Sprint car racing has acted as a sort of AAA league for NASCAR drivers for years now, and considering the similarities between these decidedly American forms of auto racing, it makes sense. Despite a much lower level of exposure than NASCAR, there's something much more exciting and chaotic about sprint car racing, where high-powered engines are bolted onto small, lightweight frames, which are then flung skidding around an oval-shaped dirt track at speeds reaching 140mph. THQ's Sprint Cars: Road to Knoxville never really captures that inherent sense of danger, though it can offer a stiff challenge for sprint car fans at a budget price.
It's got the dirt, but Road to Knoxville lacks the danger of sprint car racing.
With their glorified go-kart chassis and that giant, asymmetrical wing on the roof, sprint cars are unmistakable, and you can drive them to your heart's content here, though the sprint cars are so powerful and so light that you're better off starting out racing in either the 3/4 midget class, which really are just glorified go-karts, or the modified class, which sport a closed-wheel design and look more like standard stock cars. Though you can do some drafting behind other cars, the real challenge in Road to Knoxville comes from having to powerslide your way around the corners, which is the only way you'll even be able to keep up with the pack. When you're in a 3/4 midget, powersliding is as simple as slamming hard left on the left analog stick when you're approaching a turn, but by the time you work your way up to the real sprint cars, it takes a subtle play of turning, braking, and accelerating, at just the right moments, just to keep from completely spinning out.
Regardless of the class, though, you'll still be skidding around a muddy oval for 20 or 30 laps at a time, the monotony of which intrinsically limits the game's appeal. This isn't to say that every race is the same, since the handling becomes much less forgiving as you go from 3/4 midget to modified to sprint cars, and the length of the track itself can affect how you approach the turns. Even these variables are pretty subtle, and the game has little on offer besides straight-up racing. The modes of play are pretty predictable, including a career mode, a one-off race, a championship series of races, a rather underwhelming split-screen two-player mode, and some basic tutorial and practice options.