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Twenty Ways To Win A Championship

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#1 Michael Ferner

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 15:49

As a "celebration" of the fact that Steve Kinser is now the first driver to have surpassed the number of 1,000 entries in my data base of race results, I would like to introduce this topic to discuss his (ongoing!) career, and especially his unparalleled twenty (!) World of Outlaw Championships.


About the time young Steve started his career, the formidable Paul Simon regaled us with the song "Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover", and for the last few days I was wrecking my brain with thoughts about a clever way to link this title to Kinser's achievements, to no avail. The best I could come up with was "Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover, Twenty Ways To *WoO* Another (Championship)", but finally thought better of it for fear of crashing the forum's rules for length of topic title, or getting instantly deleted for improper content! :lol:


The idea is to run this thread over some length of time, adding posts about each of his twenty championship years, some background information and the way the individual seasons played out, and... well, let's see how things will develop! At the moment, I don't have all the info I need for most of the content of this thread, and about one third of his twenty championship years actually fall outside of my self-instructed limit of interest (1894 to 1993), so I'm not really sure how I am going to deal with this! :drunk:  :well:  :o But, anyway...


First things first, let's have some fun... with statistics! :D Or, maybe someone would like to chime in with paraphrases of "Fifty Ways...", like:


Leave 'em in your back, Jack

Go in the van, Stan

Take an early lead, Pete

And break away free


Leave 'em in your dust, Gus

Don't think of the wrecks much

Just power away, Ray

And in the lead you stay!


:rolleyes:  :blush:  :lol:


#2 Michael Ferner

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 16:17

One thousand entries, I need to explain, means 1,000 actual racing events, i.e. multi-day shows like the four-day Knoxville Nationals, or even the many two-day World of Outlaw meetings count only once. There is some confusion about those "preliminary features", and the "handling" of those, statistics-wise. Apart from the first few years, WoO has at least been consistent in counting only full-distance, full-purse and full-points races in their overall statistics (although there are a few "footnotes" along the way...), while other clubs, notably the All-Star Circuit of Champions, usually pay full points for preliminary (qualifying) events as well, thus "blowing up" their overall race count. Likewise, "twin/triple/etc. features" are only one event in my data base. The consequence is of merely cosmetic nature, as I record the preliminary results, too, of course, but they don't show up as individual results, instead more like heat results. One could spend an entire evening discussing the pros and cons of that procedure, and this is hardly the right place for that discussion (especially, since there will never ever be a consensus!), I just state it here at the beginning to avoid misunderstandings or confusion. Also, while my core interest ends with the year 1993, I was still collecting race results until I lost all interest in current affairs about the year 2001, hence some of my data bases carry on beyond 1993, and I do occasionally update them (which is particularly easy since 1994 was the starting year of that wonderful newsgroup rec.autos.sport, and most of it is still available at motorsport.com). Hence, my Steve Kinser statistics do extend till 1999, actually, although the content thins out markedly after 1993, as will be obvious in one of the following statistics.


Well, the most obvious statistic is, of course, finishing positions! Hold on to your chairs, gentlemen:


502 * 1st

138 * 2nd

95 * 3rd

46 * 4th

32 * 5th

18 * 6th

11 * 7th

9 * 8th

11 * 9th

7 * 10th

4 * 11th

2 * 12th

2 * 13th

4 * 14th

4 * 15th

5 * 16th

7 * 17th

6 * 18th

6 * 19th

8 * 20th

4 * 21st

5 * 22nd

1 * 23rd

6 * 24th

1 * 28th

1 * 35th

1 * 41st

16 * unknown/started

12 * DNS

30 * unknown/qualified

6 * unknown/entered





Impressive, huh? Although, it should be considered that it is far easier to find wins than, say, 11th place finishes in research! Still, WoO statistics published during the nineties suggest that his win-per-race ratio was actually about one third, which is not too shabby, is it? More recently, he has slowed down a bit (befitting of a man entering his sixties next year), and his current ratio is, apparently, a tad under one fourth.

Edited by Michael Ferner, 11 September 2013 - 16:48.

#3 David McKinney

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 17:06

By my mathematics (never my strongest point) he's won 50.2% of those races, or gained "podiums" in almost 75%

Juan Manuel who?

#4 Michael Ferner

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 17:20

Next, number of entries per year (number of wins in parentheses):


2 * 1976 (1)

14 * 1977 (0)

34 * 1978 (11)

57 * 1979 (23)

66 * 1980 (28)

80 * 1981 (32)

57 * 1982 (23)

68 * 1983 (28)

62 * 1984 (27)

62 * 1985 (20)

38 * 1986 (22)

61 * 1987 (46)

39 * 1988 (29)

30 * 1989 (15)

41 * 1990 (31)

41 * 1991 (37)

44 * 1992 (32)

63 * 1993 (19)

61 * 1994 (29)

25 * 1995 (19)

16 * 1996 (10)

9 * 1997 (3)

10 * 1998 (6)

20 * 1999 (11)





Again, it should be pointed out that this is not a complete statistic of Kinser's year-by-year events, but merely the state of my research. I know, for example, that I'm missing most of his regional races in the early years, including many wins, but I'm not in the business of researching Steve Kinser alone, so it will take time to find many of those. Also, looking at these stats, it is obvious I'm particularly poor on late eighties, early nineties results, so this sort of thing gives me valuable feedback on where to concentrate research. As an aside, I use a somewhat more sophisticated tool to find out "holes" in my data base, in terms of years, even months, sanctioning bodies, tracks, locations or areas. Suffice it to say there is still a LOT left to be unearthed... :well:

#5 Michael Ferner

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 17:55

By my mathematics (never my strongest point) ...


Good thing I didn't post this after his 983rd entry, eh? :D



Next, sanctioning bodies, again with wins in parentheses:



8 * ARA = Arizona Racing Association (5)

41 * ASCoC = All-Star Circuit of Champions (33)

16 * Baltes Enterprises/OH (4)

1 * Bloomington Speedway/IN (1)

3 * BSA = Baylands Sprint Association (3)

11 * CRA = California Racing Association (3)

4 * Devil's Bowl Speedway/TX (1)

1 * DIRT = Drivers Independent Race Tracks (0)

1 * JRA = Jackson Racing Association (0)

1 * Knoxville Speedway/IA (0)

2 * MOSS = Midwest Outlaw Super Series (1)

1 * Paragon Speedway/IN (1)

1 * Tri-City Speedway/IL (1)

26 * USA = United Sprint Association (11)

35 * USAC = United States Automobile Club (7)

845 * WoO = World of Outlaws (430)

3 * unknown/open competition (1)





Included are speedways and/or promotional groups that ran their own (track) championships, although in most of these cases the races in which Kinser competed were non-points "open comp" races, but I included them under individual headings rather than under "unknown" to provide more varied info.

Edited by Michael Ferner, 11 September 2013 - 17:58.

#6 Michael Ferner

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 18:21

Car owners:



3 * Fenton Gingerich/IN (1)

2 * Dick Hammond/NY (0)

870 * Kinser Bros. or Karl Kinser/IN (441)

78 * Steve Kinser/IN (49)

2 * Lovell Bros./CA (0)

13 * Elmer Mayhew/IL (0)

1 * Team Menard/WI (0)

1 * Sarno Racing Organization/OH (1)

3 * Jerry Smith/MO (0)

2 * Ray W. Smith/OH (0)

2 * C. K. Spurlock/AZ (1)

8 * Gary Stanton/AZ (3)

1 * Dave Stewart/AZ (0)

1 * Bob Trostle/IA (1)

9 * Johnny Vance/OH (4)

4 * unknown (1)





A bit of caution here, as some info is extrapolated or plain suspect. Finding owner info in Sprint Car racing is an "art" to itself! :rolleyes:

Edited by Michael Ferner, 03 October 2013 - 18:09.

#7 Michael Ferner

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 18:56

Car makes:



1 * Dallara/Oldsmobile (0)

2 * Flammer/Chevrolet (0)

357 * Gambler/Chevrolet (187)

329 * Maxim/Chevrolet (197)

89 * Nance/Chevrolet (34)

1 * Penske/Cosworth (0)

7 * Stanton/Chevrolet (3)

1 * Stewart/Chevrolet (0)

1 * Trostle/Chevrolet (1)

212 * unknown (80)





Even more of a "black art", finding chassis info! :rolleyes:  :rolleyes: And then, reliable info - for instance, Karl Kinser apparently modified the Nance chassis the team used in 1978/'79, until it was first called a "Kinser-Nance", then a "Kinser" chassis! Or, did he build a completely new car during the season?? (Unlikely, since the team was "on the road" from February till October!!)

Edited by Michael Ferner, 03 October 2013 - 18:10.

#8 Michael Ferner

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 20:21

Races per region:



0 * New England (0)

171 * Mid-Atlantic (86)

46 * South Atlantic (18)

11 * East South Central (7)

308 * East North Central (168)

184 * West North Central (84)

110 * West South Central (49)

46 * Mountain (30)

121 * Pacific (59)

3 * "rest of world" (1)






Per state:



59 * New York (30)

108 * Pennsylvania (54)

4 * New Jersey (2)

1 * Delaware (0)

14 * Maryland (5)

6 * West Virginia (3)

2 * North Carolina (2)

5 * Georgia (2)

18 * Florida (6)

1 * Alabama (0)

1 * Mississippi (0)

9 * Tennessee (7)

122 * Ohio (66)

11 * Michigan (6)

95 * Indiana (49)

60 * Illinois (33)

20 * Wisconsin (14)

10 * Minnesota (2)

11 * North Dakota (8)

20 * South Dakota (9)

79 * Iowa (33)

18 * Nebraska (13)

21 * Kansas (7)

25 * Missouri (12)

13 * Arkansas (6)

67 * Texas (28)

30 * Oklahoma (15)

18 * Colorado (13)

3 * New Mexico (3)

22 * Arizona (13)

1 * Nevada (0)

2 * Montana (1)

4 * Washington (1)

4 * Oregon (3)

113 * California (55)

2 * Canada (0)

1 * Mexico (1)



#9 Michael Ferner

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 20:39

Qualifying info is too incomplete to be interesting (for the record, I have 127 fast times for 295 events, worst was 85th!!!), and I don't know if I have the strength to do a breakdown for individual tracks tonight, so I'm doing something odd yet easy as a stand-in - events per weekday :stoned:  :smoking:



57 * Monday (30)

66 * Tuesday (35)

151 * Wednesday (85)

27 * Thursday (15)

124 * Friday (65)

379 * Saturday (179)

196 * Sunday (93)





Per track:



1 * Five Mile Point Speedway/NY (0)

7 * Canandaigua Speedway/NY (4)

13 * Rolling Wheels Raceway Park/NY (7)

7 * Orange County Fair Speedway/NY (5)

1 * Ransomville Speedway/NY (0)

13 * New York State Fairgrounds (5)

6 * Cayuga County Fair Speedway/NY (3)

11 * Lebanon Valley Speedway/NY (6)

24 * Lincoln Speedway/PA (13)

4 * Grandview Speedway/PA (2)

3 * Penn National Speedway/PA (2)

39 * Williams Grove Speedway/PA (22)

1 * Nazareth National Speedway/PA (0)

1 * Susquehanna Speedway/PA (1)

1 * Port Royal Speedway/PA (0)

31 * Lernerville Speedway/PA (13)

4 * Selinsgrove Speedway/PA (1)

2 * Flemington Speedway/NJ (1)

2 * Bridgeport Speedway/NJ (1)

1 * Delaware State Fairgrounds (0)

14 * Hagerstown Speedway/MD (5)

6 * West Virginia Motor Speedway (3)

1 * Metrolina Speedway/NC (1)

1 * Smoky Mountain Speedway/NC (1)

3 * Lanier Raceway/GA (1)

1 * New Rome Speedway/GA (1)

1 * Oglethorpe Speedway/GA (0)

3 * Volusia County Speedway/FL (0)

8 * East Bay Raceway/FL (1)

1 * Jax Raceway/FL (0)

1 * Ocala Raceway/FL (0)

2 * Saint Augustine Speedway/FL (2)

3 * Florida State Fairgrounds (3)

1 * East Alabama Speedway (0)

1 * Pike's County Speedway/MS (0)

1 * Crossville Raceway/TN (1)

1 * West Tennessee State Fairgrounds (0)

1 * Milan Fairgrounds/TN (1)

6 * Memphis Motorsports Park/TN (5)

6 * Attica Raceway Park/OH (4)

3 * K-C Raceway/OH (2)

1 * Speedway 7/OH (1)

1 * Expo Speedway/OH (0)

9 * Millstream Motor Speedway/OH (7)

3 * Fremont Speedway/OH (2)

2 * Sharon Speedway/OH (2)

5 * Limaland Speedway/OH (3)

3 * Mansfield Speedway/OH (1)

1 * Quad City Speedway/OH (1)

4 * New Bremen Speedway/OH (4)

5 * Buckeye (Wayne County) Speedway/OH (3)

78 * Eldora Speedway/OH (36)

1 * Oakshade Raceway/OH (0)

1 * Hartford Motor Speedway/MI (0)

1 * I-96 Speedway/MI (1)

1 * US 131 Raceway Park/MI (0)

8 * Butler Motor Speedway/MI (5)

17 * Mitchell Motor (Bloomington) Speedway/IN (11)

3 * Brownstown Speedway/IN (3)

1 * Charlestown Speedway/IN (1)

3 * Indianapolis Raceway Park/IN (0)

10 * Tri-State Speedway/IN (7)

7 * Indiana State Fairgrounds (3)

17 * Kokomo Speedway/IN (8)

3 * Lawrenceburg Speedway/IN (3)

14 * Paragon Speedway/IN (7)

2 * Lincoln Park Speedway/IN (1)

1 * Salem Speedway/IN (0)

2 * Indianapolis Motor Speedway/IN (0)

12 * Terre Haute Action Track/IN (5)

1 * Warsaw Speedway/IN (0)

2 * Winchester Speedway/IN (0)

3 * Champaign Motor Speedway/IL (0)

2 * Du Quoin State Fairgrounds/IL (0)

31 * Tri-City Speedway/IL (21)

12 * Santa Fe Speedway/IL (5)

1 * Route 66 Raceway/IL (1)

2 * La Salle Speedway/IL (2)

1 * Macon Speedway/IL (1)

4 * Springfield Speedway/IL (3)

4 * Illinois State Fairgrounds (0)

10 * Hales Corners Speedway/WI (9)

8 * Cedar Lake Speedway/WI (4)

2 * Impact Speedway/WI (1)

2 * North Starr Speedway/MN (1)

2 * Fairmont Speedway/MN (0)

6 * Jackson Speedway/MN (1)

11 * Red River Valley Speedway/ND (8)

1 * Brown County Raceway/SD (0)

3 * I-90 (Red Devil) Speedway/SD (2)

6 * Black Hills Speedway/SD (3)

10 * Huset's Speedway/SD (4)

1 * Boone Speedway/IA (0)

3 * Farley Speedway/IA (3)

75 * Knoxville Raceway/IA (30)

1 * Mid-Continent Speedway/NE (0)

15 * Eagle Raceway/NE (11)

1 * I-80 Speedway/NE (1)

1 * Sunset Speedway/NE (1)

1 * Belleville High Banks/KS (0)

4 * Hutchinson Raceway Park/KS (2)

1 * Kansas State Fairgrounds (0)

5 * Lakeside Speedway/KS (0)

2 * Thunder Hill Speedway/KS (2)

3 * Sunflower Expo (Topeka Fairgrounds)/KS (2)

5 * 81 Speedway/KS (1)

1 * Missouri International Raceway Park (0)

2 * Capital Speedway/MO (2)

2 * Moberly Speedway/MO (2)

11 * I-70 National Speedway/MO (4)

4 * I-55 Raceway/MO (3)

5 * Missouri State Fairgrounds (1)

5 * I-30 Speedway/AR (3)

1 * Batesville Speedway/AR (0)

7 * Riverside International Speedway/AR (3)

20 * Big H Motor Speedway/TX (10)

5 * Battleground Speedway/TX (3)

3 * Lone Star Motor Speedway/TX (0)

2 * Hub City Speedway/TX (2)

36 * Devil's Bowl Speedway/TX (12)

1 * North Texas Motor Speedway (1)

8 * L. A. (Lawton) Speedway/OK (3)

15 * City Fairgrounds Speedway/OK (8)

7 * Tulsa Speedway/OK (4)

6 * Raceland (Rocky Mountain Speedway)/CO (5)

12 * Colorado National Speedway (8)

2 * Duke City Raceway/NM (2)

1 * Las Cruces Speedway/NM (1)

21 * Manzanita Speedway/AZ (12)

1 * Yuma Speedway/AZ (1)

1 * Las Vegas Motor Speedway/NV (0)

2 * Magic City Speedway/MT (1)

3 * Skagit Speedway/WA (0)

1 * Grays Harbor Raceway Park/WA (1)

2 * Riverside Speedway/OR (1)

2 * Southern Oregon Speedway (2)

10 * Napa County Fairgrounds (Calistoga Speedway)/CA (5)

17 * Silver Dollar Speedway/CA (10)

4 * Speedway 117/CA (2)

1 * Imperial County Fairgrounds/CA (1)

12 * Baylands Raceway Park/CA (7)

21 * Ascot Park/CA (5)

13 * Kings Speedway/CA (7)

1 * Perris Auto Speedway/CA (0)

4 * Bakersfield Speedway/CA (3)

1 * Petaluma Fairgrounds Speedway/CA (0)

4 * El Dorado County Fairgrounds (Placerville Speedway)/CA (0)

12 * Santa Clara County (San Jose) Fairgrounds (Speedway)/CA (7)

9 * Santa Maria Speedway/CA (5)

4 * West Capital Raceway/CA (3)

2 * Victory Lane Speedway/CDN (0)

1 * Juarez Autopista/MEX (1)





That makes 152 tracks in 37 states, if I haven't miscounted. Note that track names often change, and I have only included those that were used at the time (and not every variation in use!). One could spend quite some time analysing all this, but a few things stick out: Eldora Speedway topping even Knoxville, even though I have far better sources for the latter, and that Kinser's win-per-race ratio appears to be an inverse relation to track length!

Edited by Michael Ferner, 15 September 2013 - 09:35.

#10 Michael Ferner

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 21:40

Twenty Ways To Win A Championship (preface)

The (not so) Silent Revolution
Sprint Car racing is the oldest form of motor sport on the American continent, though it was called by many different names over time. In general, it was Track racing before World War I, then Dirt Track racing in the twenties, Big Car racing in the thirties, and finally, after World War II, Sprint Car racing, but there were many nuances in between, and some of these nuances exist to this day. And while the sport has certainly evolved over time, it is in many, many ways still the same as it was in September of 1896, when eight "motocycles" met at Narragansett Park near Providence in Rhode Island for a three-day meet that finished exactly 117 years ago to the day. In fact, Sprint Car racing is probably the one discipline of motor sport that has changed the least over any given time, and quite astonishingly so given the fact that it was "invented" just after the birth of the automobile movement itself! And yet, the sport was totally transformed in the sixties and seventies in a series of almost clandestine events that happened so mysteriously, yet almost inevitably that it is still difficult to grasp it in a historical context without getting lost in petty detail. It was a veritable revolution that happened in 1978, but it had been years in the making.
A revolution that takes years to gather the strength to overthrow an existing order is sometimes called a "silent revolution", but that moniker doesn't really sit well with the roar of hordes of Chevy small block engines! In order to realize what really happened, however, we need to look back and understand the exact nature of the order about to be overthrown, and its genesis, and that is no easy task. Today, people still remember the "milestones", and terms like "Sport of the Seventies", the "Foundation Shaker", the "Outlaw Hippie" or "Pennsylvania Posse" evoke certain memories, but where did it all come from? It certainly wasn't born out of thin air! Let's try to outline the most important developments in a concise way, to see what the world of Sprint Car racing was like when young Steve Kinser entered what would very soon become the "main" stage.
Motor racing is, and always has been, one thing above all, and that is: expensive! So much, in fact, that it instantly became a "white collar" sport, despite its very roots in the "blue collar" world of industrial manufacture. Perhaps inevitably, it was in the classless United States of America that the sport opened up for the poor man in the streets, and that is essentially what Track racing was all about in the early days: while the noblemen in the "old world" and the "new money" in the States exercised their expensive toys in Road racing, the confined surroundings of the fairgrounds horse racing tracks that dotted the continent were the ideal stage to nurture professional racing, where every man had the chance to make his own luck, and money. Pretty soon, and quite naturally, both worlds began to mingle, but the basic foundation was laid for all time: here was the big-time sport for the "haves", and there was track racing for the "have-nots".
When road racing died (a "natural" death) in the US, that basic distinction didn't just disappear, as it was neatly replaced by Speedway racing on large, paved tracks, like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or the (in)famous board tracks. This form of motor racing was much closer to that of the fairgrounds, and it made for a more straightforward interchange between the disciplines, although not by very much. More important to the overall story was a change of policy of the predominant sanctioning body in the US, the Contest Board of the American Automobile Association, or "AAA" for short. Until 1924, the AAA (influenced in no small part by the car manufacturers lobby) had shown no particular interest in Dirt Track racing, but several factors helped to change that attitude: firstly, the dwindling support of the manufacturers for racing in general; secondly, the growing popularity of dirt track racing itself; and thirdly, the very real danger of losing the entire "grass roots" of the sport to the entertainment business, embodied by a fledgling new organization by the name of International Motor Contest Association ("IMCA"), which had begun to promote staged racing along the lines of "professional wrestling" in 1915.

This "change of heart" by the AAA turned out to be a master stroke when the Great Depression of the thirties caused two things in the world of motor racing: the (almost) complete collapse of the speedway racing circuit, and an unprecedented boom in dirt track racing! For the next two decades or so, big-time racing was essentially reduced to one single annual event, the Indy 500, now supported by a varying number of 100-mile races on one-mile dirt tracks to form a "substitute" speedway circuit for the AAA's National Championship! Quite suddenly, the two worlds had become almost one, and it became possible, even the norm, to start out in low-level dirt track racing and work up the order into the big time. But the image of the sport as a whole suffered during that time, and it disappeared from the newspaper pages almost completely, except for the annual Indy extravaganza.


The boom of the thirties had one interesting side effect, however, about to become a very important piece of the jigsaw puzzle: diversification! Up until 1930, racing cars had been basically just that: racing cars! There were minor differences in specification for cars to race at Indy or on the dirt tracks, and some local rules applied, but generally all cars were of the same category - except for a few unsuccesful attempts to lure manufacturers back into the sport by staging races for Stock Cars, or to establish a cheap entry class for small Cyclecars. With entry lists for virtually every dirt track race now oversubscribed many times, and money in very short supply, people started looking into different options, and began racing whatever was available: the old Model T, rusting away in the barn, and miniature racing cars with motorcycle engines, for instance. Pretty soon, Midget racing and the various forms of Modified stock car racing became extremely popular, and even more so when the economic climate changed for the better after World War II.


In the fifties, the overall scene had changed quite considerably: the AAA and its successor, the United States Automobile Club ("USAC"), were busy trying to restore the image of the big-time Championship racing circuit by gradually moving away from the dirt tracks to paved ones, all the while still operating a Sprint Car circuit (or two) as a "feeder" series. The IMCA, still in the process of redefining itself as a proper and respectable sport authority rather than an entertainment business, was emerging as the main feeder for the AAA/USAC sprint car circuit in the Midwest, heading a group of about half a dozen similar organizations from coast to coast. Midgets were still raced by a large number of clubs, including AAA/USAC, but their heyday was over and they served as yet another feeder series. The Modifieds, however, had become the new grass roots of the sport, racing in every nook and cranny of the country, often weekly, and in an overwhelmingly complex array of forms and specifications, serving as a feeder for Midgets, Sprints and the increasingly popular form of Late Model stock car racing.


The latter category would soon emerge as a major player in the sport, but apart from the fact that it posed a threat to USAC's overall dominance in the US it needn't concern us any further in the context of this thread. Nor was it of undue concern to USAC in the sixties, when that club made great strides in its effort to (re-)introduce its National Championship as a major spectator sport. Grandstand tickets, TV audiences, sponsorship contracts, everything was on the up and up, and when some wisecrack quipped about motor racing as the coming "Sport of the Seventies", it became an unofficial leitmotiv for the USAC brass - it would, eventually, come back to haunt them! All along, USAC's Sprint Car series prospered as well, and was often refered to as its "Thunder and Lightning" division, named in awe for its demanding mix of traditional dirt tracks and an increasing number of challenging pavement races. The best drivers, old and young, the nicest and fastest cars, USAC had them all when the new decade came along - every driver worth his salt was dreaming about making it in USAC, and only drivers willing and able to go through the hard schooling of the USAC Sprint Car circuit could and should be considered "real greats" - that was the foundation about be shaken in no uncertain manner!


Truth to be told, that foundation had already been partly shaken by the re-introduction of road racing into USAC's Championship portfolio. For many decades, reaching way back into the thirties, road racing in the US had continued to be the playground for the rich amateur, only on a much smaller scale than before World War I. More recently, though, and through the introduction of International Sports Car and, eventually, Grand Prix racing to the USofA, this line of the sport had gained new respect and credibility to the point that it became part of USAC's new image. Yet, to the purist along pit row or in the grandstand at the local "bullrings", a road racer would always remain a world apart - the old story of the haves and have-nots?


In any case, the real threat to the USAC foundation came from some place else, the grass roots in fact! How did that happen? Well, it was essentially a combination of countless indvidual decisions and ideas by countless individuals!! To understand, one has to look into the (lack of) definition of what constitutes a "modified stock car": quite obviously, a "real" stock car is unfit for racing purposes, and needs to be "beefed up", "hot-rodded" and so on. What needs to be done and what can be done is dependent on the local rules in the area, and at each individual track in fact. Those rules usually evolve around given parameters such as availability of "hardware", or ingenuity of the competitors, and are the basis for the confusing and quite fascinating variety of this particular branch of the sport. Add to that the burgeoning market for performance parts and, finally, the "muscle car" from Detroit in the late fifties and early sixties, and you have one hell of a force to be reckoned with.


Who did what first is almost impossible to assess these days. The decisive step from the Modified to the Super Modified may have been the Arizona "Full House" car in the late fifties, or already the California "Roadster" way back in the thirties, it doesn't matter. The idea to build an outright racing car, and fit it with parts of stock origin to qualify it as a "stock car" was the key, and it spread like the proverbial wildfire over the country - in no time at all, the "Supers" were the main drawing card at weekly tracks from coast to coast. And, like the Modifieds, the Supers came in a dazzling variety of sizes and specs, although they were almost universally powered by the so-called "Small Block" Chevrolet (SBC) engine, introduced in the mid fifties - and therein lies the crux of the matter!


Since the early twenties, Sprint Cars (and their predecessors) had been powered by all sorts of engines, but mostly by full racing conversions of the popular Ford 4-cylinder model of its time. Duesenberg, Miller or Offenhauser engines were often to be found up front, but the "bulk" of the competitors ran Rajo, Frontenac, Craig-Hunt or Laurel-Roof conversions of the Model T, and later Cragar, Hal, Dreyer or Riley engines based on the Model A and/or B Ford. By the early fifties, the market for replacement parts had dried up, and those unable (or unwilling) to afford an Offy turned to the latest V8 products from Detroit, the Oldsmobile "Rocket 88", Ford/Mercury, the Chrysler "Hemi", and finally the SBC. Once the SBC was produced in sufficient numbers to attract the attention of the engine tuners, it became the quasi-standard engine for "Class B" Sprint Cars, as opposed to the almost universally Offy-engined USAC Sprinters.


"Class B" Sprint Car, it has to be explained, was the sometimes derogatory, sometimes self-effacing name attached to low-buck efforts throughout the Depression era, although it was hardly ever used as an exact definition. During those years, there were countless clubs running "Class B" cars all over the country, but only a handful survived into the mid-fifties to share the "market" with USAC and the IMCA. All of these clubs had engine rules that either favoured the American V8s by granting them a huge displacement advantage, or banned the Offy outright, thus contributing to the the end of the production line for America's oldest and most succesful Sprint Car engine in 1954 at Meyer-Drake Engineering in California. This, in turn, induced USAC to introduce similar displacement advantages for the V8s to keep car numbers up, which played the ball right into Chevy's field: the SBC was still young, and full of development potential, so that within a few years it began rivalling the dying Offy's supremacy, and finally became the engine of choice, not least because it was cheaper and more readily available than the Offenhauser, and with a huge speed shop industry backing it up.


The consequence of all this was that, by the mid sixties, Sprint Cars and Super Modifieds had basically identical specifications! So much, in fact, that constructors began building "dual purpose" cars, which could be changed from Sprint Car to Super (or vice versa) within hours, or even minutes. Race promoters, in turn, began organizing "open competition" events for Sprints and Supers alike - by the end of the decade, the lines between the two categories had been blurred to the effect that, in some areas, races were now being advertized for Super Sprints! And, as if all of this wasn't confusing enough, Pavement Supers began taking off into an altogether different direction about the same time: the cut-up, chopped-about former Indianapolis roadsters that had been so popular ever since they had become redundant at the Brickyard, were rapidly giving way to special constructions, some of them rear-engined, some even more radically off the beaten path than the "laydown" roadsters of the late fifties and early sixties, with four-wheel drive and what-have-you. If auto racing was indeed to become the sport of the seventies, the average sportsfan was about to face a steep learning curve!!


Hand in hand with all that went the development of a new type of driver - the traditional way of learning ones ropes at the local speedway, then joining a local club and trying to work up the "ladder", until finally (and hopefully) making it to USAC (and Indy!) one day, gave way, bit by bit, to the new type of "travelling cherry picker", which came about thusly: over the years, most weekly tracks had found it necessary to break up the "tedium" of one race after another by staging special "championship" races every once in a while in order to stir up the enthusiasm of their patrons. "Extra-money", "extra-distance" or "double-points" races for the local track championships served to keep up the number of butts in the stands by making the competitors that little bit extra "edgy", and the concept as a whole worked so well that some of these races began attracting cars and drivers from neighbouring speedways and, as time went on, even from far-away locations. Pretty soon, some drivers specialised in roaming the country in search of that extra money, with a Super Sprint in tow that could be made to run as a Super or a Sprint as needed, and easily adapted to any local rules, if necessary. Since those drivers (and car owners) ran independently from the big clubs, such as USAC or the IMCA, they conformed to the old concept of the "outlaw" racer, a term coined back in the teens or twenties by the AAA to distinguish itself from the "showbiz" type of racing then still promoted by the IMCA, but having become pretty meaningless since that time. Still, to the eyes of the local fans who witnessed those drivers come in, "armed and dangerous", and usually leave with a lot of "loot", that name appeared particularly apt - and it stuck!


Jan Opperman, a former motorcycle racer and self-styled "hippie", became the most recognizable, and most successful of the "outlaws" during those early years. After running amok on dirt tracks all over the West and Midwest in the late sixties, he arrived in Central Pennsylvania in early 1970 to test the local competition, and contribute to the legend of the "Pennsylvania Posse". Central Pennsy and, to a lesser extent, the western part of the same state and the eastern part of neighbouring Ohio, had become a hotbed of Super (Sprint) competition during the sixties, with up to a dozen tracks in the area running weekly shows that soon attracted drivers from all parts of the US. Kenny Weld from Missouri, the younger brother of USAC's Sprint Champion Greg Weld, was the unofficial kingpin of the Central Pennsy circuit at the time, and his duels with Opperman for supremacy over the next four years became the stuff of legends. To this day, Central Pennsylvania has retained its special status as the one area where travelling "outlaws" have an unusual hard time picking those cherries, hence the "posse" nickname.


One of the local regulars of the Posse, Richard "Mitch" Smith, and his local car owner Gary Wasson hit upon a speed secret in 1971 that has never been properly explained, to this day. A regular frontrunner, yet hardly a dominant figure before or after, Smith used the Wasson Sprinter to virtually decimate the opposition that year, winning race after race, including on one memorable weekend in May, when he crashed heavily at Williams Grove on Friday night to be carted away in an ambulance, then leaving the hospital at noon on Saturday to win that same evening at Selinsgrove, and adding another win the next day at Susquehanna for good measure. In June, when USAC's Thunder and Lightning division guested at the Grove, Smith broke the 18-year-old track record in qualifying, won his heat in record time and put the Wasson Sprint in front on lap 3 of the main event to win by a countrymile. The next month, Smith and Wasson repeated that performance (two track records and a run-away win) at USAC's Selinsgrove date, and in September the duo made its third USAC start of the year at the prestigious Ted Horn/Bill Schindler Memorial back at the Grove, slicing through the field after an early mishap and winning for a third time! Three dominant wins by an unheralded driver/car combo over the fully assembled might of the USAC stars earned them the honourable nick as "The Foundation Shakers", yet some of the USAC regulars pokingly questioned their ability to even qualify at the paved, high-bank Winchester or Salem Speedways. Perhaps wisely, neither Smith nor Wasson ever tried, and in any case soon returned to relative obscurity.


USAC's "foundation" (i.e. reputation), however, was permanently damaged. Still, the old order remained largely intact, as none other but the "Outlaw Hippie" himself, Jan Opperman, joined the august club in late 1973 for an ultimately succesful attempt to make it to Indy. But the believe in USAC's superiority, and some of the respect had been lost forever, and with rapidly growing purses at the premier "outlaw" events, few of the better independent drivers considered USAC a viable option, until a series of dramatic events in early 1978 was about to change the status quo forever! One early victim of the revolution was the IMCA - successively trimmed down from a 100+ race schedule in more than twenty states, the oldest sanctioning body in the United States (ignoring the merely cosmetic change from AAA to USAC) simply vanished away, ending with a meagre 8-race series on six tracks in two states in 1977. As a somehow fitting, if ironic postscript, the name "International Motor Contest Association" was subsequently bought by a sanctioning group for Super Modified races, and is still used as such today.



Well, this turned out to be much longer and less concise than anticipated! Hm. :well:  Anybody still following?

Edited by Michael Ferner, 14 September 2013 - 18:59.

#11 TonyKaye

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Posted 15 September 2013 - 22:31

Still following?


Absolutely! Congratulations, Michael, the best history of sprint car racing that I've ever read.


Factually faultless and impeccably written.


Are you going to bring it up to date? I certainly hope so.

#12 Michael Ferner

Michael Ferner
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Posted 18 September 2013 - 21:48

Many thanks, Tony - and, btw, nice to "see" you around these parts again!


Yes, the plan is to follow up the story through the years, although that will be even less concise! :lol: I've long wanted to do something like this, as I've grown quite fond of the WoO era of Sprint Car racing, but there is so little out there about it that is not shallow, or lacking in content. I'm not sure if I will be able to do the subject justice, but it will be fun trying (or so I hope!). :)

#13 Michael Ferner

Michael Ferner
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Posted 26 September 2013 - 17:28

Twenty Ways To Win A Championship (part 1): 1978

An Outlaw Champion?
Motor racing, perhaps more than any other sport, has developed a special liking for the points championship, and it's not really difficult to see why: unlike most other competitions, the outcome of a motor race will always depend on some form of chance, because there is just so much that can go wrong in a device of such complexity as an engine, to say nothing of the various hazards in chassis design to go with the on-the-edge action of a fast-paced multi-competitor sport. Even the very best in racing, be they constructors, mechanics or the drivers themselves, have a moment of weakness every once in a while, with sometimes catastrophic consequences for that particular event (and the cheque book!), so that the term "failure" cannot always be applied without a footnote, so to speak. To eliminate those footnotes, points championships offer an (almost) ideal way to "even up" performances over a period of time, usually (and conveniently) a year, so that it is possible to say that this or that driver/team/constructor was the most successful over the given period, without resorting to a potentially endless string of single race results that will always be open for interpretation. True, so is the points championship in itself, but it at least offers the chance for everybody to compete on equal terms, and make up for the mostly inevitable failure that happens every once in a while. Ignoring, for the time being at least, the various pitfalls and inadequacies that are almost invariably part and parcel of the concept of the points championship, this can only be seen as advantageous for everybody involved: the competitors, fans and press alike.


To some, the idea of an "Outlaw Champion" is an oxymoron, as the "true spirit" of the "outlaw cherry picker" is considered to be that of a wholly independent, somewhat restless loner, who doesn't follow one particular path or direction, but that is to ignore the actual motivation for that line of behaviour ... which is money! This is not to say that the typical Outlaw is an especially greedy or insatiable person, quite the contrary actually, as to simply survive in a sport that is so expensive is an art, as most who have tried will readily agree, but success in this game is not only rewarding in terms of satisfaction, it also opens the door for even more success through the monetary gratification which is usually invested in better equipment right away, thus becoming the quintessential raison d'être for the professional racer. It's a vicious cycle, all right, but it is the true nature of the sport which can't be ignored. Once committed to this "system", a competitor will chase purses in every which way, and promoters will try to bait them by offering those purses, in the hope of attracting crowds generating the same - this racing business runs on basically very simple rules, it's just the application of those rules that can get quite complicated!


The idea of a championship for Outlaws is almost as old as the Outlaw "movement" itself. In 1970, a group of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio businessmen and promoters headed by C. H. "Bud" Miller created the "All-Star Circuit of Champions" (ASCoC), an eleven-race series visiting most of the local tracks for special Wednesday night programmes with a $1,000-to-win purse, compared to the usual $500 or $600 a winner could hope to carry away from the better weekly tracks. The championship was not a very big success, and was not repeated until 1973, when Miller and his associates went "national" with the addition of the two most prestigious outlaw races at the time, the $3,800-to-win Knoxville Nationals in Iowa and the $4,000-to-win Western US Championships in Arizona. Again, despite at least some publicity in the specialised press, the series did not catch on, and went into hibernation once more. Two years later, the idea was revived by some local promoters without Miller's support, and thus named the "All-Star Super Sprints" (ASSS), with an all-Ohio series of seven races which grew into a 13-race series in Ohio and four neighbouring states the following year before going belly-up yet again.


It wasn't until 1979 that professional racing photographer Bert Emick led another group to run the "Midwest Outlaw Super Series" (MOSS), and after a very modest debut the championship grew into a well-run 21-race series in Ohio, Indiana and (Western) Pennsylvania the following year, so successful in fact that one of the promoters "stole" the name, which Emick had failed to secure rights for, leaving him to invite Bud Miller to join the board in a honorary role in order to use the ASCoC name henceforth. From there, the "new" ASCoC continued to grow and prosper, and over the years has become a solid "number two" sanctioning body in the States, not very much unlike the latter day IMCA, and with basically the same geographical limits, only moved to the East a few hundred miles. It is to be hoped that ASCoC will not face the same fate as the IMCA, but at the time of writing the series looks to be healthy and well run (if a little confused about its own history), now owned by Guy Webb of Illinois and sponsored by the University of Northwestern Ohio (!) The "fake" MOSS disappeared again after only one short year.


Unlike their Ohio counterparts, the Central Pennsy promoters did not band together for the better of the sport, instead waging war against each other, or so it seemed at least. Part of the "problem" was the sort of personalities involved, beginning with Jack Gunn ( John Whyte Gunnells), who came to prominence as the track announcer at the famous Williams Grove Speedway under its original owner, Roy Richwine, in the fifties. After Richwine's death in 1960, his son Bob continued the family business, and soon expanded it to also promote Selinsgrove Speedway, a few miles to the north. The energetic Gunn took over from the younger Richwine in 1968, and soon became the most influential promoter in the area, which was regarded by many as the most influential in the entire nation. In 1972, he inaugurated a mini-series of four $800-to-win races, two at each of his two tracks, calling it the "(Sel-Wil) Summer Nationals". This immediately prompted a "reply" by another Central Pennsy promoter, Hillen Vernon "Hilly" Rife of Lincoln Speedway near Hanover. Rife, who at one time or another bragged about having invented the Super Sprint, was even more flamboyant and colourful than Gunn, and had an on-and-off career as a promoter stretching back twenty years, even though he was barely older than his "opponent".


Rife's first idea was the five-race "US Super Spint Nationals" on four tracks in Central Pennsy and just over the stateline in Maryland. Then, in 1973, he startled everybody by bringing in the "National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing" (NASCAR) to sanction Sprint Car racing at Lincoln!! In a coup extraordinaire, Hilly himself stepped down as a promoter, delegating these duties to his son, Hillen Griffin "Sonny" Rife, and accepted a post as NASCAR Central Pennsylvania representantive, with a brief to establish a Sprint Car circuit under that name in the area! This, however, clashed with Gunn's plans, who had just brought USAC Sprint Cars back to the Grove after an absence of six years, and also met with little love from the other area promoters such as Lindy Vicari of Reading Fairgrounds, who also had strong USAC ties. In July, Gunn countered with the addition of Penn National Speedway, a relatively new facility built primarily for horse racing, to his portfolio, and was now staging weekly races Friday through Sunday. Within little more than a month, the NASCAR name quietly disappeared from the masthead of the Lincoln Speedway programmes, and young Steve Smith from Florida won his first of six consecutive (nine overall) Lincoln track championships, instead of becoming the only NASCAR Sprint Car Champion in history...


Jack Gunn, on the other hand, had a better idea, and started the "Keystone Auto Racing on Speedways" (KARS, more popularly known as Keystone Auto Racing Series) the following year. With his own three tracks covering a full weekend slate of racing, and a few visits to tracks in New Jersey and Maryland, Gunn was now able to provide a schedule of about five dozen races a year within a radius of fifty miles or less, and with a hefty points fund at the end of the year, plus appearance deals for champions and runners-up - that's the sort of deals that even Outlaws can't resist! Still, it was a very local affair, and even if Central Pennsylvania continued to attract stray drivers from as far away as California, the bulk of the Outlaws prefered to race weekly near home, and go for extended trips around the country for the real big ones, which were beginning to pay upwards of $5,000 for a win at the time. The KARS series died with its instigator in 1980, but indirectly it finally led to the introduction of the "overall" Central Pennsy title in 1985, held on and off ever since, depending on the availability of a title sponsor. It continues to be the playground for the "Posse", and serves as an "excuse" for many of them to avoid the hassle of being a "real", travelling Outlaw...


On the "left" coast, things started to move when former CRA and USAC Sprint Car owner, Don Peabody, was elected president of the veteran "California Racing Associtaion" (CRA), one of the pioneers of the Super-to-Sprint evolution, having evolved from the "California Roadster Assciation" in the mid fifties. Peabody at once set about strengthening the traditionally already strong ties of the So-Cal scene to the "Arizona Racing Association" (ARA), one of the first clubs in the country to "officially" change from Super Modifieds to Sprint Cars in late 1966, by introducing the six-race, "cross-sanctioned" Silver Cup competition in 1973. Eventually, similar competitions were staged with the "Northern Auto Racing Club" (NARC) of Northern California (humorously called the "Civil War Series"! :D), starting in 1977, and with USAC in 1984, leading to more and more interaction between the existing clubs. Peabody himself was head-hunted by USAC in 1977, in an attempt to combat the mounting problems of the once so dominant organisation... oh, yes, where was USAC through all of this???


Far from becoming "The Sport of the Seventies", auto racing actually struggled throughout the decade and merely survived, the influx of sponsorship money via extended TV exposure notwithstanding - that was true for basically all sports in those days, hence "par for the course"! For motor sports, however, things changed drastically in those ten years, starting with changing attitudes of the public in general. Gone were the gung-ho days of accepting death and maiming injury as part and parcel of life itself, replaced by a new "directive" of Health and Safety for everyone, and whilst this was certainly an improvement in the human condition, it presented some specific problems for the sport we all love so much. The sharp contrast of the "routine fatalities" in racing going into the seventies, to the merely fatalistically acceptable exception of death at the end of the decade was the result of very hard work by all parties involved, and however praiseworthy those efforts must appear these days, back in the seventies it was purely a matter of survival for the sport! Linked to this new public conscience was the fledgling environmental movement, leading to anti-pollution legislations which hit the car manufacturers financially, prompting them to review their visions of the performance car market, and their direct involvement in the sport. And, as if all of this hadn't been difficult enough for racing, the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and subsequent "energy crisis" produced a very negative image of the sport, even if it wasn't really much of a factor in the whole shebang. Perception is everything, however, and few people are really interested in facts, so motor racing became the perfect patsy.


The popular view is that USAC dropped the ball big-time in the seventies, but trying to look at things from a perceived position inside of that organization, it's pretty difficult to see where they could have acted much differently. That's not to say that USAC was entirely a victim of circumstances, but luck (or the absence of same!) plays a big role in life, and sometimes things just don't work out right. When the books were closed on the 1977 season, USAC looked to be in a very reasonable position, given the ravages mentioned in the previous paragraph, and no-one really questioned its leadership in the sport, at least not outside of the Late Model stock car fraternity. Its Sprint Car division had actually just completed a record 44 events in '77, but this number tended to obscure a worrying trend in recent years: apart from one race in New York and two in California, all of those races were staged in a very small area around the Indianapolis HQ, with 25 dates in Indiana alone, and 15 in Western Ohio! Another worrying aspect was the continuing proliferation of pavement tracks on USAC's schedule, as the club was still committed to its new image, while the recent resurgence of Sprint Car racing due to the Outlaw phenomenon was almost entirely based on dirt track racing. Given the widening gulf between dirt and pavement car specs following the influx of Super Modified technology, that was sure to lead to ever rising costs for the competitors, and in fact, both champion Sheldon Kinser and runner-up Tom Bigelow had had two very different cars at their disposal during the season, a traditional one for the dirt and a bespoke pavement chassis!


Steps had already been initiated to address those problems: a four-event series of "Mini-Indy" Super Vee races had debuted in 1977 and proved satisfactory, so that the pavement races could be phased out of Sprint Car racing over the next three or four years, and the appointment of the able Don Peabody as USAC's new Sprint Supervisor and Chief Steward was widely regarded as a major coup, so that hopes were running high for a turn-around in 1978, only for the aforementioned series of dramatic events to nullify it all! What turned out to be the biggest power shift in the history of Sprint Car racing, started as a petty argument, and the tragic of it all is that it wasn't even USAC's idea in the first place: during the pre-season scheduling process, the promoters agreed amongst themselves per majority vote to limit the number of races at each track to four per year, and USAC, sensing opportunities for much needed variety in the schedule, merely rubber-stamped that decision. One man, who was adamantly opposed to the idea was charismatic Earl Baltes, a former musician and ballroom operator who had turned his hobby into a profession by building a race track in the backyard of one of his dance establishments near the tiny village of Rossburg in the somewhat aptly named Darke County in Western Ohio, a mere five miles from the Indiana stateline. Named after the "El Dora Ballroom", Eldora Speedway became one of the most popular tracks in the country, and was a mainstay of the USAC Sprint Car circuit throughout the sixties and seventies, holding no fewer than eight meetings in 1977 alone. In a fit, Baltes now refused the four dates allocated to his track, and cancelled all USAC programmes at Eldora, including the season opener on March 26!


What was USAC to do about that? Going against the wishes of a large majority to please one renegade was hardly an option, and besides, the new schedule was coming along real nicely, with the number of states visited during the tour almost doubling from the previous year. For the time being at least, it looked like a minor squabble that was hurting its instigator much more than anyone else, and it really came as no surprise when Baltes reneged on his own decision later that year, and held the final two dates that USAC had reserved for his track as if nothing had happened - today, Eldora Speedway is the one half-mile track in the country with the longest uninterrupted run of USAC meetings! Back in the spring of 1978, however, Baltes had manoeuvred himself into a corner and, having effectively robbed himself of his bread-and-butter business, he was now very appreciative when racing photographer Jerry Clum (a pal and future MOSS partner of Bert Emick's) introduced him to Ted Johnson, a bespectacled and moustached small-time promoter from Texas. After a few financial failures in the field of race promotion, Johnson had tried his hand at "sports management", acting as a sort of freelance agent for various drivers in trying to arrange appearance deals, and even resorted to peddling racing T-shirts in order to make ends meet, before hitting upon the bright idea to start an Outlaw racing championship circuit! Easier said than done, but through his contacts to the drivers and owners, Johnson had a pretty good understanding of what was necessary, and desirable, to get the idea off the ground.


For starters, Johnson decreed that any non-USAC event paying $2,000 or more to the winner should count for the championship, that amount being slightly over the USAC minimum which was about $1,800 at the time, incidentally. That was a very crucial idea, since there was no way any Outlaw championship could hope to attract national attention without the inclusion of at least the majority of the (roughly) twenty biggest meetings in the country, as the failed attempts mentioned at the beginning of this chapter bore testimony to. But, the big difficulty in this was that those events were pretty self-sufficient, with good to excellent crowds and car counts, so that there was minimal to no interest at all on the part of their promoters to join any circuit of races. Johnson circumnavigated that problem by basically ignoring it! He simply stated his intention to tabulate the points publically in the trade papers, and set out to convince the odd local promoter to raise the purse for one or the other special event to meet the $2,000 minimum in order to join his "World of Outlaws" (WoO) circuit - some plan! On March 16, the Devil's Bowl Speedway near the small Dallas/TX suburb of Mesquite, started its third annual Spring Nationals with a purse offering the "magic" $2,000 to the overall winner after three days of competition, thus becoming technically the first qualifying round for a championship that wasn't yet more than a dream in the mind of its instigator, and Ted Johnson was met with icy ignorance by promoter Lanny Edwards, the competitors and the public alike, even in his home state. Facing a gap of about three months until a few West Coast events would meet the one criterion, the WoO was badly in need of a shot in the arm - and Earl Baltes was exactly what the doctor ordered!


What the veteran promoter saw was an opportunity to recoup some of the losses that the USAC "embargo" had caused, and with his trademark flair and the guts to try something new and unproven, he scheduled not one, but three WoO races over the space of five weeks, getting into the spirit of things by personally posing as an outlaw on "Wanted" posters serving as race announcements, looking mean and carrying a six-gun to highlight the $2,000 "reward"! The races were a huge success, and after each one of them Johnson was able to announce a new points leader to the public, creating an awareness that soon spread from coast to coast. All of a sudden, promoters from all corners of the country were interested in meeting that man from Texas, Ted Johnson - the WoO was most definitely on its way! And USAC? The weekend between the first two of those Eldora WoO programmes, a chartered airplane carrying eight USAC officers back from an Indy Car race at Trenton/NJ, crashed during a thunderstorm almost within sight of its Indianapolis destination, killing all its occupants, including Don Peabody. Much has been written about how that plane crash paralyzed the club at a most inopportune time, relating to the forthcoming "split" and formation of "Championship Auto Racing Teams" (CART) later in 1978, but the impact of that accident on the world of Sprint Car racing was much more immediate, and hardly less severe. Whether Peabody could have done much to engineer a better future for USAC is perhaps a moot point, yet a tantalizing question just the same, as even his short USAC term led close observers to rave reviews of his capabilities. His former CRA colleagues obviously thought the world of him, and J. C. Agajanian, promoter of CRA's "home track" Ascot Park in Greater Los Angeles, lost no time in renaming the season-closing "Grand Prix" to "Don Peabody Classic", a name the most prestigious and richest CRA points race of each season carried until both the track and the club ceased to exist in the early nineties.


Due to the quirky nature of its genesis, the first season of the WoO was a somewhat disjointed affair, with some of the qualifying rounds taking place on the same day as others, but hundreds or even thousands of miles apart, and many of the leading drivers not really catching on with the series until halfway through the year, if at all. And so it was, that of the 41 points races, held at 36 meetings on 23 tracks in 12 states, the maximum number for any one driver to compete in was 35 in all practicality, and only two drivers even tried to achieve that, both eventually failing to make the main event on two occasions each, so that a certain parity was achieved in this respect. One of those drivers was 39-year-old Rick Ferkel of Western Ohio, very much the "elder statesman" of dirt track racing, and one of the "Original Outlaws", having been around since the mid-sixties and having won main events at more than 70 different venues, coast to coast. The fans liked to call him the "Ohio Traveler", and many felt that the concept of an Outlaw Champion had the name Ferkel written all over it, now that Jan Opperman was but a shadow of his former self after a debilitating crash in 1976, and Kenny Weld in semi-retirement and about to face a rather unpleasant future. It didn't hurt Ferkel's cause, either, that almost one third of the WoO points races were run off in his own "backyard", Western Ohio, and he staked his claim early on by breaking Eldora's track record on each of the three initial appearances at the track, although mechanical problems held him back so that he won only one of the main events, but at the very next race at yet another homestate joint, Limaland Motor Speedway, he became the first multiple winner in WoO history, taking the points lead and holding it until an engine failure in a preliminary heat caused him to miss his first main of the campaign in September, ironically at the same track where he had scored half of his eight wins so far: Eldora Speedway.


All summer long, whenever Ferkel looked over his shoulder, he saw the nose of the #11 sprinter glued to the rear bumper of his own #0 - that was the famous "Kinser Brothers Special", wrenched by the already legendary Karl Kinser. Following a modest start in South-Central Indiana in the late fifties, the Kinser Bros. team (which was always mostly Karl's) had gained a solid national reputation throughout the seventies with a number of different drivers, but especially with the burly Dick Gaines from the deep south of the Hoosier state, who was Karl's number one driver for nearly a decade until he was injured in an accident late in 1977. Seeking to replace the veteran of almost thirty years in competition, Karl Kinser turned to a young man, only 23 years of age, which caused many observers to raise an eyebrow or two - until then, the job at the controls of the Kinser Bros. sprinter had been given exclusively to seasoned veterans with more trophies at home than teeth in the mouth, and now this kid with hardly any resumé at all: only two years experience of racing Sprint Cars, a few local wins and running mid-field during a half-season of following the USAC trail. Surely, Karl was just doing a favour to the young man's father, one of his former drivers and a distant relative, until he could get hold of a real hot shoe!?!?


Whether it was some form of serendipity, or whether Karl had seen something in the youngster which had escaped most others, in any case the "kid" wasted no time in earning his new assignment, finishing second in the first Eldora meet, then sixth in the next, before winning the third one on May 21, and when Ted Johnson send out his latest points tabulation to the press that evening, the name on top of it read: Steve Kinser! As we have seen, Ferkel took care of that within a week, but the Kinsers had now licked blood, and with a doggedness that had always been characteristic for Karl, and was now becoming one of Steve's foremost traits as well, they began a relentless pursuit which kept them in touch, barely at times, but when the "Buckeye Traveler" hit a bad patch during late summer, Kinser was there to score three wins in succession in eight days to reverse the roles: now it was Ferkel, hunting down Kinser in the same merciless fashion, and it all came down to the very last race of the season, October 29. For that date, Ted Johnson had turned to his new friend, Earl Baltes once again, and the Eldora promoter was up to it by staging a Sprint Car extravaganza unheard of at the time, with a $10,000-to-win purse, 95 cars int the pits and 12,000 souls in the stands. Naturally, Baltes himself had dressed the part again, and additionally invited a group of belly dancers to play the court for the new "King of the Outlaws", about to be enthroned with a kitsch crown and lots of razzmatazz.


The points situation was pretty simple: Kinser was still ahead, but if Ferkel was to win the last race (as he had done in three out of six main events at Eldora so far, plus one points preliminary), Steve had to finish second or third to keep his lead and win the title - in general, Kinser could not afford to finish further than two positions behind his adversary, unless Ferkel failed to make it into the top three, which was deemed quite unlikely if not for major car trouble. Starting the main from the inside of rows two (Ferkel) and three (Kinser), both moved up in a hurry, and by lap 5 Steve was leading Rick by a close margin, with the rest of the field falling further and further behind - a tremendously fitting battle royale!! Eventually, though, fate intervened, when local star Jim Linder lost a wheel, and the wheel found #11, the Kinser Bros. car, damaging it beyond help - Steve Kinser was out of the race! Ferkel inherited the lead, and before anyone could work out where he had to finish "just in case" (fourth would have been enough), the engine of #0 let go in a cloud of smoke, sidelining the sentimental favourite - the championship was Kinser's, after all! Steve accepted the accolades and ceremonies good naturedly (not to be taken for granted!), and Rick was the perfect gentleman even in defeat, posing with Kinser and eventual race winner Shane Carson of Oklahoma after the event: a fitting end for a near perfect WoO debut season.


One final footnote remains to be added: on the Saturday before Memorial Day, the 30th annual "Little 500" Sprint Car race was held at Anderson Speedway in Indiana, not far from the big Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and paid more than $5,000 to the winner, yet it wasn't listed on the WoO itinerary, despite the fact that it was one of the ten richest "outlaw" races of the year! That was no accident: Ted Johnson had always been a dirt track fan, and simply didn't consider pavement races worthy of inclusion in his new series. Had the Little 500 counted for the Outlaw title, as per Johnson's original announcement, RIck Ferkel (who finished fifth at Anderson) would have defeated Steve Kinser (a non-starter) by a handy margin in the points race! As it was, this anomaly merely cemented the final rift between the two worlds, and from now on top-level Sprint Car racing would be firmly back in the grass roots camp - but Johnson was about to see to it that it would be no longer a sport of the have-nots!

Edited by Michael Ferner, 02 October 2013 - 20:04.

#14 Michael Ferner

Michael Ferner
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Posted 02 October 2013 - 20:30

1978 statistics
Note: points paying races are in bold, car assignments and especially chassis information is always suspect!!
Mar 16 (Thu), Devil's Bowl Speedway, Mesquite (TX), 20 laps, 10 miles
1 Norman Martin (TX), Sitton/Chevrolet
2 Jimmy Boyd (CA), Woodruff=Tognotti/Chevrolet
3 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
4 Don Mack (MN), Howells/Chevrolet
5 Steve Perry (TX), Perry=McElreath/Chevrolet
6 Charlie Swartz (TN), Spurlock=Gambler/Chevrolet
FT Gary Scott (MO), Scott/Chevrolet, n/a
Mar 17 (Fri), Devil's Bowl Speedway, Mesquite (TX), 20 laps, 10 miles
1 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
2 Steve Kinser (IN), Jerry Smith/Chevrolet
3 Rick Hood (TN), Conrad/Chevrolet
4 Johnny Beaber (OH), Kemenah/Chevrolet
5 Sammy Swindell (TN), M. A. Brown=Hill-J&J/Chevrolet
6 Mike Shaw (CA), Gonden/Chevrolet
FT Swindell, n/a
Mar 18 (Sat), Devil's Bowl Speedway, Mesquite (TX), 50 laps, 25 miles
1 Jimmy Boyd (CA), Woodruff=Tognotti/Chevrolet
2 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
3 Tom Corbin (MO), Marler/Chevrolet
4 Sammy Swindell (TN), M. A. Brown=Hill-J&J/Chevrolet
5 Norman Martin (TX), Sitton/Chevrolet
6 Don Mack (MN), Howells/Chevrolet
FT -
LL Boyd, 54 %
Apr 16 (Sun), Eldora Speedway, Rossburg (OH), 40 laps, 20 miles
1 Bobby Allen (FL), Allen/Chevrolet
2= Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
2= Jim Linder (OH), Keegan/Chevrolet
4 Jimmy Boyd (CA), Woodruff=Tognotti/Chevrolet
5 Dub May (TX), May/Chevrolet
6 Don Mack (MN), Howells/Chevrolet
FT Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet, 15.989" (TR)
LL Ferkel, n/a
Apr 30 (Sun), Eldora Speedway, Rossburg (OH), 40 laps, 20 miles
1 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
2 Charlie Swartz (TN), Spurlock=Gambler/Chevrolet
3 Jim Linder (OH), Keegan/Chevrolet
4 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
5 Don Mack (MN), Howells/Chevrolet
6 Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
FT Ferkel, 15.745" (TR)
LL Ferkel, n/a
May 21 (Sun), Eldora Speedway, Rossburg (OH), 40 laps, 20 miles
1 Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
2 Jim Linder (OH), Keegan/Chevrolet
3 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
4 Bobby Allen (FL), Allen/Chevrolet
5 Rick Nichols (OH), Haines/Chevrolet
6 George Harbour (WV), Reno/Chevrolet
FT Ferkel, 15.614" (TR)
LL Kinser, 50 %
May 29 (Mon), Limaland Motor Speedway, Allentown (OH), 50 laps, 12.5 miles
1 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
2 Fred Linder (OH), Siebeneck/Chevrolet
3 Johnny Beaber (OH), Kemenah/Chevrolet
4 Dwain Leiber (OH), Leiber/Chevrolet
5 Butch Bahr (NE), Bahr=Trostle/Chevrolet
6 Chris Dukes (OH), Dukes/Chevrolet
FT Ferkel, n/a
LL n/a
Jun 10 (Sat), Ascot Park, Gardena (CA), 50 laps, 25 miles
1 Lealand McSpadden (AZ), Stanton/Chevrolet
2 Rick Goudy (CA), Morales/Chevrolet
3 Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
4 Gary Patterson (CA), Lamar=Side Bite/Chevrolet
5 Mike Shaw (CA), Cunningham/Chevrolet
6 Jimmy Oskie (CA), Kindoll/Chevrolet
FT Dean Thompson (CA), Bromme/Chevrolet, n/a
LL Patterson, n/a
Jun 10 (Sat), Napa County Fairgrounds, Calistoga (CA), 25 laps, 12.5 miles
1 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
2 Bobby Allen (FL), Allen/Chevrolet
3 Jack Hewitt (OH), Starr/Chevrolet
4 Gary Ponzini (CA), Armour=Tognotti/Chevrolet
5 Jimmy Sills (CA), McMillen/Chevrolet
6 Phil Pedlar (CA), Ray Smith=Trostle/Chevrolet
FT Ferkel, 21.809"
LL Allen, 88 %
Jun 11 (Sun), West Capital Raceway, West Sacramento (CA), 50 laps, 12.5 miles
1 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
2 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
3 Jimmy Boyd (CA), Woodruff=Tognotti/Chevrolet
4 Jack Hewitt (OH), Starr/Chevrolet
5 Charlie Swartz (TN), Spurlock=Gambler/Chevrolet
6 Lealand McSpadden (AZ), Stanton/Chevrolet
FT Hewitt, 13.173"
LL Ferkel, 100 %
Jun 14 (Wed), Mercer Raceway, Mercer (PA), 50 laps, 12.5 miles
1 Johnny Beaber (OH), Kemenah/Chevrolet
2 Lou Blaney (OH), Crash/Chevrolet
3 Dub May (TX), ?
4 Steve Smith (FL), Fletcher=Smith/Chevrolet
5 Buddy Cochran (PA), Kosier/Chevrolet
6 Jack Sodeman (PA), Sodeman/Chevrolet
FT n/a
LL Beaber, n/a
Jun 16 (Fri), Skagit Speedway, Alger (WA), 18 laps, 5.4 miles
1 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
2 Bobby Allen (FL), Allen/Chevrolet
3 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
4 Jimmy Boyd (CA), Woodruff=Tognotti/Chevrolet
Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
6 Jimmy Sills (CA), McMillen/Chevrolet
FT Boyd, 13.910" (TR)
LL Wolfgang, 88.9 %
Jun 17 (Sat), Skagit Speedway, Alger (WA), 50 laps, 15 miles
1 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
2 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
3 Bobby Allen (FL), Allen/Chevrolet
4 Jimmy Boyd (CA), Woodruff=Tognotti/Chevrolet
5 Jerry Edson (WA), Edson=Lloyd/Chevrolet
6 Gary Patterson (CA), Lamar=Side Bite/Chevrolet
FT -
LL Wolfgang, 86 %
Jun 23 (Fri), Lincoln Speedway, Abbottstown (PA), laps n/a, miles n/a
1 Steve Smith (FL), Fletcher=Smith/Chevrolet
2 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
3 Bobby Weaver (PA), Gohn/Chevrolet
4 Dub May (TX), May/Chevrolet
5 Doug Stambaugh (PA), Kuhn/Chevrolet
6 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
FT n/a
Jun 24 (Sat), Lincoln Speedway, Abbottstown (PA), 50 laps, 20 miles
1 Steve Smith (FL), Fletcher=Smith/Chevrolet
Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
3 Larry Krimes (PA), Krimes-Linder/Chevrolet
4 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
5 Dub May (TX), May/Chevrolet
6 Charlie Swartz (TN), Spurlock=Gambler/Chevrolet
FT Ferkel, n/a
LL Smith, 82 %
Jul 3 (Mon), Eldora Speedway, Rossburg (OH), 50 laps, 25 miles
1 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
2 Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
3 Charlie Swartz (TN), Spurlock=Gambler/Chevrolet
4 Sammy Swindell (TN), M. A. Brown=Hill-J&J/Chevrolet
5 Bobby Allen (FL), Allen/Chevrolet
6 Kenny Jacobs (OH), Gantz-Pope-Harmon/Chevrolet
FT Swartz, 15.781"
LL Ferkel, 92 %
Jul 8 (Sat), Limaland Motor Speedway, Allentown (OH), 50 laps, 12.5 miles
1 Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
2 Bobby Allen (FL), Allen/Chevrolet
3 Johnny Beaber (OH), Kemenah/Chevrolet
4 Mark Caldwell (IN), Hazen/Chevrolet
5 Rick Nichols (OH), Haines/Chevrolet
6 Chris Dukes (OH), Dukes/Chevrolet
FT Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet, n/a
LL n/a
Jul 15 (Sat), Missouri State Fairgrounds, Sedalia (MO), 30 laps, 30 miles
1 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
2 Charlie Swartz (TN), Spurlock=Gambler/Chevrolet
3 Bobby Allen (FL), Allen/Chevrolet
4 Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
5 Bobby Layne (MO), Layne/Chevrolet
6 Gene Gennetten (MO), Gennetten/Chevrolet
FT Kinser, n/a
LL Swartz, n/a
Jul 22 (Sat), Limaland Motor Speedway, Allentown (OH), 30 laps, 7.5 miles
1 Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
2 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
3 Johnny Beaber (OH), Kemenah/Chevrolet
4 Kenny Jacobs (OH), Gantz-Pope-Harmon/Chevrolet
5 Jack Hewitt (OH), Farno-Trost/Chevrolet
6 Danny Smith (IN), De Palma-Rader/Chevrolet
FT Ferkel, n/a
LL n/a
Jul 28 (Fri), Lincoln Speedway, Abbottstown (PA), 35 laps, 14 miles
1 Steve Smith (FL), Fletcher=Smith/Chevrolet
2 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
3 Bobby Allen (FL), Allen/Chevrolet
4 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
5 Gary Patterson (CA), Lamar=Side Bite/Chevrolet
6 Lynn Paxton (PA), Boop=Heintzelman/Chevrolet
FT n/a
Jul 29 (Sat), Lincoln Speedway, Abbottstown (PA), 50 laps, 20 miles
1 Steve Smith (FL), Slaybaugh-Bair/Chevrolet
2 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
3 Gary Patterson (CA), Lamar=Side Bite/Chevrolet
4 Van May (TX), Benchoff/Chevrolet
5 George Bischoff (PA), Diaz/Chevrolet
6 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
FT Smith, n/a
LL Ferkel, n/a
Aug 1 (Tue), Kokomo Speedway, Kokomo (IN), 50 laps, 12.5 miles
1 Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
2 Bob Kinser (IN), Kinser/Chevrolet
3 Bobby Adkins (IN), Adkins/Chevrolet
4 Fred Linder (OH), Siebeneck/Chevrolet
5 Dick Gaines (IN), Briscoe/Chevrolet
6 Butch Wilkerson (IN), French/Chevrolet
FT Bob Kinser, n/a
LL Steve Kinser, n/a
Aug 3 (Thu), Eldora Speedway, Rossburg (OH), 25 laps, 12.5 miles
1 Randy Ford (OH), Ford/Chevrolet
2 Dub May (TX), May/Chevrolet
3 Junior Smalley (OH), Ratliff/Chevrolet
4 Jac Haudenschild (OH), Yerian=Trevis/Chevrolet
5 Gary Patterson (CA), Lamar=Side Bite/Chevrolet
6 Dwain Leiber (OH), Leiber/Chevrolet
FT May, n/a
LL Roger McClain (OH), ?, n/a
Aug 4 (Fri), Eldora Speedway, Rossburg (OH), 25 laps, 12.5 miles
1 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
2 Rick Ungar (OH), Sparks/Chevrolet
3 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
4 Jim Linder (OH), Keegan/Chevrolet
5 Danny Smith (IN), De Palma-Rader/Chevrolet
6 Kenny Jacobs (OH), Gantz-Pope-Harmon/Chevrolet
FT Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet, 15.568" (TR)
LL Ferkel, n/a
Aug 5 (Sat), Eldora Speedway, Rossburg (OH), 40 laps, 20 miles
1 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
2 Jac Haudenschild (OH), Yerian=Trevis/Chevrolet
Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
4 Charlie Swartz (TN), Spurlock=Gambler/Chevrolet
5 Paul Pitzer (PA), Weikert/Chevrolet
6 Sammy Swindell (TN), M. A. Brown=Hill-J&J/Chevrolet
FT -
LL Ferkel, 70 %
Aug 9 (Wed), Knoxville Raceway, Knoxville (IA), 20 laps, 10 miles
1 Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
2 Shane Carson (OK), Trostle/Chevrolet
3 Mike Brooks (IA), Annett/Chevrolet
4 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
5 Mike Shaw (CA), Cunningham/Chevrolet
6 Billy Robison (KS), McCarl/Chevrolet
FT Charlie Swartz (TN), Spurlock=Gambler/Chevrolet, 20.854"
Aug 10 (Thu), Knoxville Raceway, Knoxville (IA), 20 laps, 10 miles
1 Sammy Swindell (TN), M. A. Brown=Hill-J&J/Chevrolet
2 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
3 Eddie Leavitt (MO), Rogers/Chevrolet
4 Bubby Jones (IL), McNeely=Stanton/Chevrolet
5 Larry Clark (AZ), Clark=Stanton/Chevrolet
6 Ron Milton (IL), Milton/Chevrolet
FT Wolfgang, 20.848"
Aug 11 (Fri), Knoxville Raceway, Knoxville (IA), 20 laps, 10 miles
1 John Stevenson (MN), Casci-Bethke/Chevrolet
2 Curt Waters (CA), Waters/Chevrolet
3 Gene Gennetten (MO), Gennetten/Chevrolet
4 Steve Liskai (OH), ?
5 Ralph Blackett (IA), Tuttle/Chevrolet
6 Tim Bookmiller (IN), Bookmiller/Chevrolet
FT -
Aug 12 (Sat), Knoxville Raceway, Knoxville (IA), 30 laps, 15 miles
1 Doug Wolfgang (SD), Bill Smith/Chevrolet
Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
3 Eddie Leavitt (MO), Rogers/Chevrolet
4 Shane Carson (OK), Trostle/Chevrolet
5 Danny Smith (IN), De Palma-Rader/Chevrolet
6 Jack Hewitt (OH), Farno-Trost/Chevrolet
FT -
LL Wolfgang, 100 %

Aug 18 (Fri), Bloomington Speedway, Bloomington (IN), 50 laps, 12.5 miles
1 Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
2 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
3 Ron Dorsett (IN), ?
4 Bob Kinser (IN), Shields/Chevrolet
5 Bobby Adkins (IN), Adkins/Chevrolet
6 Danny Smith (IN), De Palma-Rader/Chevrolet
FT Gary Patterson (CA), Lamar=Side Bite/Chevrolet, n/a
LL Steve Kinser, 100 %

Aug 22 (Tue), Warsaw Speedway, Warsaw (IN), 50 laps, 12.5 miles
1 Bobby Allen (FL), Allen/Chevrolet
2 Steve Kinser (IN), Kinser=Nance/Chevrolet
3 Gary Patterson (CA), Lamar=Side Bite/Chevrolet
4 Danny Smith (IN), De Palma-Rader/Chevrolet
5 Rick Ferkel (OH), Daugherty=Tognotti/Chevrolet
6 Steve Smith (FL), Fletcher=Smith/Chevrolet
FT Patterson, n/a
LL Allen, 62 %

Aug 23 (Wed), Oakshade Raceway, Wauseon (OH), 50 laps, 18.75 miles
1 Steve Smith (FL), Fletcher=Smith/Chevrolet
2 Bobby Allen (FL), Allen/Chevrolet
3 Gary Patterson (CA), Lamar=Side Bite/Chevrolet
4 Johnny Beaber (OH), Lewis/Chevrolet
5 Jack Hewitt (OH), Farno-Trost/Chevrolet
6 Danny Smith (IN), De Palma-Rader/Chevrolet
FT Steve Smith, 15.54" (TR)
LL Steve Smith, 56 %

Edited by Michael Ferner, 18 November 2014 - 10:44.

#15 Michael Ferner

Michael Ferner
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  • Joined: November 09

Posted 03 October 2013 - 14:29

Twenty Ways To Win A Championship (part 2): 1979

The 1978 debut season of the World of Outlaws had been an unqualified success, yet it was just the beginning of an amazing development: the following year, more and more promoters jumped onto the bandwagon, and the schedule grew to a staggering 65 meetings in 21 states! What's more, the WoO has managed to roughly average those numbers ever since, becoming the first true and (arguably) only racing series in the USofA with a genuinely nation-wide base. For the time being, though, that new position wasn't really evident in the national news coverage, but the average competitor on the Outlaw circuit was already able to enjoy a totally new experience: plenty of races with meaty purses throughout the year! In the past, even the better drivers had had to rely on regular income from up to a hundred weekly shows to complement the winnings in the biggies, making for lots of racing mileage and precious little time to attend to the cars - you could usually tell the time of the year by the look of the racing machinery, all beaten-up and battered by late summer or fall! Slowly, but surely, times began to change, and the travelling teams became more and more "professional", investing some of their winnings into the appearance of the cars, trailers and clothings, which in turn began to attract outside sponsors to the sport. The usual conglomeration of building or haulage contractors, and automotive companies like speed or body shops, which had supported dirt track racing for decades, often as the result of personal infatuation with the sport on the part of the company's owner, was about to make way for commercial car products, alcoholic beverages and tobacco - just like the "big time" of racing!
To appreciate the business aspect of growth in the sport of Sprint Car racing, it is perhaps necessary to resort to a little bit of "number crunching", so let's begin by comparing the number of meetings and states visited during the previous years by the most prominent racing clubs then in existence: USAC, for example, averaged 22 dates in 6 states during the first ten years of its existence, improving to an average of 30 races in 7 states during its second decade (1966 to '75). These numbers do not look very impressive when compared to the post-war average of its precursor AAA (59 races in 14 states), or even in the last ten years before WW2 (85 races in 15 states), but that needs to be seen in the appropriate historical context: the emergence of Midget and Modified stock car racing, as outlined in the preface, and the corresponding shifts in the world of "Class B" Sprint Cars, for example. In fact, comparing these numbers with those of the IMCA, the only other club with national aspirations during that time, suggests that USAC didn't do all that badly in period: reliable info about pre-war IMCA figures is, sadly, not available, but in the post-war decades, the numbers show a continuous downward spiral - from 96 races in 16 states ('46 to '55), over 54 in 14 ('56 to '65) to 31 meetings in 12 states ('66 to '75), ending on a whimper with an average of 8 races in 3 states during the last two years of the club's existence! Add to that the IMCA's confined geographical spread from the Appalachies to the Rockies, and USAC's position as the national leader becomes evident even without the inclusion of its Champ Car, Midget and Late Model stock car circuits.
There are, of course, other items of interest in this respect, some of which are not so readily available in terms of raw data, or not so easily understood without the proper background information. Purses, for instance: up until the early seventies, AAA and USAC generally had the best pay-offs in the sport, but there were always singular events which could challenge the best they had on offer. Plus, there was the exclusivity problem: AAA and, to a lesser extent, USAC expected its members to remain faithful and not race with other organisations, in order to support its promoters, which was fine as long as there were enough events to run in, but became a bit of a problem when the numbers dropped, like they did dramatically in the fifties. Affiliations with smaller local clubs usually helped to alleviate matters, as did "temporary permits" which allowed promoters to invite a limited number of local drivers to augment the fields, and finally monetary rewards for the top championship finishers at the end of the year (usually taken on a percentage basis from the race purses before the arrival of series sponsorship in the seventies) became more and more important.

Interestingly, the more open USAC became in terms of membership, the more restrictive turned out to be the policy of the IMCA: what had started half a century before as a sort of travelling circus show, happy to let any locals take part (as long as they played by the rules!!), developed over time into a serious back-against-the-wall stance when faced with the new realities of the sixties and seventies. For a long time, the greater overall number of races had allowed the IMCA to get along with relatively small purses, but once the race count started to drop, IMCA members began to look longingly at all those cherries, ready to be plucked in the neighbourhood! Officialdom reacted by issueing fines and temporary bans, which only served to aggravate the problem as it initiated a mass exodus of competitors, and faced with short entry lists, many of the fair boards elected to run "open comp" events instead, or drop the races entirely! Finally, one driver who had been thusly banned, went to court with a right-to-work suit - that settled the issue once and for all. Too late for the IMCA, which had missed the boat comprehensively.
USAC's answer was to open up entirely, but to reserve championship points and year-end funds to its own membership, which created the problem of the "phantom" entry: more and more "guest" drivers and owners now failed to show up in the USAC point standings, even after multiple wins and other top finishes, creating "what if" scenarios which further undermined the club's reputation - it wasn't long before the majority of race wins during a season were regularly scored by those "phantoms", devalueing both USAC and its members. Another way to foster loyality, which was already being practiced by some smaller clubs and many weekly tracks, was to award appearance (or: "show-up") championship points, which has, however, the annoying side effect to make the championships themselves less meaningful, and even boring to a point - when, as has happened more than once, a driver has won, say, three out of four races so far, but ranks behind another driver who has never finished in the top five or six in any of those races, the merit of winning such a championship diminishes quite a bit! Still, the legal ramifications of a "closed club" policy as in the past were detering enough for most organizations to accept these shortcomings, and go for the appearance points, and so did Ted Johnson with his WoO.
The beauty of Johnson's original concept was that it automatically included all the major money events, but that wasn't sustainable for very much longer, as we will see, and so the WoO raised its show-up points from an originally merely nominal amount, first to one third of the winner's points, then exactly one half of it - yes, that's right: a driver may show up for two WoO points races, merely "ready to qualify", and will score the same number of points as a driver who wins one of those races but, for one reason or the other, has to forego the other one!! That, of course, has had a profound impact on how these championships have evolved, and it was and is a major credit to the Kinsers, Steve and Karl, that the WoO has become what it still is today, namely the undisputed top level Sprint Car series in the US, and not yet another "farce" championship. For it was the Kinsers, and their decision to make a point of competing in all WoO races during those early years, that not only made them the target of all Outlaw envy, but the embodiment of the World of Outlaws themselves, thus helping Ted Johnson's cause as much as the Texan had helped theirs (and those of their peers) - the perfect win-win situation!
Because of the presence of the Kinser combo at race after race and, naturally, because of their competitiveness, the 1979 season was strictly no contest. Despite hitting a bad patch of reliability issues early in the year, dropping him to fifth in points, Steve Kinser retaliated and took the lead early in summer, when the tour hit California for the first time, never to lose it thereafter. His dominance was such that he had buttoned up the championship even before the series left the Golden State on their second visit in late September, and with five races still to go, allowing him the rare luxury of skipping the penultimate show in Nashville/TN. Overall, he scored 42 top five finishes in 65 main events, including 23 wins - far, far ahead of his nearest rival in both respects.
That 'nearest rival' turned out to be Sammy Swindell, not yet 24 years old, but already a veteran of six years on the Outlaw circuit! The second-generation driver from Tennessee finished a very distant runner-up on the strength of 31 top five finishes, including 10 wins, plus one points preliminary - until and including 1981, the WoO series would continue to pay full points for a few selected preliminary features. Rick Ferkel returned for a third place in points with 29 top five finishes, but his five wins were beaten by the eight victories of Doug Wolfgang, who ran a limited schedule and thus finished only fifth in the championship, behind Lee James, son of the former CRA president, Walt James, and winner of the inaugural "Civil War" series in California back in 1977. Wolfgang, at 27 the oldest driver in the top five apart from Ferkel, had been a late starter in Sprint Cars after several years of racing Modifieds in his homestate, South Dakota, but during his third campaign already he had broken Jan Opperman's fabled record of 44 feature wins in a single season. Coming in 1977, and including the blue-ribbon Knoxville Nationals, that feat had propelled him to the forefront of Outlaw fame, but he hadn't yet caught on much with Johnson's entourage, attesting to the fact that the World of Outlaws still had a few teething problems.
The early season races had actually been dominated by baby-faced Ron Shuman from Arizona, a two-time winner of both the Western World (formerly the Western US) Championships and the Pacific Coast Nationals, two of the most prestigious Outlaw events west of the Rockies. Driving the "house car" of fellow Arizonian, Gary Stanton, the 26-years-old former USAC driver had led the standings comfortably through May, when his car owner pulled out of the series unexpectedly following a "disagreement" with Ted Johnson just prior to the first California swing of the tour, allegedly over the clandestine reduction in size of the points fund - there are no saints in outlaw racing, either! Returning to the WoO on an on-and-off basis later that summer, Shuman and Stanton managed to pull off the biggest win of their respective careers at the Knoxville Nationals in August, but the lay-off caused the driver to drop to eighth in the final standings, emphasizing the need to run the full schedule in order to have a shot at winning the championship.
The 1979 season had proved basically two things, namely that Steve Kinser hadn't been an "accidental champion", merely put into a favourable spot by a quirk of fate, and that the World of Outlaws were here to stay. Both could look forward to the new decade of the eighties with the confidence which is so essential to the concept of dominance in all walks of life, and especially in sports and business. Bereft of that very confidence in its own stature and power, USAC now faced a long road, seemingly into oblivion, but through its remarkable ability to reinvent itself again and yet again, the time-honoured club not only managed to survive, but to turn that road into one of at least partial recovery. A highly significant event (in retrospect) took place in June, when USAC invited five competitors of its National Dirt Track Championship to stage a support race for its dying Indy Car division on the pavement of the Wisconsin State Fair Park in Milwaukee's West Allis suburb. Witnessed by over 18,000 fans in the stands, the 25-lap experiment showed up a possible solution to the USAC dilemma, a niche in the market if you will: traditional Championship dirt track cars performing on a sealed surface, a compromise that had worked quite well during the transition years in the fifties and sixties. Why not again in the eighties, thereby creating a unique characteristic as well as an extension to the ailing Dirt Track Division, down to a mere three championship rounds in '79? Crisis is just another expression for opportunity!

Edited by Michael Ferner, 14 November 2014 - 14:52.

#16 Michael Ferner

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Posted 18 November 2014 - 12:22

1979 statistics

FP  Driver (State)              Pts  1st  2nd  3rd  4th  5th  6th

 1  Steve Kinser (IN)         10358   23    4    5    7    3    -
 2  Sammy Swindell (TN)        9196   10    6    9    6    -    3
 3  Rick Ferkel (OH)           7588    5    6    8    5    5    -
 4  Lee James (CA)             6912    1    3    2    4    4    4
 5  Doug Wolfgang (SD)         5988    8    4    2    2    8    2
 6  Dub May (TX)               5308    3    2    4    2    2    -
 7  Bobby Allen (FL)           5214    1    6    6    -    -    2
 8  Ron Shuman (AZ)            4778    4   10    2    3    2    1
 9  Jack Hewitt (OH)           4380    -    -    -    3    5    1
10  Johnny Anderson (CA)       3986    1    1    6    3    -    1
11  Jerry Stone (KS)           2774    -    -    1    1    -    2
12  Shane Carson (OK)          2760    2    1    3    -    2    -
13  Johnny Beaber (OH)         2660    -    2    1    1    2    1
14  Danny Smith (IN)           2386    -    1    -    1    3    2
15  Bobby Kinser (IN)          2326    -    -    -    1    5    -
16  Lealand McSpadden (AZ)     2266    -    1    -    3    1    1
17  Lee Osborne (NY)           2172    -    1    -    1    1    3
18  Jim Linder (OH)            2008    -    2    -    2    -    1
19  Kerry Norris (IN)          1738    -    -    -    -    2    2
20  Chuck Amati (TN)           1620    -    -    1    2    -    2
    Lynn Paxton (PA)                   3    1    1    2    -    -
    Smokey Snellbaker (PA)             1    2    -    -    -    -
    Larry Gates (IN)                   1    1    1    1    -    1
    Tim Green (CA)                     1    -    1    1    -    2
    Allen Klinger (PA)                 1    -    -    -    -    1
    Bobby Marshall (TX)                -    2    -    3    1    -
    Allen Barr (IN)                    -    1    1    -    -    -
    Keith Kauffman (PA)                -    1    -    -    1    1
    Randy Smith (IA)                   -    1    -    -    -    1
    Larry Goad (IN)                    -    1    -    -    -    -
    Roger Larson (SD)                  -    1    -    -    -    -
    Jay Myers (MD)                     -    1    -    -    -    -
    Gary Patterson (CA)                -    1    -    -    -    -
    Jerry Richert (MN)                 -    1    -    -    -    -
    Kramer Williamson (PA)             -    1    -    -    -    -
    Rick Hood (TN)                     -    -    2    -    -    -
    Randy Ford (OH)                    -    -    1    1    -    -
    Steve Long (IN)                    -    -    1    1    -    -
    Jim Nace (PA)                      -    -    1    -    1    -
    Larry Clark (AZ)                   -    -    1    -    -    1
    Bobby Layne (MO)                   -    -    1    -    -    -
    Johnny Lewis (OH)                  -    -    1    -    -    -
    Roger Rager (NE)                   -    -    1    -    -    -
    Garry Rush (AUS)                   -    -    1    -    -    -
    Rick Ungar (OH)                    -    -    1    -    -    -
    John Stevenson (MN)                -    -    -    1    1    1
    Dwain Leiber (OH)                  -    -    -    1    1    -
    Rich Brahmer (NE)                  -    -    -    1    -    -
    Gene Brown (AZ)                    -    -    -    1    -    -
    Ronnie Daniels (TN)                -    -    -    1    -    -
    Norman Martin (TX)                 -    -    -    1    -    -
    Joe Saldana (NE)                   -    -    -    1    -    -
    Steve Smith (FL)                   -    -    -    1    -    -
    Steve Travers (PA)                 -    -    -    1    -    -
    Wayne Bennet (AZ)                  -    -    -    -    2    1
    Randy Wolfe (PA)                   -    -    -    -    2    1
    Steve Siegel (TX)                  -    -    -    -    1    2
    Kenny Jacobs (OH)                  -    -    -    -    1    1
    Al Liskai (OH)                     -    -    -    -    1    1
    Tom Corbin (MO)                    -    -    -    -    1    -
    Bobby Geldner (MN)                 -    -    -    -    1    -
    Gary Gollub (PA)                   -    -    -    -    1    -
    Tommy Johnson (TX)                 -    -    -    -    1    -
    Ken Schrader (MO)                  -    -    -    -    1    -
    Billy Stief (PA)                   -    -    -    -    1    -
    Johnny Tiner (CA)                  -    -    -    -    1    -
    Buster Venard (CA)                 -    -    -    -    1    -
    Bobby Adkins (IN)                  -    -    -    -    -    1
    Buddy Cochran (PA)                 -    -    -    -    -    1
    Darryl Dawley (SD)                 -    -    -    -    -    1
    Ron Dorsett (IN)                   -    -    -    -    -    1
    Rick Goade (CA)                    -    -    -    -    -    1
    George Harbour (WV)                -    -    -    -    -    1
    Jac Haudenschild (OH)              -    -    -    -    -    1
    Jimmy Horton (NJ)                  -    -    -    -    -    1
    Bubby Jones (IL)                   -    -    -    -    -    1
    Bill Marshall (TX)                 -    -    -    -    -    1
    Bill Mellenberndt (SD)             -    -    -    -    -    1
    Jerry Miller (NM)                  -    -    -    -    -    1
    Ron Milton (IL)                    -    -    -    -    -    1
    Johnny Murphy (CA)                 -    -    -    -    -    1
    Jay Pilcher (OH)                   -    -    -    -    -    1
    Billy Robison (KS)                 -    -    -    -    -    1
    Gary Scott (MO)                    -    -    -    -    -    1
    Jimmy Sills (CA)                   -    -    -    -    -    1
    Tommy Spriggle (PA)                -    -    -    -    -    1
    Greg Staab (OH)                    -    -    -    -    -    1
    Jeff Swindell (TN)                 -    -    -    -    -    1
    Sleepy Tripp (CA)                  -    -    -    -    -    1
    Don Weyhrich (NE)                  -    -    -    -    -    1

#17 Michael Ferner

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Posted 18 November 2014 - 13:57

Twenty Ways To Win A Championship (part 3): 1980


Most religious communities share a creation myth, a common belief in a genesis of the world usually handed down by prophets, and not a few secular societies have similar foundations. Therefore, it shouldn't surprise us to find that some racing organisations use the same concept to sort of deify their mere existence, to promote a purpose or to simply establish a need that had to be satisfied, somehow. Most (in)famous in this regard is the "moonshiner myth" of NASCAR, a somewhat far-fetched historical nonsense designed to appeal to the masses, in which it is quite successful. The World of Outlaws had their own creation myth from day one to help sell the product, which naturally embodied the renegade nature of the "outlaw" racing driver and his stance against the "controlled puppets of a sanctioning body", as a Jerry Clum article in the "Official World of Outlaws Annual" of 1978 put it. Also included was the figure of Ted Johnson, an "avid fan" and "close (friend) to the drivers", trying to help them establish a way to determine the "true King of the Outlaws" with "a system to organize racers without being organized" - trying to square the circle, or what?

However obvious the true motives must appear from today's point of view, one simply has to hand it to Ted Johnson for a pretty clever idea to woo the masses with a concept full of "Free Spirit vs. The Evil Organization" ideas, something which is traditionally and particularly appealing to the US consumer. And, to a degree, there's even a lot of truth to this creation myth: racers are a competitive bunch, by their nature, and it's only natural for them to want to compare their achievements, which was becoming more and more difficult with the proliferation of independent and open-comp events in the seventies - there is a good reason as to why point championships and racing often go hand in hand, as we have already observed: competitors, fans and press alike are all in general favour of the idea.

And so, with all of them lined up behind this Pied Piper, Johnson showed just how much it takes to transform a bunch of outlaws into controlled puppets, and bit by bit remodelled the organized system without organization into a bonafide sanctioning body: instead of awarding points at independently promoted and policed events on the one condition of a minimum purse for the winner alone, he now negotiated with the promoters to establish a schedule of non-clashing events, and a percentage for the points fund, with the inevitable result that some of these negotiations went for nought. Hardly noticeable at all in 1979, when the only major track to not come to terms with Johnson and the WoO was J. C. Agajanian's Ascot Park in Southern California, which held half a dozen races paying better than the WoO minimum, including the prestigious Pacific Coast Championships, but in 1980 the WoO schedule was missing such outlaw classics as the Western World Championships in Arizona and the Dirt Cup in Washington besides the Pacific Coast event, plus a number of newer and highly lucrative events from Lincoln Speedway in Pennsylvania over Jackson Speedway in Minnesota and Colorado National Speedway to Northern California's Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga. In fact, by winning all those extra-money events you could conceivably make just as much money as on the WoO trail - the seventies, revisited?

Not quite: Johnson had a decisive advantage, he had the momentum on his side! While USAC had struggled in the seventies to keep its reputation, the WoO was still gaining the same in leaps and bounds, creating business for its promoters and making money for the competitors. A promoter or track owner not coming to terms with Johnson's organization was taking his chances, and better pray that the WoO stars were not engaged somehwere else on the same date; a head-to-head was almost certain to end in tears for the "real outlaw", i.e. the independent event. Also, Johnson had an uncanny knack to identify the vital parts of the big jigsaw puzzle that represented Sprint Car racing as a whole, and to keep them happy: the Kinsers were just one of those pieces, and the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa another - the growth of the latter during the eighties is a prime example of synergy at work. Perhaps the best illustration of that effect is a comparison of today's respective standings of the Western World and Knoxville events, the two major "outlaw" races of the seventies, both approximately equal in prestige and monetary rewards during that time: this coming weekend, the 47th Western World Championships will pay $7,500 to the winner of its Sprint Car division, while the winner of the 54th Knoxville Nationals back in August took home over $150,000... twenty times as much!

Another thing, easily overlooked, is the fact that USAC was not yet "dead", and in fact paid out roughly the same in purses as WoO in 1978, and not much less the following year. It wasn't until 1980, when the war on two fronts finally caught up with USAC, that the Sprint Car division effectively collapsed into a purely regional series. By that time, Johnson and the WoO were ready to take over, just like CART had taken over on the National Championship level for Indycars. Finally, the links between the grass roots of Sprint Car racing and the big time at the (paved) speedways had been cut for good. USAC's balancing act of doing the splits to keep the tenuous link was over, and it had nearly ripped the organization apart. For the fans, competitors and promoters, the game continued after a thorough shuffle of the cards - faites vos jeux, mesdames et messieurs!

Edited by Michael Ferner, 18 November 2014 - 19:00.

#18 B Squared

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Posted 13 December 2014 - 14:00

Steve Kinser decides he isn't retiring after all... from the Indy Star: