Checkered Past: Outlaws do Daytona

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Ask any kid in a Quarter Midget where they dream to race. Most will answer Indianapolis or Daytona because 500-milers in those hallowed cathedrals are America’s most famous, most prestigious, most lucrative events. To win either is to be immortal. To win both is to be A.J Foyt or Mario Andretti.

Foyt and Mario rose from dusty fairgrounds before Indy turned elusive to those with Knoxville or Eldora origins. Ken Schrader realized that professional life lay instead in Charlotte and arrived in Daytona in 1981. Indiana bullring matadors Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart reached the same conclusion to forge contemporary career paths for Dave Blaney, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, and Christopher Bell.

Blaney is one of five champions of the World of Outlaws to drive at Daytona during Florida Speedweeks. Sammy Swindell was first in 1984 followed by Steve Kinser in ‘93, Blaney, Danny Lasoski (IROC) and Brad Sweet, who crashed in the 2011 NASCAR Truck opener. Other Outlaw Feature winners who dabbled at Daytona in February were Lee Osborne, Gary Wright, Tyler Walker, Blake Feese, Erin Crocker, Kraig Kinser, Kevin Swindell, Rico Abreu and most recently, Stewart Friesen and David Gravel.

Four decades ago when the World of Outlaws were born in the Devil’s Bowl of Texas, Clarence Caldwell “Hooker” Hood was one of 75 entrants. Two decades before Mesquite, Hooker had towed from Memphis to Daytona to race on sand and the super speedway, as had Gus Linder from Pittsburgh. During the initial season of ‘78, Linder gained points from the Williams Grove National Open.

The initial Outlaw events of 1983 were a big red splash by Texas drag racer, Chaparral trailer tycoon and NASCAR Cup captain Raymond Beadle. He hired Sammy Swindell to pursue a third straight title. By 1984-85, Beadle stuck Swindell in two Daytona 300s while simultaneously earning East Bay and Volusia victories. Swindell’s initial replacement at Nance Speed Equipment was Jimmy Horton, the New Jersey modified master who joined Swindell in the 1985 Daytona 300. A year later in the same Busch (Xfinity) race, Horton raced Garden State star Brett Hearn, veteran of Outlaw starts at Orange County, Lebanon Valley and Syracuse mile. Horton won the ARCA 200 twice and cracked two 500 grids.

When the World of Outlaws reached Bloomington, Indiana early in 1988, it was the first time that Purdue University’s Andy Hillenburg squared off against Andy Hillenburg of Broken Arrow, OK. “Indy Andy” answered as Drew (abbreviated Andrew) to clear some confusion. “Okie Andy” chased points for 14 years while Hoosier Hillenburg built an eclectic resume. Drew peaked fifth against Outlaws in Michigan and grew sharp in USAC 100-milers. He came to Ken Schrader’s shop to sweep floors until Schrader put Hillenburg in the Daytona ARCA race. He would win two of those, make three 500s and one Indy 500, build an ARCA army, test IROC iron, purchase the track in Rockingham, and serve as USAC Silver Crown shepherd. Days after Hillenburg’s first ARCA start in 1992, his debut was eclipsed by Jeff Gordon’s first Daytona 300.

Gordon’s hero Steve Kinser was invited to the International Race of Champions in 1994-96. To see “The King of The Outlaws” draft Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Brabham was invaluable television time. His first race in a Dodge Avenger fell six days after his $14,000 triumph at St. Augustine. Kinser doubled in IROC and 500 in 1995 then did Daytona and St. Aug on the same date in 1996. Two days later marked the first Daytona 300 by Tony Stewart, who grew to own Kinser’s last Sprint Cars. Stewart first became Outlaw champ with Lasoski, who joined Kinser and Stewart in IROC when Lasoski did Daytona and East Bay on the same day.

The 2003 Daytona 300 was the first to include Kasey Kahne. Kahne’s course from dirt to super speedway began at Volusia in 2000 when Jeff Gordon’s championship crew chief Ray Evernham stopped to socialize with New Jersey neighbor Billy Pauch only to be dazzled by a fast kid with a marketable face. Kahne trained with All Stars, Outlaws and USAC as Ray built his first Dodge team around Kahne and put another Dodge in the Daytona ARCA 200 of 2006 for Crocker, the first female to beat the Outlaws.

Kinser crossed seventh in the 2006 Daytona IROC 100 then climbed a ladder to watch son Kraig crash a NASCAR Truck alongside another Indiana graduate of the World of Outlaws Support Series, Boston Reid of Kokomo. The first NASCAR Truck race of 2007 marked the Daytona debut of Tyler Walker until illegal fuel was found in his urine sample.

The 2008 Daytona ARCA 200 contained Tayler Malsam and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Malsam managed sixth at Skagit in 2014 when Outlaws reached the same Pacific Northwest corner that spawned Kahne. Little Ricky of Olive Branch finished fourth in the 2009 Outlaw race across the Mississippi River in West Memphis. His NASCAR trajectory was boosted by Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. Stenhouse is starting his fourth season as co-owner of Sheldon Haudenschild’s Sprint Cars.

Bryan Clauson became rookie to the Daytona 300 of 2008 when he preceded Kyle Larson as Chip Ganassi’s golden child. Clauson came home to three Indy 500s. As an encore, Bryan became proficient in winged sprint cars at Knoxville and Charlotte until his untimely passing in a midget accident.

NASCAR and the World of Outlaws began 2012 in Volusia County where both counted Blaney and Stewart on the roster. Larson made his Daytona debut in the ARCA 200 of 2013. West Virginia’s Cale Conley competed in the 2015 Daytona 300, took 10th in Lernerville’s Don Martin Memorial of 2018 then returned to Volusia County in 2020-21. Fourth and seventh in the 2016 Daytona ARCA 200 was Chase Briscoe and Kevin Thomas Jr. Briscoe had been an Outlaw at the Tri-State Speedway near his shop in Mitchell, IN that first sent father and grandfather into Outlaw pit areas. Alabama’s second Kevin Thomas earned ninth at Nashville with The Outlaws in 2019.

The 2016 NASCAR Truck 250 featured Christopher Bell and Rico Abreu. Bell and Larson drove Stewart’s Sprint Car at Volusia as Stewart’s schedule tightened. Kahne did Daytona Clash and Volusia in 2018 though not on the same date, like Larson. Last year in the tradition of Swindell, Kinser and Lasoski, Gravel turned Daytona ARCA rookie while also laying down the fastest laps of Volusia Speedway Park.

Speedweeks 2021 began when Larson landed another Late Model trophy, then concentrated on his highly-scrutinized Daytona return. Larson’s car is the Rick Hendrick #5 that spent five years under Kahne’s command. Bell’s second season at NASCAR’s elite level is aboard the Joe Gibbs Racing #20 that built Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing. And the rookie Chase Briscoe belts into the #14, owned by Stewart, and made famous by Foyt. A.J and Dick Briscoe do approve.

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