Open-wheel racing legend Steve Kinser, left, reads the inscription on the key to the city given to him by Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva. The key was hand made by Wayne Pearce, of Stockton.
Clifford Oto/The Record
STOCKTON - It's not surprising that Steve Kinser was the first World of Outlaws driver to arrive in Stockton.
Staying in front of the other drivers made him a racing legend.
Kinser, a 20-time champion and the "King of Sprints," is retiring as a full-time competitor at the end of this season. He came to Stockton on Thursday to accept a key to the city from Mayor Anthony Silva in advance of the World of Outlaws show at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Stockton 99 Dirt Track at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds.
The race weekend begins at 7 p.m. today with a program featuring Winged 360 Sprint Cars & BCRA Midgets.
Kinser will be honored throughout the long World of Outlaws season, which runs into November and includes 92 races at 52 tracks.
The 59-year-old described his decision to retire as "bittersweet."
"It's the right thing to do, but, boy, is it tough," Kinser said. "You get older and you know it's time, but I still love to race.
"And the support I'm receiving from the fans is wonderful."
Silva praised Kinser and his career during a late-morning ceremony at Weber Point Events Center and presented him with a giant gold key before posing for photos with Kinser, race promoters Carol and Tony Noceti, and other dignitaries. Kinser brought along his famed No. 11 car, which is owned by NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart.
"He's truly the king of the Outlaws, and it's a great honor to have him onboard for our event," Tony Noceti said. "His retirement tour has added a lot and excitement to the race."
Kinser, a native of Bloomington, Ind., has won 20 Outlaw titles and 577 main events during a career that has spanned more than 35 years. In 1997 he qualified 20th for the Indianapolis 500 and finished 14th as a 42-year-old rookie.
He placed 21st on the list of the top 25 drivers of all time released by ESPN in 2008, and in 2005 was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.
"Steve Kinser is the greatest Sprint Car driver there has ever been or ever will be." racer Dominic Scelzi of Fresno said. "His leaving the World of Outlaws is sad for everyone. I grew up looking up to Steve Kinser, and I've been fortunate to be able to race with him."
World of Outlaws president Tom Deery said Kinser's departure will create a tremendous void in the organization.
"It's going to very difficult to imagine the World of Outlaws without Steve Kinser," Deery said. "But I think we'll still see Steve around, maybe even race once in a while. He still loves to do it, and he's still so competitive."
Kinser has won already this season, Feb. 16 in Volusia, Fla., and is focused on capturing his 21st title and first since 2005. He feels confident about his chances in Stockton, where he finished eighth last year.
"We didn't win the race (in 2013), but we ran pretty good here," Kinser said. "Especially after you go through something like this ceremony, you really want to run well."
Contact reporter Scott Linesburgh at (209) 546-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLinesburgh.