have known him for a long time. He’s had this vision and bought a major race team to try to implement it. Even though the (No.) 1 guys won earlier this year, and it was a big deal, this was their first car. To be a part of getting this team their first win was just really special."
For all the talk of Kimmel the racer, driver and spotter, not enough gets made of Kimmel the race fan.
The concept behind this column in revitalizing the All-Star Race is credited to Kimmel, who is frequently texting his friends or striking up conversation at the track about different ideas to grow the sport. It’s a reflection of what makes him tick.
"I think we're all crazy because of how much we love this," Kimmel said. "It's really humbling to wake up and do a job that we love. It's a luxury job, really. We come in for a couple of days, climb on the roof and talk to guys that most would consider superstars. I want to do it for a long time."
So, when he strikes up a conversation about race formats, new markets and track amenities, it comes back to the kid that traveled around the country to races with his dad.
"I'm a year into what I'm doing now, and I want to be part of the solution and not the problem," Kimmel added. "There's lots of talk about what's not working so I want to contribute what I think could work and how to make it better.
"One of my first races last year was Nashville and I was blown away by the buzz. The Coliseum was even bigger than that. So was the first race at Gateway. I want that kind of atmosphere all the time so that's what I spend a lot of time thinking about."
That's Frankie Kimmel.