Catching Up With…Doug Wolfgang!

Catching Up With…Doug Wolfgang!
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Catching Up With…. Doug Wolfgang

by Tony Veneziano - Winning was what Doug Wolfgang knew best when he was behind the wheel of a sprint car. The South Dakota native began racing in the early 1970’s and quickly established himself as a front runner. Wherever there was a high-paying event, he could be found battling for the win, in true Outlaw fashion, long before the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series was formed.

Wolfgang competed in a number of events during the inaugural 1978 Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series season, picking up three A-Feature wins along with way and finishing fourth in points. He finished in the Top-Five in points in each of the series first five seasons, including two runner-up showings in the standings, while still competing in number events each week all across the country in true Outlaw fashion.

The South Dakota native was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2003. He is also a member of the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame, the Iowa Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame and the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame. He won 107 A-Feature in his career with the World of Outlaws, which is four-best all-time. In addition to this, he won hundreds of other races from coast-to-coast, including over 50 races alone in 1985. Every year from 1976 through 1993 he won at least two races, and in most of those seasons, he had double digit wins.

Wolfgang won his first career Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series A-Feature at Skagit Speedway in Washington during the famed Dirt Cup in the series inaugural season of 1978. His last win with the series was at Big H Speedway in Texas in 1992. He won a career-best 20 A-Feature events with the series in 1981 and again in 1989. He won races in with the World of Outlaws in 15 different seasons.

Among the biggest wins of his career are: five triumphs in the Knoxville Nationals, three victories in the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway, two consecutive victories in the Dirt Cup at Skagit Speedway and a win at the Gold Cup Race of Champions in California. He also twice bested the field at the famed New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.

Thoughts on the first World of Outlaws event at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in 1978 and the formation of the series: “I didn’t really understand it at the time. I was not leery at all. At that time, they called ‘Outlaws’ racing any race that paid $2,000 to win. I was more interested in the $2,000 to win. Mostly what I was interested in was the better money. In reality that made all the competition be there. You had bragging rights, if nothing else, because it brought out all the best competition. You could win one of those races and win $2,000 and your bragging rights were pretty good for a day or two or a week until the next race.”

Thoughts on the biggest challenge for the World of Outlaws in 1978: “At that time, the races normally didn’t pay that kind of money and the promoters weren’t used to that. Most sprint car races paid $500 to win at that time, so the purse was two and three times as much. A lot of people thought it wouldn’t work, but it started to draw crowds and the crowds got bigger. It drew more competition with the best race drivers there. Because the best race drivers from all over were there on the same night, the crowds came out. It kind of spread like wildfire for a while.”

Thoughts on how colorful the drivers were in the early days of the series: “Everybody has there own niche and each personal character caused a different stir. I’m sure that each one of them probably drew a different fan to the track. I remember Chuck Amati having sequins in his uniform. He had kind of longer hair and he was “Cool.” He was different than some of the other guys and yet he was the same as them. He just had a different look to him. Jan Opperman in his early days had long hair and he was supposedly a “Hippie.” Then you had Sammy Swindell who beat all of those guys and would never say boo. He never said anything. He was just quiet. Steve Kinser came along and from what everyone could see he was not that much different than anyone, but he was just the fastest guy in the world and the best.”

Thoughts on the biggest difference between the World of Outlaws in 1978 and the World of Outlaws today: “Without a doubt money. It costs a fortune to have one of these cars now. Back then even at $2,000 to win, which wasn’t that much money, if you won enough races, you could make a living doing it. Even the owner could make some money if he was doing it right. If he paid attention and got a little help, and I don’t mean a million dollar a year sponsor, he would do all right. I guess all things have evolved like that, not just sprint car racing and not just racing, but sports in general have evolved to be big mega-money deals. That’s just the way it is. That’s the biggest difference today with the World of Outlaws, is that it’s a mega-money deal.”

Thoughts on winning: “I think a lot of people around me did set goals for wanting to win so many races. When I drove for Bob Weikert, he would always tell the fans, “We’ll come out and win 60 races this year,” and stuff like that, but I never thought of it that way. I know that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I was always one of those guys who thought if you talked about it too much, that it was like the kiss of death. I tried to not get too excited. I was excitable anyway, especially when I lost. I didn’t like to lose. I wanted to win every night, like all of the good drivers did. I took it more personal than a lot of people at that time. I would blame myself more than most people would. It’s easy to say that a tire caused me not to win or the motor didn’t run right or the mechanic didn’t have the car set up right. In my mind, I would take it all on myself and think, if I could just be a better driver, I could win. I drove myself nuts on occasion, but on occasion I won. I won several races, but I never said beforehand, that it would be a good year if I win 30 races or anything like that. Sometimes it’s a good year if you only win three or four. It depends what you do in the other races and how big the wins are and what you do with the second place finishes, thirds and fifths and how many times you are able to be consistent.”

Thoughts on the hundreds of wins in his career: “I liked racing a lot and I liked to win a lot. I liked winning with the World of Outlaws just as much as I enjoyed winning anywhere else. I had a lot of fun racing all of them. Of course you like to win the big ones and I won Knoxville five times, but the funny thing is that no one win sticks out in my mind. Many people would die to win the Knoxville Nationals once and I won it five times. I can’t remember winning the first one. It’s been so long ago and I was so focused at being the best I could be that I was thinking about other things. At that time, I was thinking I could be an Indy-Car driver or something like that, and I never paid too much attention to the whole deal as far as how historic it would be to my career winning the Knoxville Nationals. I never thought of it that way at that time. I was younger, 24 or 25 at the time. That’s a disappointment to me that I cannot remember that.”

Thoughts on his career and all of the success he had: “The day I got hurt at Kansas City in 1992, which virtually ended my career, though I came back to race a couple more years, is the first time I really thought about it. It never crossed my mind. I was just doing what I could do and doing the best that I could do and I never really thought, “Man you are good.” It’s been 15 or 16 years since that time and I am now 55 years old, and people come in here and kids come in here that are 25 years old and they say, Doug I can’t wait to be as good as you. I ask how many times a year do you race and they say 35. I say well if you won all 35 of them and you did for the next 12 years, you still haven’t won as many as I have, let alone started as many as I have. You can’t become as good as me. I don’t even understand how I did it. I just did it. All of those guys, Steve (Kinser) and Sammy (Swindell) and them are the same. They have lasted 16 years longer than me and it’s unfathomable to know how many races they have gone to. When you go to that many, you will win a few. I never really thought about being good until I was done and got into four or five of those Hall of Fames. That’s when I said, “Uh, you must have been good.” I never really thought of it until then.”

(Pictured): Doug Wolfgang (#29) battles Sammy Swindell at the 1985 Nationals