“Welcome to the Hotel California,” crooned Don Henley in 1976. “Such a lovely place. Such a lovely face. Plenty of room at the Hotel California. Any time of year, you can find it here.” Plenty of room indeed. I-5 stretches 796 miles from Oregon to Mexico.
Don was drummer and legendary lyricist of The Eagles hatched in West Hollywood. Henley of Texas and Glenn Frey from Michigan saw California as the Land of Opportunity. It helped to be genius. The first song was “Desperado!” California started American cinema, car culture, counterculture, fast food, and whatever wireless device delivers these words.
California can make a case as the origin of American auto racing. Organized drag racing certainly started there. Legion Ascot played to 10,000 people in 1930. Midget cars raced for 55,000 folks in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1946. Virtually every Indianapolis 500 champ car was chalked on the concrete of L.A shops like Glendale’s A.J Watson, who first built trailers to tote roadsters to dry lakes for straight speed runs. Hot rod kids wanted to turn left so Carrell Speedway was built for the California Roadster Association (CRA). Roadsters slimmed to sprints and the CRA changed to the California Racing Association in 1958 after Carrell was leveled for Ascot Park in Gardena.
When the World of Outlaws began in 1978, the CRA was the country’s oldest sprint car club. It based its schedule with Ascot’s J.C Agajanian, flamboyant promoter of everything from Evel Knievel to his own sprints and Watson that won Indy in 1963 piloted by Parnelli Jones. The biggest sprint productions of Aggie’s 12 months were Summer Nationals and Pacific Coast Nationals, an autumn classic that he shifted to the Sacramento mile in 1968-71.
Summer Nationals 1978 became the fourth stop in World of Outlaws history. Ascot also created the first conflict on Ted Johnson’s fresh schedule when the only criteria was to pay winners at least $2,000. Ascot and Calistoga paid out on the same night. Rick Ferkel went north to sweep Calistoga and Sacramento, where Buckeye Traveler was joined by Summer Nationals winner Lealand McSpadden, Steve Kinser, Doug Wolfgang, Gary Patterson and Charlie Swartz, all of whom pulled 400 miles overnight on the way to Washington for Dirt Cup. Ferkel was favored to be the first King of the Outlaws in cars built by Tognotti Auto World in Sacramento.
As the world’s fifth-largest economy, California has contributed millions of dollars and hundreds of men and women to the World of Outlaws, beginning with the very first race at Devil’s Bowl won by Jimmy Boyd of Hayward and Ken Woodruff of Sacramento. Woody became King of the Outlaws with Dave Blaney and Bobby Davis Jr. He was California’s first winning World of Outlaws car owner before Sam Bailey, Bruce Bromme, Alex Morales, Dale Pettet, DuWayne Starr, Jan Flammer, Duke McMillen, Rich and Ron Lovell, Ed Watson, Quentin Bammer, Larry Trigueiro, Fred Marks and Les Kepler, Clyde Lamar, Brock Robertson, Jim Reid, Virgil Owen, Bob Miller, Don Berry, Dan Danell, Dencil Bailey, Brent Kaeding, Terry Hannagan, Gary Hylton, Dave Helm, Al Peterson, Dennis Roth, Rodney Tiner, Bob Walker, David Rios, Gary Mitchell, Randy Furr, Terry Cowan, Guy Stockbridge, Hawaiian transplant Larry Woodward, Rick Wright, Morrie Williams, David Abreu, Tom Tarlton, Paul Silva, Joe Von Schriltz, Kyle Larson and Matt Wood. Roth ships, skins and slaughters cattle to lead state spenders with 92 World of Outlaws wins compiled by 13 men.
Boyd became the first World of Outlaws winner from California ahead of Johnny Anderson, Buster Venard, Dean Thompson, Rick Goudy, Lee James, Nick Rescino, Tim Green, Jimmy Sills, Wayne Sue, Chuck Gurney, Dave Bradway Jr, Darrell Hanestad, Brent Kaeding, Chuck Miller, Randy Hannagan, Randy Tiner, Tyler Walker, Jason Statler, Tim Kaeding, Paul McMahan, Jason Meyers, Brad Furr, Jonathan Allard, Kyle Larson, Brad Sweet, Sean Becker, Shane Golobic, Rico Abreu, Oregon resident Roger Crockett, Carson Macedo, Kyle Hirst, Cory Eliason and Giovanni Scelzi. None rank among the Top 13. Meyers managed 60 World of Outlaws wins and two championships.
Boyd was a revolutionary who returned from Central PA in 1973 with a Charlie Lloyd sprint car that shattered West Capital’s track record and obliterated the Gold Cup Race of Champions that began in 1951. Jimmy enjoyed $2,200, but when it jumped to $5,000 in 1975 Jan Opperman, Buckeye Traveler and 6,237 spectators appeared.
Indiana’s Steve Kinser came to see the Gold Cup as a rich 50-lap run around quarter-miles like those that made him strong. Steve and Karl Kinser won the first two Gold Cups they saw and the first three Chico checkereds ever offered, though none were Gold Cup until 1983. They stacked six more as a duo, split after 1994, and added four more from separate camps. One amazing chapter was 1986 when Steve flipped in his heat race, was fixed well enough to transfer through the B, then won prelim with Gambler so damaged that Karl left it alongside his hotel dumpster.
To the World of Outlaws, California represented high fuel and motel bills, big wings, low decibels, early curfews, long wheel packing, and deep local fields. Locals first consisted of modifieds capable of knocking flimsy sprints out of nasty bullrings like West Capital, which Ron Shuman called a “wrecking yard” after being torpedoed in 1979. One of the best was “Quick Nick” Rescino, perennial fast qualifier on San Jose asphalt, Capital and San Jose Fairground. Rescino stunned the Outlaws with his West Cap conquest of June 1979.
The third World of Outlaws season dropped the Dirt Cup yet wandered west for Summer Nationals. Gold Cup 1980 was all-NorCal when Silver Dollar wizard Wayne Sue opened and Anderson closed in Starr Tognotti. Baylands Raceway Park in Fremont joined the circus in 1981 by immediately matching Gold Cup’s three nights. Sills ruled Baylands during its short eight-year life and won the first World of Outlaws night.
First and second in two looks at West Capital in 1976-77, Sammy Swindell took to California like a duck to water, winning five straight from Fremont to 1981 Gold Cup and the series debut at Santa Maria. Wolfgang won Baylands and Gold Cup in ‘82. Club returned to San Jose in ‘83 and added Petaluma in ‘84-85. The 1985 West Coast World of Outlaws tour was the first to include Placerville or Hanford, the first to wear wings at Ascot, and the first Gold Cup success by Danny Smith or Larry Trigueiro, wizard of Madera asphalt.
California is certainly to blame for choking high performance engines with noise suppressors. To keep sprint cars quiet became witchcraft. No one offered absolute solutions. No track handed out one approved brand. Teams could choose any model of muffler but were limited to two chances per program. The first offense brought a warning. “Take some baffles out,” rookie Rich Bubak was advised. The second offense ended the evening. Bubak walked to Silver Dollar infield and casually snipped wires to the noise monitor.
February 1986 at Hanford became the first Outlaw win ever stripped. Sammy Swindell had guts knocked from left side muffler that faced the meter. The Golden State rule allowed no more than 95 decibels from 100 feet away. Too loud. Sam was black-flagged. Brad Doty was declared the winner. Swindell returned with a 1986.5 Challenge Chassis that conquered Kings, Baylands, P-Ville and Santa Maria. Racing in the Road America undercard, Sammy was late to Gold Cup, started last, won the E, won the D, then crashed from the C-main.
Bobby Allen elicited a roar from the San Jose grandstand for a last corner pass of Brent Kaeding, son of the supermod stud who won 16 Saturdays straight in 1973. The King’s conquest at San Jose was the first by the“downtube” chassis that remains the standard. Wolfgang’s win at Calistoga marked the first Golden State success by Weikert Livestock, eastern equivalent to Beef Packers of Fresno.
Brad Doty took a shine to Ascot and posted Coors Light wins there to end 1986 and begin 1987. John Padjen held the first Mini Gold Cup split by Jac Haudenschild and Dave Bradway Jr. Three months later, Junior died at Dirt Cup. Dave’s car owner Clyde Lamar had sent Tri-C down the first Outlaw trail with NorCal legend Gary Patterson, killed at Calistoga in 1983. Lamar landed his second Mini Gold Cup with Sills.
Kinser won Calistoga from dead last in ‘87. California held 22 World of Outlaws features in 1987: high water mark. The Outlaws raced eleven evenings in Cali to climax 1988; Steve won ten.
Darrell Hanestad, the first to drive Daryl Saucier Nance on the 1987 World of Outlaws trail, topped the Outlaws at Baylands in the Ford of Brock Robertson, soon to make 1992 Knoxville Nationals rookie of son Blake. Gold Cup 1989 was four days late due to rain but did not dampen the biggest victory of Hanestad’s career.
Bobby Davis Jr. first conquered California at Petaluma (‘84), Hanford (‘87), Baylands (‘88) and three times at Santa Maria before reunion with Woodruff on Casey Luna Ford. Bobby and Woody were 1989 champs over fellow Memphis resident Jeff Swindell and Payless Rockery ride from San Jose wrenched by SoCal’s Kelly Pryor and Woody student Richard Brown. Richard’s uncle Art Boune assembled A.R.T wings used by Kinser, Swindell, Wolfgang, etc. After quitting highway, Brown lowered expectations with Bob Walker “but he has a kid with purple hair who is going to be awesome,” Richard revealed of Tyler Walker.
NorCal was where Art Mailes built a wooden Jeep to journey with the Northern Auto Racing Club and the World of Outlaws beginning in 1989. Nights of waiting on a push ended because husband and wife were on cars almost before they stopped. The minutes “Workin’ Woody” shaved from programs or rescued rigs from mud or provided engine hoist cannot be measured. Art and Carol were Outlaws for 20 years before son Eric carried on for two more.
San Jose screamed again when Kaeding won for Bob Miller, owner of sprints, midgets and champ cars. Santa Maria 1989 was shared by brothers-in-law Green and Sills, who drove for Danell-DeHart Farms of Fresno that enabled Steve Kent to dethrone Brent as 1987 King of California. Chuck Miller began in San Jose supers before teaming with Selma’s Don Berry to be World of Outlaws winners in Arizona and prelim princes of Gold Cup 1990.
Agajanian Enterprises unloaded Ascot after Thanksgiving 1990 and opened 1991 World of Outlaws business with the only club dates ever in El Centro or Arizona border town of Yuma. The Valvoline vehicle of Kinser won both. New York’s Craig Keel earned a share of San Jose in his only Outlaw victory.
Mini Gold Cup 1991 saw BK use maximum offset and maximum stagger to crush the Outlaws on ultra heavy Silver Dollar dirt. No one from Oregon ever defeated the World of Outlaws until Greg Brown took prelim to 1991 Gold Cup won by Joe Gaerte. Stevie Smith brought the famous Al Hamilton 77 to win circles at Kings, San Jose and Calistoga in 1992 then added Santa Maria and Gold Cup in 1993. Wild Child won San Jose for Luna and Woodruff.
Weary of wet weather, Ted Johnson declined to open the 1993-96 World of Outlaws seasons on the West Coast, reducing the tour to one Cali commute. When the Perris Auto Speedway opened in 1996, the Outlaws restored the spring tour. Perris needed eight World of Outlaws dates to declare a winner other than Mark Kinser.
San Jose’s Randy Hannagan handled the Gold Cup prelim then joined the Outlaws full-time in 1994. This snide magazine commentary predicted “Hurricane Hannagan” home by Memorial Day. Randy never did come home to stay, raising a family in Indiana and championship banners in Ohio. He showed me.
Tom Wimmer was TW Transport from Fairmount, IN home to California casualty James Dean. Gold Cup winner with Joe Gaerte, Wimmer added business partner Bob Kramer and rebranded as Two Winners with cars beneath Jeff Swindell (7tw), Greg Hodnett (8tw) and Gaerte in 9tw. Jeff and Joe won two of three at Calistoga in 1994. In one month of 1995, Woody and Blaney won Bakersfield, San Jose and two of three at ‘Stoga. Hillenburg bagged second straight Gold Cup. Luna Ford nailed Calistoga and Santa Maria sweep in 1996. Two Winners won Gold Cup with Jeff.
Hanford 1996 was when program salesman John Gibson became the series announcer. After 22 years of perfect attendance, GibVoice is the sound of the series.
In 1997 Sammy Swindell authored the first three-night sweep of Calistoga before Blaney swept the Gold Cup for Gary Hylton, former hardtop racer on San Jose asphalt. BK scored Santa Maria in the only Outlaw install by Al’s Roofing.
Jac “Wild Child” Haudenschild was never more wild than at Silver Dollar, like the first Mini Gold Cup when Haud was so far ahead that he sailed off turn three yet never lost the lead. Haud led the 1995 Gold Cup until back chute scooter sent him into observers in a tragedy that snuffed Sy Lamb, owner of Gerry Ponzo’s sprint car. Gold Cup rookie of 1979, Jac ultimately sacked that classic in ‘98-99.
Dennis Roth’s first three wins came with Danny Lasoski at Canandaigua, 1998 Knoxville Nationals and Santa Maria. “Danny the Dude” opened 1999 with Beef Packer stampedes at Kings and San Jose. Dennis and Dude dusted Calistoga and Chico in 2000.
Santa Maria’s 1999 win by Jason Statler was one of the biggest upsets in club history right alongside Bill Brian Jr. at Lincoln or Travis Jacobson at Skagit. Statler tackled the Outlaws as the 1990 San Jose rookie yet had posted zero World of Outlaws Top Tens prior to that win.
Minnesota’s Guy Forbrook first conquered California at San Jose with Lasoski (1990) and Wild Child in a wild P-Ville program of ‘92. Guy got the Gold Cup prelim and two wins at ‘Stoga with Maryland’s Jeff Shepard. Brad Furr won at Ocean in 2002 and became a Friday regular upon quitting the road. The King took the Gold Cups of 2002-03 and the first visit to Tulare Thunderbowl.
Tim Kaeding and Rodney Tiner topped the 2002 Silver Dollar prelim and 2003 opener at Kings for Terry Cowan. Rod’s brother Randy was 1998 Chico prelim ace in a car that Rod owned and built. Gold Cup frames arrive on Tiner’s operating table to be untwisted by Dr. Frankenstein of Rio Linda. Hillenburg tried to hire Rodney for years, but Tiner roots run deep in NorCal.
The Dude and Tony Stewart Racing completed Calistoga’s second sweep of three nights in 2003. Schatz won the first of two Gold Cups in 2004 when Tulare turned New England’s Erin Crocker into the first female feature winner in World of Outlaws history.
Australia’s Reeve Kruck won the Gold Cup with Daryn Pittman in 2006 when California contributed only six races to the World of Outlaws calendar, the first one without Ted Johnson. Promoters were leery of the new group. Tulare and Perris returned to the 2007 trail when Joey Saldana won the Gold Cup for Kasey Kahne Racing. Aussie Kerry Madsen won Perris in Helm’s homestate. Wild Child won the third Gold Cup and 2008 Tulare final in the Lon Carnahan R19. Joey and KKR scored four of six, including the 2009 Gold Cup, which became home state score by Meyers of Clovis in 2010. April 2011 marked Merced’s entry to the circuit. Sammy and Big Game Treestands swept Merced three years straight. Memphis neighbor Jason Sides stunned Calistoga.
The incomparable Kyle Larson leased the Kaeding car that made Kyle the youngest Gold Cup winner. He won it again in 2012 for Paul Silva, ex-Beef Packer for Lasoski. Chico’s own Sean Becker won the Gold Cup opener. Roth recorded Antioch 2012 and Tulare 2013 with Tim Kaeding. Larson won Stockton’s grand opening. Son of a Baylands racer, Shane Golobic grabbed Antioch 2013. After two titles, Jason Meyers quit, unquit, then teamed with neighbor Tom Tarlton to win Gold Cup 2013.
Four feet of dynamite named Rico Abreu burst on the scene in 2011. Leasing like Larson before him, Kaeding Performance modified Maxim by moving the seat, steering and pedals up and back. Rico’s first sprint circuits were Hanford hot laps when he drove by Donny Schatz for few seconds. Early in his fourth and fifth seasons, Abreu beat the Outlaws at Thunder Bowl.
Connecticut’s David Gravel ended Sammy’s stranglehold on Merced in 2014. KKR connected at Calistoga with Grass Valley’s Brad Sweet and Kings courtesy of Cody Darrah. California defended Gold Cup 2014 when checkereds fell to Tarlton kin Carson Macedo and Jonathan Allard aboard the Tri-C Lamar car.
Larson, Abreu, Sweet, Becker, Robert Ballou, Tanner Thorson, Logan Seavey, Tyler Reddick and Matt Dibenedetto are among an elite crop of incredibly talented racers who underwent 12 months of training in winged 250cc Outlaw Karts at Red Bluff and Cycleland near Chico. Central California offspring such as Macedo, Cory Eliason and the Scelzi brothers became sharp in 600cc modified midgets at Lemoore and Plaza Park in Visalia.
The one these kids take aim at is Donny Schatz, ten-time champ tallying 2015 wins in Stockton, Gold Cup, Mini Gold Cup, Calistoga and Placerville promotion by Sweet. Larson and Justin Marks bankrolled the car that Shane Stewart drove to his first Cali World of Outlaws wins at Kings and Gold Cup opener. KKR won Ocean and Bakersfield with Sweet and Perris with Pittman. Schatz swept Stockton and Mini Gold Cup. Jason Johnson plucked P-Ville one year after breaking shoulder there. Abreu kept the 2016 Gold Cup home. To start 2017, Gravel took three of six at Tulare, P-Ville and Perris.
Logan Schuchart’s victory at Kings in 2017 was Bobby Allen’s first in 31 Golden State seasons. Schuchart schooled in karts at Hunterstown like World of Outlaws winners Stevie Smith and Cris Eash.
Gold Cup 2017 was triumphantly ushered by Kyle Hirst, son of the third-place finisher of 1988 and 1990 Gold Cups. Larson won his third Gold Cup as co-owner behind Stewart of Oklahoma.
Texan Aaron Reutzel was introduced to California by Dennis Roth at Tulare, where he beat the World of Outlaws to start 2018. Aaron again opened 2019 with an Outlaw victory at Perris. Roth recorded 2018 wins at Stockton and Calistoga with Eliason. Sweet and Abreu swept Gold Cup 2018 before Brad added his own P-Ville promotion.
Jac’s son Sheldon Haudenschild handled Bakersfield in 2019 as second father and son winners of Golden State World of Outlaws races after Brent and Tim Kaeding. Ian Madsen mastered Tulare 2019 to be the second brother act to win World of Outlaws races in Cali after Sammy and Jeff Swindell. Larson hired Macedo, and he clicked at Chico instantly.
“Pastures of Plenty” was a 1941 song by Woody Guthrie extolling virtues of vegetables, fruits and nuts bountiful in the Golden State. Name any such crop and California has towns so dependent on its harvest that the plant is celebrated by festival. It continues to export food, technology and fiercely talented racers.
Traveling teams enjoyed great road tunes from Henley and Frey: Take It To the Limit, Already Gone, Life In the Fast Lane, etc. But the Desperado cassette by The Eagles gave them a theme song.
“I am an outlaw,” Frey sang. “I was born an outlaw’s son. The highway is my legacy. On the highway I will run. Woman don’t try to love me. Don’t try to understand. A life upon the road is the life of an Outlaw Man.”