Auto racing has always been in Arnie Knepper’s blood. And why not? Race cars seem to have been a family affair with the Kneppers.
His father, Butch, and three of his four brothers, Ollie, Ray and Walter Sr., were all involved in the sport in one fashion or another. Even Walter’s son, “Junior,” became an open-wheel legend and has been joined on the track by his son, Steve, and grandson, Nick.
During his five decades of racing, Arnold “Arnie” Knepper raced almost anything with four wheels – stock cars, midgets, sprint, “Big Cars” (now called Silver Crown) and Indy cars. He competed with AAA, IMCA, MARA, NASCAR,SLARA and USAC among others.
And during those years, he was on the same track with some of auto racing top legends, including A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Jim Hurtibuse, Lee Petty and the Unsers.
Knepper, a native of Belleville, Ill., even earned a small place in Indianapolis lore when he crashed on the 87th lap of the 1969 Indianapolis 500, and instead of making the typical dash to trackside safety, stood up on his car and, facing 180-mph oncoming traffic, frantically waved his arms to warn oncoming drivers of the danger.
Knepper was a consummate craftsman and constructed many of his own race cars. He even shared his knowledge of racing by teaching mechanics at Beck Vocational School, including as a member of the Champion Apark Plug Highway Safetry Team.
Knepper died of cancer in June 1992, and the initial Arnie Knepper Memorial race was held later that summer at the Belle-Clair Speedway.
The race has been held every year since.