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SPRINT CARS

MOWA Series points leader Paul Nienhiser (9) battles area sprint car legend Jim Moughan in series action. The MOWA sprint cars will compete at Lincoln Speedway on Friday night, highlighting action in the area this weekend.

In the auto racing equivalent of going from dipping a toe in the water to jumping off the high dive, sprint car driver Paul Nienhiser wasted no time at all in going straight to the top.

No time in "getting a feel for things" in midgets. No learning whether he could handle a sprint car in the relatively underpowered 305 (cubic inch) or 360 classes.

"I stepped out of a mini-sprint at 15 and started running 410s," he said. 

If anything, going straight from "starter" class to lightning fast has proven Nienhiser to be a quick learner with an advanced degree in boldness. 

"Actually, it didn't really take too long to get the hang of it," Nienhiser said in a phone conversation with The Pantagraph this week. "And every year we've gotten faster, better and more consistent."

Now 22 and sitting atop the points standings, Nienhiser will lead a field of some of the fastest, most powerful cars in all of dirt track racing when the Built Ford Tough MOWA Sprint Car Series pays a visit to Lincoln Speedway on Friday.

In addition to the MOWA "regulars" that include Lincoln's Cory Bruns, open-wheel dirt track star Rico Abreu of St. Helena, Calif., is scheduled to compete. Tickets are $20 with 900-horsepower hot laps slated to begin at 6 p.m. and racing to follow at 7.

MOWA tour race winners in recent years have included NASCAR stars Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson.

Nienhiser sits atop this year's class with a 483-420 points lead over Jeremy Standridge. Kyle Schuett (416), Bruns (401) and Jacob Patton (350) round out the top-5 in the standings.

For Nienhiser, it's a continuation of the growth in his racing program that's primarily backed by Cam2 Blue Blood Racing Oil.

"The last three or four years have been successful," he said. "We keep building year-to-year and have expanded our schedule to about 70 races this year after running a little over 60 a year ago. We want to keep running, try to keep building and just try to win races.'

Racing in a variety of series, including the elite World of Outlaws Sprint Car tour, Nienhiser has six wins in 19 starts this year. Included are nine top-5s and 11 top-10s.

His most recent outing was an All Star Circuit of Champions race at the Dirt Track at Route 66 in Joliet during NASCAR weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

There, he battled Larson wheel-to-wheel in a Dash prelim before finishing second. Starting the A-Main from third spot, Nienhiser then vied for the lead throughout the feature before being drilled from behind late in the event and finishing 13th.

While not originally planning to run the full MOWA schedule, Nienhiser is now likely in it for the duration after winning three straight and climbing into the points lead.

"I had no intention of racing for points anywhere," he said. "I just race where it logistically makes sense and is the most cost effective. It's just worked out this year that we're running the MOWA tour and we'll probably go the full distance and see if we can win it."

The preponderance of MOWA's events are scheduled in Nienhiser's neck-of-the-woods. He grew up on a farm near Chapin, about 10 miles outside of Jacksonville where he now resides.

In addition to hustling an ultra-powerful machine around county fairgrounds bullrings, he's also proved himself to be adept off the track in hustling up the sponsorship needed to keep him going.

"When we sold a couple of minisprints my dad said 'here you go,' and it's been pretty much my own team since then," he said. "I've been getting my own sponsors, selling some used equipment, stuff like that. I'm not getting rich racing sprint cars, but it's supporting itself and I've been able to upgrade every year." 

Nienhiser said he's looking forward to Friday's event at Lincoln.

"It's a really neat race track," he said. "I actually think Illinois has a lot of underrated tracks. When it comes to winged sprints, people talk about Pennsylvania, Ohio, California. But we've got some good tracks here and Lincoln is one of them.

"Bob Sargent does an amazing job in preparing the track every time," he continued. "I like running the high side and he always gives us a good top side and a competitive surface. MOWA sprints at Lincoln are a show that people don't want to miss."

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Bruce Yentes covers motorsports for The Pantagraph. Contact him at byentes@pantagraph.com or (309) 820-3391. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_yentes

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