Rick Ferkel, an icon of Sprint Car racing and one of the original Outlaws among Ted Johnson’s band of travelers, passed away on Jan. 1, 2024. He was 84 years old.
The Ohio native took his first shot at Sprint Car racing in 1965. Ferkel struggled in the early stages of his career but was determined to learn the cars and the sport. And with that attitude, success soon followed. A tendency to venture outside his homeland in search of higher paying races earned Ferkel the nickname “Ohio Traveler.”
That kind of racer was exactly what Ted Johnson had in mind when he formed the World of Outlaws in 1978. Ferkel and Johnson were friends, and Ferkel not only came aboard as one of the original Outlaws, he also helped Johnson cultivate the idea.
“Rick was one of the pioneers of this sport,” said the winningest driver in World of Outlaws history, Steve Kinser. “He was an all-around good racer and all-around good guy. He got the name “Ohio Traveler” honestly. He was one of the very first guys who went out and started to do traveling and work deals with promoters to get him up and down the road and try to draw fans to the racetrack. He did a good job and put on a good show for everybody. He was a real gentleman. He was that to fans and competitors and everybody.”
The third race in Series history on April 30, 1978 at Rossburg, OH’s Eldora Speedway belonged to Ferkel – his first of four victories at “The Big E” that season. Nine total wins kept him locked in a tight points battle with Steve Kinser all the way to the final race. Ferkel narrowly missed out on the inaugural title by a mere 54 markers.
Ferkel remained a steady force on the tour over the next four years, finishing in the top five in points three more times. Of the National Sprint Car Hall of Famer’s hundreds of victories behind the wheel, 21 came with The Greatest Show on Dirt – currently tied for 29th all-time.
“Rick was larger than life to many of us that were coming along in racing,” said fellow competitor Shane Carson in a Facebook post. “He took a little extra time with us younger guys that were trying to find our way while knowing that we would be competing against him down the line.”
Even when his time in the driver’s seat slowed, his dedication to the sport remained strong. Ferkel worked as an official with the World of Outlaws and served as Director for the Gumout Series.
“He was a great guy. I just always enjoyed talking to him,” said Daryn Pittman, who won the 2001 Gumout championship when Ferkel was Director. “I thought he did a good job really running that Series. He definitely seemed like the right guy. I got to know him and appreciate him and his background and what he accomplished back in the early days of racing.”
Ferkel also spent many years as a car owner and crew chief mentoring rising talents including the likes of Christopher Bell, Parker Price-Miller, and more.
Whether it was his efforts as a driver, official, crew chief, or simply a friend, Rick Ferkel left a lasting impact on all he encountered and on the sport of Sprint Car racing as a whole.
“Rick was someone I looked up to, and I had the pleasure of his friendship beginning my first year on the road with the Gumout tour in 2000,” said two-time World of Outlaws champion Jason Meyers on X (formerly Twitter). “Rick was kind, smart, strong, and just a heck of a good guy. He will be missed, and we offer our thoughts and prayers to Cathy and family.”