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WHERE IT ALL BEGAN: Revisiting the World of Outlaws’ Inaugural Devil’s Bowl Race

The Devil's Bowl Speedway entrance sign from 1978
The World of Outlaws will sendoff the track that was the birthplace of the Series, Devil’s Bowl Speedway, this weekend

The year is 1978. It’s mid-March in Texas, and race season is blooming like the bluebonnets.

Roughly 90 competitors representing 20 states have gathered in a town 20 minutes east of Dallas named Mesquite. Among the roster are some of the country’s greatest drivers. They’ve all made the journey to take on the Spring Nationals hosted by Devil’s Bowl Speedway. A 22-year-old from Tennessee is the defending event champion. His name is Sammy Swindell.

But this edition of the Spring Nationals isn’t the same as the year prior. Ted Johnson – a salesman and motorsports enthusiast from Beloit, WI – has worked together with a handful of the drivers to construct an organization. A way for the best traveling talents to collectively compete for big purses in pursuit of a championship and attract big crowds. They call it the World of Outlaws.

Johnson and the drivers come up with a number. To be considered a World of Outlaws points paying event, the Feature must award at least $2,000 to the winner. The first race to meet the criteria? The final night of the Spring Nationals at Devil’s Bowl.

Among those who’ve made the trip is an accomplished racer from California – Jimmy Boyd.

“The main thing I remember about that race is everybody that was anybody in Sprint Car racing at that time was there,” Boyd recalled during an interview on Open Red. “Rick Ferkel, (Doug) Wolfgang, (Steve) Kinser, and there’s a lot of people that guys don’t know about that were fast. Just everybody that was anybody was there.”

The pre-race promotion and press doesn’t often mention the unproven idea of the World of Outlaws in the lead up to the race. Two preliminary nights are run, but neither meet the $2,000 mark to be considered a World of Outlaws race. A local Devil’s Bowl regular – Norman Martin – claims the first on Thursday, March 16. The following night, South Dakota’s Doug Wolfgang bests Steve Kinser for the win.

Then, the focus shifts to Saturday, March 18. The day the World of Outlaws are truly born. A 50-lap finale around the Mesquite half mile sets the stage for the first race in Series history. Prelim winners – Martin and Wolfgang – make up the front row.

Martin gets the jump and leads the opening 23 circuits. But on the 24th lap, third-starting Jimmy Boyd moves into the lead. The Californian holds off Wolfgang to take the checkered flag and bank $2,000. He also leaves Devil’s Bowl as the first World of Outlaws winner and points leader.

“There’s a track out in Sacramento (CA) called West Capital Raceway. It’s closed down now, but the dirt (at Devil’s Bowl) was kind of similar to that,” Boyd said, looking back. “I was always better on a heavy track. I kind of suffered when it got dry slick. Devil’s Bowl reminded us a lot of West Capital. It was a little bigger than West Capital Raceway but pretty much the same. We took to it real good.”

Racers and fans alike didn’t yet understand the significance of that first race. The lack of coverage focusing on the World of Outlaws continues post-race. But it’s not long before the racing community grows aware of Johnson’s band of travelers. More events at premier facilities quickly elevates notoriety, and fans prioritize attending World of Outlaws races. As Jerry Clum wrote, “A strong heartbeat was heard, and the World of Outlaws was very definitely alive and kicking up a storm.”

Fast forward 45 years and more than 3,600 races, and Johnson’s vision still exists within today’s World of Outlaws. It remains home to the country’s top Sprint Car drivers traveling the nation each and every year. But this weekend, the piece of history that started it all will conclude its final chapter.

The Greatest Show on Dirt is heading to Devil’s Bowl for two nights (Oct. 20-21). The track’s recent sale means the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Stampede will be the final event hosted by the historic facility. It’s only right that the Series that had its doors opened by Devil’s Bowl is there to help close the track’s doors. As a nod to both the first and final year of Devil’s Bowl hosting a World of Outlaws race, Saturday’s Feature pays $1,978-to-start and $20,023 to the winner.

And much like that race on March 18, 1978, the track will welcome many of the country’s best Sprint Car drivers ready to battle for the honor of the final winner at the Mesquite oval. Devil’s Bowl’s time may be coming to an end this weekend, but its impact and significance within the racing world will never be forgotten.

For tickets to the final race weekend at Devil’s Bowl, CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the action live on DIRTVision.

Alex Nieten

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