TULSA, Okla. — All week long, fans walking through the center aisle of the Tulsa Expo Raceway pit area have stopped to marvel at Justin Allgaier’s Team Ripper Racing midget.
The red, white and blue No. 1a is dressed in a unique livery regarded by many as one of the best-appearing cars in the building. The unique paint scheme honors legendary stuntman Evel Knievel.
Crew chief Flea Ruzic’s inspiration to bring the design to life came from one of Knievel’s iconic motorcycles that was owned at one time by his longtime friend and business partner, Team Ripper owner Steve Reynolds.
“When I met Steve, he had a motorcycle collection that was very extensive and one of the bikes in his collection was an Evil Knievel bike,” recalled Ruzic. “It was the wheelie bike, if I remember correctly, that he had at the Wembley Stadium jump (in 1975). Steve ended up with it and restored it, and it hung on the wall in the museum there at the race shop.
“The motorcycles were something that Steve and his son had worked on together and there was a collection of 34 or 35 motorcycles … but when his son passed away, Steve lost interest in them and we ended up finding a buyer who bought all the bikes,” Ruzic added. “But that Knievel bike is the one that inspired the paint scheme we’re running this week and we’ve gotten a ton of great reaction from it.”
Ruzic said the choice to throw back to Knievel’s colors was both about honoring Reynolds’ connection with his late son, as well as paying homage to an important part of his and Reynolds’ youth.
“Our generation, we all grew up with Evil Knievel stuff, so that bike actually meant something to someone like me or someone like Steve,” Ruzic said. “It had a history with Steve because he was an owner of such an iconic piece, but it meant something to a lot of us as humans, too. When we were kids, the only entertainment we had (on television) was (ABC’s) Wide World of Sports. We’d turn it on in the ’70s and the early ’80s and we’d watch it to see Evel jump something or crash trying, you know?
“On top of it just being a cool theme, it was something that meant a lot to Steve and myself also.”
Allgaier, who will attempt to make the Chili Bowl finale for the second straight year and fifth time overall, is equally eager to drive the car and has gone all out to play a part in the theme.
In addition to wearing a helmet similar to the original helmet that accompanied the Wembley Stadium bike from Reynolds’ motorcycle collection, Allgaier also had an Evel Knievel-inspired jacket and Knievel’s personal walking stick – on loan from the Evel Knievel Museum – on Sunday during load-in at the River Spirit Expo Center to complete the look.
“If you’re anywhere within our generation, even as recently as when Travis Pastrana replicated Evel’s jumps and threw back to what Evel had accomplished in his career, you can’t not be a fan of Evel Knievel and what he did for the entertainment industry,” Allgaier said. “This car … the red, white and blue and just the atmosphere that Evel brought to his events is what we try to bring to the race track with this group. The passion, the excitement and the adrenaline really embodies what we do as a profession.
“When Flea and I talked about this car coming fruition, I was nervous because when it’s all said and done, it’s a great concept but sometimes the best intentions don’t come out on a race car like you want them to,” Allgaier added. “But it came out so much better than I had imagined. The quality and craftsmanship of this race car is second to none.”
While Allgaier, last season’s NASCAR Xfinity Series championship runner-up with JR Motorsports, only runs in one midget race each year, he still believes he can mix it up with the best of the best.
“I’m excited about this Chili Bowl. Flea and I get along great, first and foremost, and he builds such a nice piece of equipment and machinery that if everything works in your favor, you have as good a shot as anybody to go out there and have a good Saturday,” said Allgaier. “There are a lot of things that have to happen tomorrow and Friday leading up to Saturday for that to happen, but I really believe strongly that we have a car that’s capable of going out there and competing at a high level.”
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