KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) — Rick Pannell’s special milestone isn’t just known in the Tri-Cities anymore.
The Kingsport driver recently made his 200th consecutive start at his hometown track, bringing national attention. Pannell, driver of the yellow No. 33 Chevrolet in the Late Model Stock class, has since lengthened the number to 204 starts after last Friday night’s feature at Kingsport Speedway.
It’s quite the feat considering the often rough-and-tumble racing on the 3/8-mile concrete oval known as the “Concrete Jungle.”
Pannell, 60, was recently featured in a story by Cara Cooper on the NASCAR.com website and last week did an interview with Emmy Award-winning motorsports journalist Jack Arute for his Wind Tunnell podcast broadcast on Monday night.
Pannell is grateful for both the national recognition and the local support.
“We’re getting a lot of attention, but we appreciate everybody who has come out and supported us,” Pannell said. “The race track has helped us a bunch. We’re just out here having a good time.”
Pannell doesn’t have the big budget to stay up with the front runners. His girlfriend, Chris Allen Gooch, is often his only pit crew.
Still, he has been steady and recently scored his second career top-five finish. He currently ranks sixth in the track’s point standings after finishing fifth in the final standings in 2020.
“I’m really proud of that top five,” he said. “We really did it through attrition of people crashing out. But we’re here to race every lap and we will go as hard as we can afford to go. We’re running good laps this year and staying in the lead lap a lot more.”
Even when Pannell isn’t running as competitively, he has the respect of his fellow racers. He does a great job to stay out of the leaders’ way and there is a trust they have in Pannell.
“I’ve asked many of them when I go down to the bottom of the track, why they come down within a foot of my race car,” he said. “Everybody has said that’s because they trust me. They won’t do that with everybody. They have said, ‘We know you will hold your line and if something happens, it’s going to be the car’s fault, that you do your job.’
“That means a lot and it’s a privilege to race with them. Some of these guys have high-dollar equipment. I know we don’t have the funds to race with them, but we’re still having a good time out here.”
Pannell also served as a promoter at Kingsport Speedway back in 1993 when the track had a dirt surface. With his experience, he’s also someone whom track general manager Karen Tunnell trusts for good advice.
Outside the track, Pannell is a factory-trained Mercedes Benz mechanic. He owns the Benz Doctors repair shop in Kingsport, where he works on the brand exclusively. As for racing, Pannell is unsure he wants to keep going to reach 250 consecutive starts.
“We’ve talked about the end of this year maybe stopping,” he said. “If the car is still running good and I haven’t hurt it bad, I may come back next year. I’m not a young guy anymore like some of these 16, 17, 18 year-old kids I’m racing against. I just have to see how things go.”