The year was 1980. Georgia peanut farmer Jimmy Carter was President. The Wall by Pink Floyd ruled the radio. The Empire Strikes Back was box office gold. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were champions of football and baseball while Philly basketball and hockey topped all but Los Angeles and Long Island. U.S hostages heard the Super Bowl during an Iranian crisis that stretched 444 days as Walter Cronkite of CBS reminded each evening. June of 1980 was when CBS, ABC and NBC were joined by the Cable News Network (CNN) and 24-hour media began. At the November polls, Carter was clobbered by Ronald Reagan, ex-IMCA Sprint Car announcer from Iowa.
Indiana’s Steve Kinser was crowned “King of the Outlaws” for the third time in three years. Steve’s stats were staggering: 32 wins in 89 World of Outlaws events. He was the only man to maintain perfect attendance but needed three teams to race all 95 nights. Nineteen drivers divided victory honors and another five beat half of everyone at Knoxville Nationals, Devil’s Bowl and Chico’s first Gold Cup after West Capital closed forever on May 31, 1980. Sixteen of those legends are enshrined in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.
November 27, 1979 St. Louis, MO: The third World of Outlaws season truly began with Ted Johnson’s first promoter conference. Signing into the Holiday Inn Northwest were Earl Baltes (Eldora), Glenn Donnelly (Syracuse), Lanny Edwards (Devil’s Bowl), Ben Foote (Ascot), Jack Gunn (Williams Grove), Jim Halbeisen (Butler), Keith Hall (Manzanita), Dale Hassler (Capitol), Roger Hughes (Haubstadt), Don Martin (Lernerville), Ed McDonald (Big H), Jimmy Mingo (East Bay), Dean Miracle (Lima), John Padjen (Chico), Harry Redkey (Paragon), Gil Rimel (Tri-City) and Hayward Western of Jackson (TN) Fairgrounds. Ted pledged 100 bucks at each race to each of his Top Ten in points. Johnson also announced that four races from The Bowl, Eldora, Knoxville and Syracuse would be taped for NBC Sportsworld. Live TV was still a dream.
The 1980 World of Outlaws opener brought one hundred wingless sprint cars to South Tampa’s East Bay Raceway for its fourth annual four-night Winter Nationals that followed 28 years of IMCA on the old Florida State Fairground. Thirty percent of the 1980 Outlaw schedule would go without wings. Sammy Swindell’s Federal Express Stanton won the first and third features before Doug Wolfgang’s Speedway Motors Singer took second and final legs. The Wolf stayed to sweep unsanctioned features at the new state fair off I-4. Top Ten in points exiting Tampa was Doug, Sammy, Steve, Shane Carson, Rickey Hood, Danny Smith, Tim Green, Chuck Amati, Don Mack and Iowa’s Randy Smith.
February 22, 1980 Lake Placid, NY: Team USA beat Russia’s hockey team in the Winter Olympics. America would then boycott the Summer Olympics because Russia invaded Afghanistan.
Carson and Green invaded Ascot Park for another Winter Nationals that needed three weeks. Shane drove for promoter J.C Agajanian, while Tim teamed with Ken Woodruff on the same Jensen Construction 55 that authored Tim’s rookie campaign for the ages. Jensen had to bail on Ascot so that Green could win the Outlaw opener at Big H Motor Speedway in Houston, TX. The 50-lap final marked the first series triumph by Danny Smith and C.K Spurlock’s creation called a “Full House Sprint Car” by Gambler Chassis Company, soon shortened to Gambler. It was the first car to carry Kenny Rogers on its hood. Mark Todd wrenched Smith to 3k and second in points pursued by Sammy, Carson, Green, Mack (who lost Big H to last lap flat), Hood, Ohio’s Johnny Beaber, Kinser and New York native Lee Osborne. Carson flew back to Ascot and fifth-place after 50 laps taken by Ron Shuman, who raced for Gary Stanton in Houston and Don Kazarian in SoCal.
Wolfgang swept Devil’s Bowl as Green, Mack, Hood and Kinser kicked Carson to eighth in points. Lee James joined Top Ten in tow money. Houston was wingless. Dallas used wings one week then went without. Sammy swept both of his wingless features at The Bowl and became second in points over Danny, Green, Steve, Mack, Carson, Oz, James and Ferkel. Spurlock’s entire rig was stolen in Dallas after Wolfgang was robbed in Tampa and Houston. Ted briefly hired security guards to monitor motel lots.
A lesser form of theft were track promoters who exploited gaps in Ted Johnson’s calendar by tossing out one four-figure check to lure “his” guys like children to an ice cream truck. One example was Buffalo Park in Carrollton, Texas where wings after The Bowl found Ferkel edging Kinser out of 1200 bucks.
Freedom to come and go and “Run What You Brung” was an early appeal about The Outlaw mystique. In two short years, Johnson forever shaped the landscape of international sprint car racing. USAC felt so threatened that an emergency meeting was called after its season opener was lost to lack of participants. Club loyalist Duke Cook (he sold Willie Nelson on furnishing a Nance that Cook scattered all over New Bremen’s backstretch in 1979 Outlaw carnage) told his handlers that The Outlaws were kicking their ass at backgate and turnstile because Ted allowed everyone and everything. USAC spent another year clinging to 305 engines when PA Posse packed 500 cubic inches. March ended when Ferkel and James took 406 guns into Central PA for four races reduced to one Grove opener in which Rick ran second to Lynn Paxton.
April Fools Day 1980 brought the United States Census that credited 226 million residents. A couple thousand filled front and backstretch bleachers at Riverside International Speedway to see Ferkel and Green split West Memphis main events. Sammy was second both nights to surge to the point lead over Doug, Green, Danny, Steve, Mack, Oz, James, Bobby Marshall and Ferkel.
Week Six brought Steve’s wingless sweep of Tri-City Speedway. On its second night, Steve led Larry Gates one month before Larry out-qualified Outlaws there to crack October’s rich Busch Bash. Kinser was uncanny on that flat half-mile along the Mississippi River: 27 wins in 54 starts. World of Outlaws left St. Louis on Saturday night for Sunday afternoon at Eldora. After towing 350 miles, weary mechanics had to hoist wings. FedEx exhausted all to extend point lead over Green, Steve, Doug, Danny, Mack (second at Eldora), Oz, James, Ferkel, and Carson even though Shane skipped Riverside to ravage Sedalia.
Outlaws being booked into Kansas City on Friday, Thursday in Topeka offered a thousand dollars eaten by The Wolf over Green and James. Green netted the real 2k from Lakeside. Both shows wore wings. Two nights in Knoxville opened without wings then closed with them. Kinser won either way. Sunday NBC-TV upped Steve a grand as he assumed a point lead he did not relinquish.
April 21 saw unheralded Rosie Ruiz win the Boston Marathon. Except she didn’t. Ruiz was tripped by the rule that forbids runners from using subway trains to complete the 26.2 miles.
April 26 had Danny Smith snare the wingless Paragon opener then be rained out at Eldora after Sammy went 101.23 MPH. Laverne Nance of Wichita, Kansas brought hometown boy Mike Peters to the Baltes banks after sixth at Tri-City. Outlaw returned for Saturday night/Sunday afternoon sweep by “them Kinsers” and near-deaf Paul Elrod. Mack moved Wolfgang to fifth in points.
May 1, 1980 brought the first viable alternative to the World of Outlaws when the Midwest Outlaw Super Series began. In a year’s time, MOSS became the All Star Circuit of Champions. MOSS offered 1500 to win when the Outlaw standard was still 2000. Businessmen like Bobby Allen, Ferkel, Smith and Hewitt spliced both schedules to finish among Top Nine in two clubs by autumn when Allen earned $10,000 as 1980 MOSS champ. Wolfgang arrived at Atomic MOSS opener aboard Bob Trostle 20.
May 9, 1980 was the horrible Sunshine Skyway Bridge breach that doomed 35 people into Tampa Bay just across from East Bay Raceway. Great Lake State brought Outlaws to Michigan for Lee Osborne’s first series success. Oz repeated at Paragon to leap to third in points in a car of his Indiana design. The King sailed out of Butler, spun leading Paragon then parked Stanton for trusty Mitchell that showed the way around Tri-State Speedway where Steve was 1978 champ in his spare time. Second at Haubstadt was Dick Gaines, the ‘76 Knoxville Nationals winner who Kinser replaced.
May 11, 1980 arrested Henry Hill for cocaine trafficking to spark a Mafia confessional book that birthed Goodfellas. After getting pistol-whipped by the PA Posse in the summer of ‘79, Ted’s troops were cocked and locked in spring of 1980. Eastern swing opened with Wolfgang landing Lernerville, Swindell sweeping Williams Grove and Lincoln (Sammy had never won in PA) and Kinser first in Grandview’s series debut. Outlaws did suffer one Selinsgrove defeat to the Harry Kuhn Lloyd chassis guided by Kramer Williamson. Points showed Steve, Sammy, Green, Oz, Mack, Doug, James, Danny, Ferkel and Peters.
Kinser swept Saturday night at Eldora with wings and Sunday afternoon at New Bremen without. Sammy was second each way. Oz moved to third in points. May 25 at Eldora marked Don Mack’s retirement. Three nights later at Tri-City, Doug Howells chose Wolfgang to replace his Fargo potato farmer. Doug and Doug promptly swept Knoxville when wings enabled Wolfgang to lower the track record to 18.53 or 100.05 MPH. Points placed Steve ahead of Sammy, Oz, Doug, James, Green and Danny, who broke his jaw at Granite City when Kinser also crashed hard enough to finish the show in Stepter Deuce.
Between official dates in Iowa and Colorado, Nebraska’s Midwest Speedway staged a winged Sunday when Kinser copped $1000 over James and Trostle teammates Wolfgang and Johnny Anderson. Two days later, Nebraska tornadoes killed five, injured 250 and did 300 million in damage.
California commenced with Kinser sweeping Silver Dollar decisions worth a combined $5240. It was called Mini Gold Cup though that term was shelved for seven years. Outlaws dropped south into California Racing Association surf and turf. After local hero Dean Thompson topped an Ascot prelim ($600) Kinser and Wolfgang proved superior in Gardena and Chula Vista near Tijuana. Steve’s first Ascot victory came from row six. Carson and Agajanian earned third-place during Debi and Shane’s honeymoon. Carsons remain married after 40 years.
East to Phoenix, two Manzanita nights were split by Oz and Sam, who put a straightaway on locals Larry Clark and Al Unser Jr. Points remained Steve, Sammy, Doug, Oz, James and Green. Steve was chasing Sammy around Manzy’s rim when a wheel broke and junked Karl Kinser’s last Mitchell. He headed across town to Stanton Race Products to assemble another that triumphed in Texas just as soon as it unloaded. Open trailers were still the norm though FedEx was enclosed.
June 23, 1980 began one of America’s worst heat waves. June 25 brought Outlaws into the furnace of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas for Southwestern Summer Sprint Series later named Sagebrush Swing. With no wings, Steve speared Houston and Lawton where thermometers read 117. Sammy scored three of six in Mesquite and Wichita. Ohio’s Rick Ungar bagged his Bowl prelim for M.A Brown, another Hall of Fame name. Wings were used in Wichita and series debut in Oklahoma City, where the son of promoter Bud Carson attracted 4600 folks to watch Wolfgang defeat Bobby Allen. Point standings remained Steve, Sammy (who borrowed brother’s Stanton in OKC), Doug, Oz, James, Green, Danny, Mack, Peters and Shuman, who ruled Sagebrush Swing of ‘79 when it held no sanction.
Fourth of July had Mansfield rained out before Steve won Eldora with wings and New Bremen without. Tim Green skipped Ohio to win in Iowa, rejoined the tour by topping Tri-City then skipped Chicago and Indiana to win in Sedalia. Lee James enjoyed Chicago Santa Fe over Danny Smith’s return to solid food. Outlaws raced three times in 24 hours by sandwiching Paragon (no wings) with blistering winged afternoons at Terre Haute. Karl Kinser dropped from heat stroke. Ferkel and Allen were added Sunday after they lost Portsmouth and Pennsboro MOSS meets to tornado and bleacher fire. Pennsboro offered 5k. Terre Haute Action Track handed 3k to Rickey Hood for his first Outlaw victory. Hood then hustled a hundred miles to Haubstadt so that Jerry Rone could strip wings and win again during Rick’s 20-win campaign for Corsi Cabinets off I-465 in Indianapolis.
Third time proved profitable for Earl Baltes at Mansfield, where Wolfgang won on the eve of the second eastern swing. Ferkel’s first Outlaw win of 1980 came at Lernerville. Humbled two months earlier, PA Posse was poised as Smokey Snellbaker picked off Penn National prior to Paxton wins at Selinsgrove, Weedsport and Rolling Wheels in Boop’s Aluminum Lloyd powered by Davey Brown, another Hall of Fame name. Kinser managed one Lincoln win. Sammy lost his last engine at Lincoln and skipped six races. Allen stomped MOSS at Tri-City (PA) then pulled 260 miles overnight to The Wheels, where The Outlaws were joined by Arizona’s Jerry Miller in Metro Coin Stanton adorned in Corky’s Trick Paint.
Green and Woodruff were back for eastern swing when Tim grabbed Grandview over Mary’s second son Scott Tobias. Steve traded a trophy for a cigarette at Hagerstown, where Van May locked into Busch Bash. The Grove ground Outlaws to paste when “Philly Billy” Stief (Dyer Masonry 461) and “The Man From Mifflintown” Keith Kauffman (Weikert Livestock 29) split Summer Nationals. Bob Weikert had shipped Paul Pitzer to Outlaw shindigs with no first prize. Allen did one night at The Grove then punted for Atomic MOSS as did Osborne, Ferkel and Smith on their fall to 6-7-8 in points.
Ted gave his group one idle weekend to prepare for what is now known as The Month of Money. During this break before Eldora and Knoxville Nationals, Swindell brothers swept Riverside, Tim Green won at Knoxville, Danny Smith beat MOSS at Portsmouth and Orrville, Allen lifted Latrobe, and Mike Peters returned to Tulsa Fairgrounds (0.665) to win with 100-inch super. Whenever asked to reduce his schedule, Johnson pointed out how his guys raced anyway for less money.
Eldora Nationals made everyone race every night though the first fell to rain. Wolfgang and Swindell shared $1200 wins then Steve took Six Grand. Shuman climbed D-to-C-to-B-to-A. After a day to return to wingless settings, Kinser added Jayhawk National then headed for Nationals only to suffer Wednesday wreckage. To the rescue came Bob Trostle with a spare car. Karl Kinser inserted his Gaerte Engine and Steve steered to his first of 12 Knoxville rings. Steve was assisted by fog that pushed the final to Sunday afternoon and rendered track champ Mike Brooks impotent after Wednesday’s first 500-point perfection. Thursday winner Swindell argued with the Jeffrey brothers and vacated the second row never to race for Federal Express again.
As fog rolled over Nationals, Allen was fourth in Sedalia then spent Sunday night at Iowa State Fair with Wolfgang and Ferkel, who also missed the Nationals final then crossed first and second in Des Moines with wings. Sunday’s postponement made Joe Saldana ineligible because USAC was scheduled at Winchester. But when Winchester rained out, Joe was permitted to run the Nationals that first lifted him to prominence in 1970. Such idiocy was what Duke Cook railed about. Kinser notched Knoxville over Marshall, Tom Corbin, Green and Oz.
The first post-Nationals race revealed Wolfgang leading 39 laps around tiny Springfield before The King beat The Wolf low off its final corner. Doug sulked in his van after that bitter defeat. Local stock car star Ken Schrader was a surprise winner of the wingless Tri-City opener before Wolfgang returned to form with air foils. FedEx finished fourth with Shuman in the saddle. Points were Steve, Doug, James, Green, Sammy, Oz, Ferkel, Danny and Allen, who avoided St. Louis to win at Lernerville and St. Clairsville then rejoined Outlaws in Michigan. August 28-29 observed Ferkel first over MOSS at Orrville and Outlaws at Mansfield in front of Wolfgang and Kinser each time. August 30-31 watched Wolfgang win Eldora before Kinser captured New Bremen. Sammy arrived in Ohio as the new shoe for Nance Speed Equipment and immediately led 72 of 80 circuits only to lose three times. James bypassed Mansfield and Eldora to chase Hood at Lincoln Park and Paragon 150 in which Allen scored second. Bremen’s first wings resulted in Allen’s automatic track record of 102.73 MPH. Points were Steve, Doug, James, Green, Sammy, Oz, Ferkel, Danny and Allen.
September 3, 1980 in Little Rock made Bobby Allen an Outlaw winner for the first time in 14 months. But the ultimate independent guessed wrong on the weather by towing into the teeth of Tropical Storm Danielle. Back on dry land, Danny and Oz were 1-2 in Lawrenceburg MOSS then met Bob in Texas where Kinser copped Big H honors delayed five days. Little Rock’s Benton Speedbowl (I-30) came one lap short of Jeff Swindell’s first series success. Sammy’s kid brother followed second in Houston and first in Dallas prelim. Big brother swept The Bowl before eventual brother-in-law Terry Gray enjoyed his only Outlaw checkered at West Memphis in FedEx Stanton.
Week 27 of 32 began when Kinser hammered the high side of Missouri’s Capitol Speedway near Jefferson City. Green grabbed Knoxville. Danny Smith and Steve split Springfield mile accolades when Edd French of Texas and Vern Church of Washington were second and fifth. Kauffman climbed from Ben Cook chassis second to Allen Klinger in the Williams Grove National Open to fly to Illinois to chase The King for 25 miles with big block Trevis. Billy Marshall and Swofford Electric earned second at Devil’s Bowl and Knoxville when Kinser lowered the record to 18.69. Steve also averaged 126.13 MPH to erase Snellbaker’s Syracuse world record. Later that night, Steve and Danny finished first and second at Little Springfield.
The most insane trip of the 1980 World of Outlaws calendar interrupted Illinois for a 4000-mile detour to the Gold Cup, where Wayne Sue (Richard Lovell 71) and Johnny Anderson (DuWayne Starr 18) split prelims before Anderson bagged Five Grand. Karl Kinser thought better. He dropped Steve at an airport bound for Gary Stanton then hired Osborne to open Springfield. Steve’s return flight netted third-place. Outlaw points were Steve, Doug, James, Green and Sammy and Oz. Green stayed home in NorCal to be second at Watsonville for Joel McCray.
Kauffman clocked fastest at Syracuse at 121.5 MPH but Steve used 406 cubic inches to gross 13k. On the other side of the New York State Fairgrounds, modified stock car racing was forever altered by the machine driven by Gary Balough built by Kenny Weld, first four-time winner of Knoxville Nationals. Six guys tried 63 miles in sprint and 125 in a modified: Kramer Williamson (Trostle 20), Jimmy Horton, Dave Kelly, Ed Lynch, Billy Osmun and Stan Ploski.
Baltes brought the curtain down for the third straight autumn with belly dancers and bombast. Saturday afternoon’s Busch Bash awarded Swindell with Five Grand for ten laps chased by Doug, Steve, Ferkel, Danny, Ronnie Daniels, James, Kauffman, Gates, Oz, Jerry Potter (Gil Sonner 47), Beaber, Allen, Lealand McSpadden (Trostle 20) and Van May. All starters made $375 which paid for Van’s trip. Sunday afternoon saw Steve take Ten Grand followed by Doug, Oz, James, Fred Linder (Harold Kemenah 3x) and Johnny Anderson aboard Ace Trucking Trostle. The 1980 World of Outlaws season began with 102 cars and ended with 121.
Of course, insatiable outlaws kept racing until snow flew or midgets moved indoors. Sammy earned Six Grand by sweeping the Western World at Manzanita Speedway without wings. With wings, Ferkel topped Tucson travelers Tim Green (Trostle 20) and Danny Smith. Wolfgang, Anderson, Sammy and Green tried Pacific Coast Open at Ascot where Deano took $5000. Ascot announcer Bruce Flanders brought wings to Corona Speedway that turned so dusty that Anderson almost died. Corona was cut short after four laps. Wolfgang won $1500 then doubled that at Devil’s Bowl by defeating Rickey Hood in FedEx 91 that never raced again.
November 8, 1980 Dallas, TX: Ted and Stacy Johnson staged a second promoters workshop that welcomed satisfied customers Baltes, Donnelly, Edwards, Halbeisen, Martin, McDonald and Rimel. Airport Ramada Inn also contained Joe Booth (Lakeside), Shane Carson (OKC), Ken Clifton (I-30), Howie Commander (Lebanon Valley), Stan Durrett (Tulsa), Tex Gaetrel (Knoxville), C. Ray Hall (Wichita), Mike Johnson (Lincoln Park), Gary Mussatto (Topeka), Mary Standridge (Springfield), Craig Stevens (Lawrenceburg) and Howard Tiedt of Santa Fe. One sad absence was Jack Gunn after the Pennsylvania pioneer succumbed to cancer eleven evenings earlier. Ted pledged an ‘81 schedule of 61 dates (it would double) with ten percent reduction in wingless danger. By 1982, Johnson’s entire calendar wore wings of 25 square feet plus 2×3 on the nose.
December 6, 1980 brought dirt to the Detroit Silverdome for an enormous “Heroes v.s. Outlaws” midget car extravaganza won by Kansas City’s Gene Gennetten. Wolfgang did Turkey Night at Ascot and was joined in Silverdome by Steve, Sammy, Ferkel, Shane, Shuman, Schrader and Jeff Swindell.
December 8 was when Monday Night Football paused for Howard Cosell to inform America how John Lennon had been laid to waste. John’s song “Starting Over” became Billboard’s Number One over Christmas. Iranian hostages gained their release as soon as Reagan raised his hand. Five days later, Philadelphia lost its first Super Bowl to Oakland. Years earlier, Raiders rebel Al Davis sounded like Ted Johnson when Al said, “I wanted to build the finest organization in professional sports. To do that, you need great players and then you need great coaches. Then you tell them one thing: Just Win Baby!”
World of Outlaws 1980 points (FINAL) 1 Steve Kinser 10,200, 2 Doug Wolfgang 9000, 3 Lee James 7850, 4 Tim Green 7442, 5 Sammy Swindell 7338, 6 Lee Osborne 6488, 7 Rick Ferkel 4850, 8 Danny Smith 4676, 9 Bobby Allen 4064, 10 Mike Peters 3450, 11 Jack Hewitt 2910, 12 Ron Shuman 2808, 13 Jeff Swindell 2710, 14 Shane Carson 2446, 15 Bobby Davis Jr. 2356, 16 Don Mack 2298, 17 Gary Gray 2100, 18 Lealand McSpadden 1832, 19 Keith Kauffman 1658 and 20 Lynn Paxton 1562.