He was a mountain of a man, a barrel-chested brick layer from southern Indiana’s stone quarry country who developed a talent, a temper and a following for sprint car racing that set the pilot light for his son’s meteoric rise.
But Bob Kinser was hell on wheels long before Steve Kinser ever ascended.
Kinser, the patriarch of this famous open wheel racing family, passed away Saturday at the age of 86, and while he never ran Indianapolis or Daytona and didn’t like to stray too far from Heltonville, he was a household name in short track racing for five decades.
It’s estimated big Bob won over 400 features at Paragon, Bloomington, Kokomo, Haubstadt, Putnamville and Lawrenceburg in jalopies, bombers, late models and non-wing sprinters in addition to scoring a USAC sprint win when he was 54. He was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1999.
The late Jim McQueen, one of sprint car racing’s best minds and tuners, once was asked about the best dirt sprint racer he’d encountered prior to the beginning of the World of Outlaws in 1978.
“It’s either Bob Kinser or Bubby Jones,” McQueen replied. “They win everything.”
Kinser was a weekend warrior because of his 9-to-5 job and four kids at home, but his battles with Dick Gaines, Bobby Black, Calvin Gilstrap, Cecil Beavers and Butch Wilkerson all over Indiana became legendary in the ’60s and ’70s. He drove for Karl Kinser, Dizz Wilson and Galen Fox, and Jones was happy to learn from the master.
“Bob was already a big deal when I came along and he was a helluva driver,” said Jones, a standout in USAC and CRA from Danville, Ill. who made it all the way to the Indianapolis 500 starting lineup in 1977.
“He was always nice to me and a good guy, but of course I was also smart enough not to piss him off.”
Prior to launching his WoO legacy and becoming the most prolific winner in sprint car history, Steve Kinser was asked to tell his high school classmates something about his father. “He likes to drink beer, race cars and fight,” said the King.
Nobody can document whether Bob ever lost a fight, but he scored several TKOs after races and his trademark was a stubby cigar, an old fishin’ hat and his red bandana. If he was provoked, the cigar would hit the ground – but not before the guy he just punched.