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See You At The Races!!!

Interrogation
by Gary "Hammerdown" Costa

Catching Up with Sprint Car Legend, Doug Wolfgang   

Costa: What have you been up to Wolf!
Wolfgang:
Iíve been building Sprint Cars, they are mostly 360ís. I cover mostly from Lincoln, Nebraska to Fargo, North Dakota. Itís a very small business, and my long time friend, Jack, helps me quite a bit too. I do most of the fabricating and welding. My son Robby is old enough to come out and help me too. We are very lucky, because our business goes good. We donít make a million dollars, but we stay busy every day.

Costa: Your ďWolfweldĒ chassisí have really gained some positive notoriety the last few years. Thatís got to be a satisfying feelingÖ  
Wolfgang:
Well, itís a lot of fun. One of these days Iím going to get a job, I just havenít had one yet! On the serious side, thatís all I ever wanted to do, was be a racer and Iím still a racer. I donít drive anymore, but for me, rather that get mad and go home, cry, and whine, I decided to start my own shop. Itís kept me in racing, and Iím still involved in it on a daily basis; just like I was when I was a race car driver.

Costa: Your son Robby garnered his first win earlier this year at Husets Speedway, what a feeling of joy you must have had!  
Wolfgang:
Well, it was amazing, but it was more amazing in a different way. Up until last summer, he grew up here from the time he was a kid, not going to the race track. He was born 6 weeks after I got burnt, so he didnít go to the race track. All along, heís never had the desire to be a race car driver. Heís just thought, Ďwell thatís a pain in the ass, because that keeps my dad from hanging out with me.í He was a very good motorcycle racer too. My wife and I liked the fact that he enjoyed racing motorcycles, because it was his own identity.

Costa: How do you handle his racing?  
Wolfgang:
The last race that I raced professionally, I was burnt real bad. You donít forget that. But if this is what he wants to do, itís up to him. It does make me nervous a little bit though. It would really make me more nervous if heís never raced before. Heís probably raced 400-500 Moto-X races, before stepping into a Sprint Car.

Costa: I would love to be a fly on the wall in regards to the advice that you give Robby. What do you tell him before he heads out on the track?  
Wolfgang:
One of the things that I tell him is that you canít win these races on the first corner. Even though theyíre Sprint Car races, and you have to stand on the gas. If youíre learning to drive and youíre continuously crashing it out of the ballpark in the first corner, you wonít have anything left! The race isnít won until the last lap. I continue to tell him, donít try to do too much, just do what you feel comfortable with. It will comeÖ it might not come as fast as what you want it too, but it will come.

Costa: Why did you choose to race Sprint Cars?  
Wolfgang:
Heck, I weighed 150-pounds! I donít think I could even hit the baseball out of the infield, and I sure as hell wasnít fast, so I wasnít going to be a running back! It was pretty easy for me to see, that my best bet was to be a race driver. I never worried about the driving, I was just afraid that I wasnít going to make it.

Costa: If things would have turned out differently, do you think that you would still be competitive?  
Wolfgang:
I donít know, Iím pretty old now! Iím 56, so I donít know that. One thing I had going for me when I got hurt, was that I was in pretty good physical condition. I was just about 40, when I got hurt. When you get about 50, your body starts changing. Right now, I know that I couldnít race properly, but I went through a crash that changed my body too. I might feel good if I didnít get hurt, but weíll never know.

Costa: With that being said, do you ever miss getting out there and mixing it up?  
Wolfgang:
Yeah, I sure do. Everybody that quits driving because theyíve got hurt, or quits on their own terms, wants to race no matter what they say. I was like Steve Kinser; all I wanted to do is race. After I got burnt of course, I was thankful to be alive, but after a few weeks after the crash, I knew that I was never going to be ĎDoug Wolfgang the racerí anymoreÖthat much was easy to see. I knew that was over. You always here people say, Ďyou need to take care of that bodyí. Well Iíll tell you, the body is one tough son-of-a-gun. It heals itself, and then life goes on, and youíre alright. The first 2 to 3 years that I was done racing, I was miserable because the only thing that Iíve ever done, was go to the race track. And worse than that, I got pretty good at the end, where you would have people patting you on the ass, and telling you about how great you are. We all like that.

Costa: What does it mean to you to be noted as one of ďthe Big 3Ē of Sprint Car racing?  
Wolfgang:
The only thing that it tells me, is that I came along at the right time. There have been several race car drivers that have raced, and are real good. In my opinion, Donny Schatz is good as there ever was, but he still hasnít gotten the notoriety as one of the ĎBig 3í. I think Steve, Sammy, and myself, came along at a time, when the popularity of Sprint Car racing soared to unbelievable heights. Right now at the moment, itís entirely different. The newness of winged Sprint Car racing has worn off a little bit in some ways. It doesnít get the notoriety that it did in the í80s for example. Iíve also noticed that the older that I get, and the longer that Iíve been away from racing, the greater that Iíve become. The media people write things about the ĎBig 3í, or on me, which sounds so good, that I canít even believe that I was that great!

Costa: Letís take a step back in time to 1985. What an incredible seasonÖ  
Wolfgang:
Well, there were guys that have won lots of races in a year too. In defense of them, there werenít magazine racks, so nobody knew about it. One thing that I do remember about that year is the 17 race win streak that we had. In that streak we won the Kings Royal, the Knoxville Nationals, the Sharon Nationals, the Jackson Nationals, and some real big races in those days. To me, that is more unbelievable than the 55 main event win season.

Costa: If we were sitting in your shop on a cold South Dakota afternoon, and I pulled out a sheet that listed all of your wins and gave it to you, which wins would stand out to you and why?  
Wolfgang:
Probably none of them, because I donít remember that many wins. I wanted to train myself to be able to win, and I expected myself to be able to close the deal. Thatís the difference of being good, and just being there. If you have 10 touchdowns in he first 3-quarters of the game, and you get beat in the end, youíre a slug. If you canít close the deal, it isnít any fun! It isnít so much the ones that Iíve won that I remember, but I can remember losing several races like it was yesterday. People always ask me about winning the Knoxville Nationals, and I canít even remember winning it for the first time. Most people would give their left arm to win the Knoxville Nationals; it would be everything to them! But I canít even remember winning the first one.

Costa: You mentioned that you can remember the races that you lost like it was yesterday, care to share one?  
Wolfgang:
The following Wednesday after the Knoxville Nationals, there was a race in Granite City, Illinois. It was a year before the World of Outlaws was formed. It was also the same day that Elvis Presley died. Well, we went to the track, and I led 39-3/4 laps. Joe Saldana passed me coming off of turn-4 on the outside of me. When he went by me, I can remember it like it was yesterday! I remember reading the ďHalibrandĒ, which was printed on the left front wing panel! It just drove me nuts! That year I won 45 main events, and I got beat on the last lap 4 times, and I can remember every one of them!

Costa: What races have you won, on your unwavering determination?  
Wolfgang:
There was so many that I won like that, and thereís also a lot that I lost like that too. I get guys that call me and tell me how different it is to race now, then when I raced, it isnít just one guy winning. I tell them all the time that I know exactly what they are talking about. They say, Ďyou really understand?í Hell, I lined up every night of the week against a 25-year-old Steve Kinser and a 24-year-old Sammy Swindell, and those guys still breathe fire every night!

Costa: Did you think that Steve and Sammy were going to be good when they were coming up?  
Wolfgang:
They were different racers, and they both are as good as they come. When I was first started driving, this is even before I got in Bob Trostleís car; I already knew that Sammy was going to be the competition. The first year that I won the Knoxville Nationals, I saw Steve run 2 or 3 times, and there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to be good, and he ended up being the best ever.

Costa: In those early days, you faced some really tough competitors...  
Wolfgang
: Oh yeah! Danny Smith was real good, and heís the nicest guy that youíd ever want to meet. Ronnie Shuman and Lealand McSpadden were tough. Lealand was braver than Dick Tracy. Lealand had so much speed, that if he didnít get it out of the ballpark, he was going to whip your butt! Of course, at that time too, there was Bobby Allen, Steve Smith, Sr., and Lynn Paxton. Bobby Marshall out of Texas was good. Randy Smith from Iowa and John Stevenson, from Minneapolis were tough. Then you had Rick Ferkel and Fred Linder from Ohio. You can see that these guys were going to be fast, and they all were.

Costa: One thing that all of those guys had in common was the desire and passion, that they were going to be great race car driversÖ  
Wolfgang:
You can be short, fat, skinny and tough, and I donít think none of that really matters, unless youíve got desire and passion. Sammy was a little boy when he first showed up, and he had the desire to go to the front like no other. Steve, (Kinser) was definitely no bull of a man when he first showed up, he was just a kid. Lynn Paxton and Rick Ferkel was pretty good size, but Jac HaudenschildÖ. he didnít weigh 120 pounds! The first time I saw Jac race, he ran 2nd to Ferkel in a 50-lap race at Eldora, and he couldnít get himself out of the car after the race, but he still hung on to run 2nd! You knew he was going to be good. He had the desire that it takes to be good.

Costa: What are some of the changes that you see from the drivers in the early days versus today?  
Wolfgang:
(deep sigh) I sympathize with these guys today. When I first raced, money was never was an equation. We never thought about how far the race track was. Itís hard to really understand the difference of how totally different it is, unless youíre a guy like Steve or Sammy, or a one of those guys that are still out there doing it from the earlier days. I couldnít imagine trying to keep up with their expenses at the moment. I have the utmost sympathy for these young guys. I donít know if these kids can make it on just peer talent anymore. We never had a thought about money. The money issue wasnít a big deal, we didnít have to think, Ďdo I need to bring a bunch of money, to even be able to sit in this car?í

I won the first $10,000 to win World of Outlaws race back in Illinois. To me that was just a bragging point. The $10,000 didnít mean shit. It was just a number to brag about. Instead of it being $400 to win, it was $10,000. Just like when I won the Kings Royal, it wasnít about the money. The first time I won Knoxville, it wasnít about the money, it was about being able to win the race. Now, everything is money oriented.

Costa: You strived to be the best Sprint Car driver in the country, where did your incredible drive come from?  
Wolfgang:
My drive came from being scared to death that I was going to go broke, and have to go home and work in the packing plant. I had to do something on the weekend because I couldnít make my house payment, or feed my kids if I didnít win races. This wasnít no $18.9 million dollar a year contract. But you know for me, money never mattered. It was kind of in the way to be honest. But I had to perform, to keep from get fired or whatever.

Costa: You were inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, 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. Your thoughtsÖ  
Wolfgang:
Itís just amazing isnít it?  I was just different from all the other kids around me. All I wanted to be was a race car driver. The amazement and luck is that, I got to be good enough to be in all of those Hall of Fames. Itís unbelievable; I canít believe it to this day! I was so scared to pat myself on the back, when I was racing, because I thought that was the kiss of death. I felt that if you thought you were good, youíd lose 15 in a row.

Costa: Doug, you donít give yourself enough credit. At some point, youíve got to realize that youíre one of the best Sprint Car drivers everÖ  
Wolfgang:
Well, I didnít at the time. Even the moment that I got hurt, I didnít realize it. What I didnít know at the time was that I was at the prime of my career. You could have parachuted me into a race track, and I probably could have run in the top-3 at any race in the country. But I worked hard at my craft, and learned every race track that I went to, day in and day out. I thought that I put in the effort to be alright; and I was alright. I was just a racer, and I was just trying to do the best I could.

Costa: Toughness is measured on many different levels, but I donít think that Iím going out on a limb when I say that your wife, Jeri, has to one of the toughest women on earth, to put up with all of racingís curves...  
Wolfgang:
(laughs) Sheís a hot olí broad, Iíll tell you that! Sheís pretty rugged! Iíll share a funny story with you. Not too long ago we were getting ready to go somewhere one night, and I said a smart remark to her. And at the time, she was combing out her hair. After I made my remark, she never even missed a stroke on the comb; I mean she never even flinched! She went on to say, Ďwell, I donít suppose that youíve looked at yourself in the mirror for the last 16 years now have you?í Sheís pretty rugged!

(Doug and I are laughing real hard!)

Costa: Hereís your chance to say anything that you would like to all of the racing fans out there. The floor is all yours champÖ  
Wolfgang:
Obviously, the fans mean everything to me. When you first start out racing, youíre racing for yourself. Then all of a sudden, you get to be OK at it, to where you realize that youíre drawing fans into the race track. When I realized that, I felt that it was my duty to treat people the way that I wanted to be treated. One of the first race car drivers that I met, was, Johnny Rutherford. He treated me like a real human being, and Iíve never forgotten that. On the other hand, Iíve met several race car drivers that were too busy, too mad, or whatever it was, to give me the time of day. I know that I was like that a few times too. But I didnít want to be like that. I love the fans, and they are a big part of who I am today, and I canít thank them enough for being part of my life.

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