MAGAZINE: Doug Wolfgang: ‘I Was OK’

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    Doug Wolfgang at the wheel during the 1980 racing season. (Paul Arch Photo)

    Editor’s Note: Legendary sprint car racer Doug Wolfgang enjoyed a Hall of Fame racing career. Wolfgang reflected on his life in racing during an interview with Dave Argabright, which appeared in the August issue of SPEED SPORT Magazine. Here’s an excerpt from that story.

    Doug Wolfgang at the wheel during the 1980 racing season. (Paul Arch Photo)
    Doug Wolfgang at the wheel during the 1980 racing season. (Paul Arch Photo)

    At the end of the 1977 season, Doug Wolfgang left Bob Trostle to drive the famed No. 4x Speedway Motors car owned by “Speedy” Bill Smith. The pairing won the 1978 Nationals and Wolfgang admits he has more memories of the event itself.

    “Actually, the only reason I went to drive for ‘Speedy’ Bill was that I figured it could get me to Indy,” he said. “That was our deal, but it never happened. We both wanted it to but it didn’t work out, that’s just the way it was.”

    In due course Wolfgang gradually came to accept that his racing destiny would not progress through Indianapolis, but places such as Knoxville, Williams Grove, Eldora and Syracuse. His career carried him literally all across the nation, but each August his path led back to the storied dark-gumbo surface at Knoxville Raceway.

    In 1984, Wolfgang returned to Knoxville with Pennsylvania car owner Bob Weikert and mechanics Davey Brown and Davey Brown Jr. The team was just hitting its stride, with Wolfgang joining the team just weeks earlier. They captured the 1984 Nationals title and backed it up with another triumph the following year.

    Wolfgang’s tenure with Weikert was nothing short of sensational. In the course of 42 months together they won 130 races, including a phenomenal 53 in a 1985 season that was highlighted by a streak of 17 consecutive wins — a stretch that included the Knoxville Nationals.

    In 1989, Wolfgang enjoyed another dream season in the No. 8d car owned by Memphis native Danny Peace and wrenched by Gary “Deuce” Turrill and Robert Hubbard. Together they captured 43 victories and more than $500,000 in winnings, including Wolfgang’s fifth Knoxville Nationals triumph.

    Wolfgang’s stellar career essentially ended with a devastating crash and fire at Kansas City’s Lakeside Speedway in April 1992. Although he later managed to race and win, the Wolfgang magic of the previous years had vanished. Another serious injury in 1997 brought his remarkable career to a conclusion.

    That was nearly 20 years ago, but the Wolfgang mystique is as strong as ever, especially at Knoxville. People there still buzz with excitement as they recall his exploits, particularly at the Nationals. On two occasions he raced from deep in a preliminary feature to make his way into the final event, passing literally dozens of cars in the process.

    When Wolfgang arrived as a Knoxville regular in the mid-1970s, the track was in the midst of a generational transition. More than one local observer has noted that Wolfgang played a key role in attracting a new generation of fans to the great oval, and credits with him playing a role in the track’s tremendous growth and rise to international prominence in the 1980s.

    Wolfgang, in his typical self-deprecating style, will have none of it. He says he was simply a lucky kid from South Dakota who, as he puts it, was “all right” at driving a race car.

    “I have boxes of pictures and stuff from those days, but I don’t think much about it,” he said. “I think what I did as a race car driver, I’m proud of it and I think I was OK, but I’m a little uneasy when people say something to me about being a legend. That makes me a little bit uncomfortable. Proud, but uncomfortable. I’m as big a hillbilly as anybody who ever raced, nothing special and nothing more than that. I won my share and that’s about all there was to it.”

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    Dave Argabright
    Dave Argabright has been a feature writer specializing in motorsports and automobiles since 1980. His work has been featured in a number of motorsports magazines, including SPEED SPORT Magazine.