Mini-Sprint Success: 14-year-old former go-kart champ was youngest in MMSA series

Elijah Knoke grew up playing baseball, but racing was in his blood.

So it didn’t come as much of a surprise that Knoke ended up following his father and cousin into the world of go-kart racing. Jason Knoke bought Elijah a go-kart four years ago, and Elijah has taken off since then.

“We didn’t really plan on racing,”said Elijah, now and eighth-grader at Central Middle School. “I was just going to stick with baseball, but dad said he was going to go pick up a go-kart in Ohio, so that’s how it started. I was hooked as soon as I started driving it.”

After three-plus years of driving go-karts, Elijah ventured into the Midwest Mini-Sprint Association (MMSA). He finished 11th in the point standings, despite being the youngest driver in the mostly-adult series at 13 years old.

Elijah Knoke, right, finished 11th in this year’s Midwest Mini-Sprint Association (MMSA) point standings. At left is Bryan Brewer of Vallonia, who finished third.

Submitted photo

Elijah won one heat race at Bloomington Speewday. In feature events, he finished fifth at Wayne County, Illinois; sixth at Bloomington Speedway; seventh at Haubstadt’s Tri-State Speedway and eighth, ninth and 10th at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville.

“We had a very defined game plan this year,” Jason said. “We weren’t worried about points or placing. There’s still a lot to learn about racing.”

Elijah Knoke, left, competes at Bloomington Speedway.

Submitted photo

Mini-Sprints use 1000cc motorcycle engines and average 75-80 MPH on the track.

“It was amazing getting our feet wet and learning,” Elijah said. “It was way more fun than karts were.”

Not that go-karts weren’t fun for Elijah. He won his debut race in October 2018 at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds shortly after Jason went to Ohio to get him the kart.

“I was planning on going out and being at the back,” Elijah said.

In 2019, Elijah won 11 of the 19 features to capture the Junior 1 class championship at the fairgrounds.

“It was pretty exciting getting a championship in my first full year of racing,” Elijah said.

Elijah did not race for a points-championship in 2020, when COVID led to a shortened schedule. He broke his wrist in dirt bike accident that spring and only competed in a few races.

Integrated Racing Concepts (IRC) put Elijah in a go-kart for the 2021 season. He finished second in points in the Junior 3 category at the fairgrounds and second in points at Jennings County Kart track.

“We could have done better,” Elijah said. “We had our downs with motor problems. But overall, it was a very solid year.”

Elijah got his start in racing a little later than Jason, who began at age 7. Jason, who grew up in Hope and graduated from Hauser, competed from 1984-2006. He won four track championships at the fairgrounds, won the UMRA series in 1996 and was the 2001 and 2002 sprint car champion at Twin Cities Raceway Park in Vernon.

“I kind of always tried to keep (Elijah) away from racing,” Jason said. “I was like, ‘Let’s just stick to baseball.’ But then they started racing out at the fairgrounds again, and we were like, ‘Why not?’ My dad let me do it. Elijah grew up at the race track and was hooked on it from Day 1.”

Jason’s nephew and Elijah’s cousin Logan Hupp raced go-karts, mini-sprints and sprint cars and was a sprint car champion at Lawrenceburg Speedway before stepping away from the sport last year.

Elijah, who just turned 14 last week, figures to have a newer car and engine for next year. He is planning to stay with the same MMSA series for a couple more years before moving up.

The goals for 2023 include getting his first feature win and making the top 10 in points.

“They’re going to be pretty tough,” Elijah said. “We have some good drivers in the series.”