The Pusher: Jim Knapp Is The Grand Master Of Push-Truck Drivers

His name is Jim Knapp and he goes by JimmyJeep. Mr. Knapp is that rare breed of race fan, the kind that wants to be of service to the track and racers. Y’know the type. These are the people that stand at the pit gate and open and close the gate when racers need to enter or exit the track. They’re the folks that keep track of the pit board, letting drivers and teams know the schedule of events, where to line up, and when. They are a rare few that live to be corner workers to guide racers during wheel pack or crashes. If they are one of the good ones, they get to run out and pick up debris from the track. In short, these are the people that make the track operate. Without them, the show wouldn’t go.

JimmyJeep is one such person. He’s a specialist. He is a push truck driver for the open wheel classes. These cars don’t have things like clutches and starters, so push trucks are used to get these cars started. It’s not easy, and there is an art to the task. Jimmy cares enough, and is proud of what he does. He even designed and maintains his own webpage dedicated to push trucks. As straight forward as he can be, Jimmy titled the page:

About Jim Knapp

JimmyJeep doesn’t brag, but he is happy to tell you about the things that he has been fortunate enough to do. He’s just started his 33rd year of Sprint Car pushing. Never intending to do more than just be at his local track when he started, Jim now has over 108 verified tracks where he has pushed. The list is a who’s who of dirt tracks too. He’s been everywhere from Talladega Short Track in Alabama, to the Winchester Speedway in Tennessee, and 106 tracks in between.

No one that we know of has an incredible push truck record of experience like that – which makes him an expert in the art of pushing. Like any true professional, Jim is willing to pass along information to those that want to know more about this unique passion. Many of the lessons that he has learned over the years have been documented on his website for prosperity.

“Your bumper is the main tool in pushing,” Jim said. Bumpers are usually made of wood, and are often covered with tire rubber for protection.

He starts by covering the tools of the job. “Your bumper is the main tool in pushing,” he states. “You can work a car around to get a good placement with a wide bumper.” According to Jim, a full width board from fender edge to fender edge “helps turn the car easier and not make any contact with the sprinter you are working with.”

The driver is only three feet in front of your truck when you make contact. – Jim Knapp

Jim goes on to explain how he sets up his push bumper, and the different options when mounting the push bumper. His biggest piece of advice on push bumpers? “Just make sure it is solidly mounted.”

Jim advises to approach the sprinter in a slow manner. “The driver is only three feet in front of your truck when you make contact.” This view from the push truck shows how close it really is.

“Don’t stop pushing until the driver pulls away from you or waves you off.”

Other Considerations

Among the many other tools that Jim discusses, tires and shocks top the list. BF Goodrich All Terrain KO series tires are his favorite, because they offer the best grip in his opinion. Preferring a firm shock, Jim says he has used Bilstein shocks for years, “and they never fail.”  I have used coilovers to beef up the front suspension,” he claims. “You have to remember, you’re carrying extra weight with the push bumper.”

Another tool that Jim believes is a must-have, is a good set of safety lights. “Your flashers are good, but they are not that bright,” he explains. “I like a strobe or light bar mounted to the roof. It’s better to be seen than hit.” He assures us that getting hit does happen.

Many push trucks have a light bar or emergency lights mounted on the top for safety.

When it comes to communication, Jim says that a scanner is a good investment. “To know what is happening with track problems and the program is a must,” he believes. “If a car has a problem, you can get to it quicker if needed. You must work with the track though. Don’t try to run your own show. Low-cost, two-way radios can usually be programmed to the track frequency. Just make sure the track will allow their use.”

The Basics 

While he believes the only way to learn how to be a push truck driver is to simply do the task, he has put together a few basic instructions that can help the “would-be” pusher.

“Remember, the driveline will be damaged if you hit the car going too fast,” he said. “Approach the sprinter in a slow manner. The driver is only three feet in front of your truck when you make contact. Roll up to the push bar easy, and square up behind it. These sprinters will slide sideways sometimes and you must be ready to adjust.”

push truck

Watch the driver’s signs and pay attention to the track officials.

Jim is adamant about watching the driver’s signals. According to him, no one should begin pushing until the driver waves the push truck driver on. “You have to watch for the pit crew adjusting air at the last moment,” but ultimately, it is the driver that Jim listens to. “He may want you to roll him up the line to push off or he may motion you to lightly tap him to get his car in gear. Just keep watching,” said Jim.

The art of pushing relies on the push truck to get the sprint car’s wheels turning. “Once you are rolling, get your speed up to twenty m.p.h. if possible,” he states. “It’s not a drag race, but they like to be rolling before they fire up the engine. The driver won’t fire until he gets the oil pressure up.”

Push truck

“He also needs some speed so the engine won’t load up on alcohol. If you hear the engine pop as it tries to fire, don’t stop pushing until the driver pulls away from you or waves you off. Sometimes the engine has to cycle a couple of times to get the fuel right.”

Always remember the track owner is the boss and you are the quest. – Jim Knapp

“Once the car is running, ease off and turn away. Keep your foot near the brake petal though,” he warns. “You never know, the car may stop for some reason. Pull back into the pattern that the other push trucks are using to keep flow going back to the push off area.”

He sternly warns against stopping or backing up on the track, and keeping your eyes scanning the push off area for people walking in front of the trucks.

Push truck

Paying attention is key to keeping safe. With the clay on the windshield and the car directly in front of the push truck bumper, it is easy to miss the track officials and corner workers. The red-shirted official in the top center of this photo is barely visible.

Other Tips For Safety:

  1. Work as a team. When there is a caution on the track for a spin or accident, working as a team with one truck working to turn the car around, and the other truck restarting the sprinter will prevent a single push truck from having to stop and back up to correct the positioning.
  2. Never block the track. Always leave a lane open for cars to get through.
  3. If there is a red flag, go to the lead cars and get behind one of them. Don’t touch them until you are told to do so. This can cause a disqualification at some tracks.
  4. Always take a run down the push off area before warm ups. If you are with a traveling group, take a couple of laps looking for entrance and exits.
  5. Don’t be a hero and rush onto the track before the red is thrown.
  6. Let the paramedics do their job if a driver is injured. Lend a hand if needed.
  7. Watch the officials. They will tell you what to do.
  8. A good set of mirrors and a good spotter riding shotgun makes things a lot safer.
  9. Protect your radiator with a shield or screen. A wet track doesn’t take much to load up your radiator. The engine can overheat and sideline you when you are needed.
  10. Put your name or identifier in an easily seen spot on your push truck. Track officials that know you are monitoring their frequency will talk to you specifically.
  11. Always remember the track owner is the boss and you are the quest.
  12. Work with the track and ambulance crew if they need you. Try to carry a fire extinguisher in your truck. A jug of water is good to help dilute alcohol fuel.
  13. Just be careful. Always.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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