Checkered Past: Skagit Spawn

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Skagit River rages from Cascade Mountain snowmelt to spill into Skagit Bay and mother ocean. Just north of the river is the town of Alger, WA — population 403. Saturdays at Skagit Speedway, however, Alger swells with Sprint Car pride and presence.

Jim Raper carved an oval among the evergreen trees in 1954. He created the biggest race in a 10-state radius with the Dirt Cup that bears his name. Jan Opperman’s 1975 victory put Skagit on the map. Jimmy Sills won six Dirt Cups. Jon Allard added four. Three-time winners were Jimmy Boyd, Tim Green and Brent Kaeding. Two-time victors have been Jayme Barnes, Sam Hafertepe, Randy Hannagan, Kasey Kahne (2002-03), Steve Kent, Lealand McSpadden, Shane Stewart and Doug Wolfgang in 1978-79 when Dirt Cup carried a World of Outlaws sanction. Skagit lost one Dirt Cup to rain and another to Covid-19. The last six have reduced cubic inches (410 to 360) but not currency as evidenced by the 15 Grand that Dominic Scelzi scored in 2021.

Skagit Speedway has spawned earth shakers like the Skagit River hatches salmon. Kahne of Enumclaw is its biggest fish. As a driver, Kahne has never beaten The Outlaws in 24 years. As a corporate head, Kasey owns three series championships with Brad Sweet and Daryn Pittman. Predecessors include Steve Beitler and Fred Brownfield, touring drivers who became Outlaw organizers. Skagit sent Tim Gee and Jason Solwold to New Jersey. Rudeen Racing and Rush Racing erupted from the Emerald State. And there have been mechanics like Scott Martin, who became “Gilligan” just as soon as Bud Kaeding learned that Scotty was native to Camano Island, WA.

Washington was without a World of Outlaws race for 15 years. It took Brownfield to bring them back. Skagit champ of 1977, Fred followed Ted Johnson clear to Warsaw, IN during Johnson’s landmark season of 1978. Ted was so grateful that his contract remained with Brownfield at the Grays Harbor Raceway Park that he resurrected. Fred raced with Ted in 1981 when competing as far east as Erie, PA. Fred toured Dakotas in 1991 and Texas in 1993. Eighth on the Missouri State Fairgrounds was Brownfield’s best Outlaw finish.

Cecil Walker and Alan Munn made the 1980 Gold Cup final. Walker was the first driver sponsored by Kahne Logging. Four decades later, Brad Sweet still wears Walker 49.

A thousand miles above Skagit is the Yukon Territory home to timber wolf Tim Gee. Tim’s dad trucked freight from Canada to Texas and Gordy Gee reasoned that he could tote his son’s Sprint Cars just as well. G&G Transport were 1982 rookies who became 1983 winners at Martin, MI and the Paragon Speedway near their new digs in Jamestown, IN. Seventh in the final standings of 1986 was best. Tim was second in the first Mini Gold Cup of 1987, moved to Edmonton, and shepherds son Skylar Gee in 2021.

Billy Kennelly seemed destined to do big things. Kennelly Keys played Outlaw dates at San Jose in 1983, Gold Cup and Ascot Park in 1984. Kennelly came to Santa Maria in 1991 aboard the Kelly Kahne 23k. Already there were whispers about Kahne’s son cutting hot laps in the family grass.

Steve Beitler (left) in his racing days talks with Joe Gaerte.

Steve Beitler’s path from Sedro-Woolley to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame started its first Outlaw Feature at Baylands in 1987. When the United Sprint Association split ranks in 1989, Beitler recognized the time was ripe to follow his friend Rich Bubak into life as a nomad. Eleventh at Eagle, Steve was eighth on the Indy Mile and sixth at Bakersfield in 1990. Seventh in the final standings of 1991 matched Tim Gee. Beitler came home to follow his mentor Brownfield as Skagit Speedway promoter.

Maple Ridge, British Columbia’s Jim Carr cracked his first Outlaw Features in 1988 at Hanford, Santa Maria and Ascot. He reached eighth at Southern New Mexico Speedway in 1990 and eighth in the final 1991 points. Carr carried the “32u” of Utah’s Red Powell in 1992. He landed the Chris Black Maxim until Danny Lasoski squeezed Jim out. Carr finished that 1995 Outlaw season for David McManus and talked the Texan into the whole tour. Fifth at Las Cruces was their 1996 best. Carr moved to California to drive for Morrie Williams but finished that 1997 Outlaw season with Junior Holbrook and Joe Herrera. Joe Ray Blevins hired Jim for third at Hanford in the 1999 opener until son Lance returned. Carr came back to Skagit in 2000 to steer for Casey’s General Stores. He bunked in Missouri for Lasoski’s title run then retired to Indiana to manage Tony Stewart Racing.

White Rock, British Columbia’s Toni Lutar was an Outlaw for two decades. Toni’s first Features were at Eagle and Sioux Falls in 1990. It took all 20 years to climb to seventh on Oklahoma’s tire-eating Tri-State Speedway. Lutar subbed for Lon Carnahan in 2009 when Jac Haudenschild was held out of Canada.

Kasey Kahne’s first Outlaw Feature was Grays Harbor in 1997. Two summers later, he was eighth at Eagle in Junior Holbrook’s car. John Zemaitis hired him for the 1999 National Open. Kahne teamed with Phil Durst in 2001 and finished ninth at the Gold Cup for Dennis Roth. Durst and Kahne crossed fifth at the 2002 Kings Royal. Kahne filled in for Craig Dollansky in 2003 after Craig broke his back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kasey was seventh at Eldora for Roth in 2003. Kahne captured eighth at Talladega Short Track in 2011 after driving Fred Rahmer’s car at Williams Grove. Eighth at Knoxville in 2021 as Roth’s last-minute sub was Kahne’s best Nationals ever.

Real estate empresario Kevin Rudeen has been an Outlaw for 23 years at least. He raced snowmobiles and Sprint Cars until settling in as financier. Jimmy Carter was Kevin’s first Outlaw Feature starter in 1998. They towed to Nebraska in 1999, joined the 2000 Support Series, and shipped to Australia in 2004. Winning the 2004 Dirt Cup with Shane Stewart was when Rudeen expanded. He sent two cars to Australia for Stewart and Jason Statler. Second at Williams Grove was Shane’s best. Kevin’s lone Outlaw win came at Skagit in 2011 with Sam Hafertepe Jr. Tayler Malsam ran Rudeen’s car to sixth-place during the Skagit Outlaw weekend of 2014. Willie Croft was third at Tulare in Kevin’s car to open 2016. Joey Saldana and Rudeen were second in Arizona and third at the 2018 Brad Doty Classic. For the past three years, Kevin’s driver has been Cory Eliason, twice an Outlaw winner for Dennis Roth, but yet unable to bring Rudeen the same distinction.

Shannon Wheatley has been an Outlaw for three decades as driver, owner, mechanic. “Rooster” crewed for Beitler in exchange for his own Sprint Car in 1990. Two decades later, Austen Wheatley was an Outlaw Feature starter in Texas. Shannon’s son was fifth at the 2016 Gold Cup before father picked Paul McMahan and Chad Kemenah to do Austen’s chores. Third at West Memphis with McMahan was Shannon’s best series result in 2018.

Kasey Kahne Racing has held no Washington address so the state’s most successful Outlaw effort was Rush Racing in 2005-06. Bob Campbell and Tim Hanson hired Troy Renfro as crew chief and Brooke Tatnell won eight times. When the Australian was unavailable, Renfro ravaged Wilmot with Mark Dobmeier.

Kevin Rudeen is part of the new ownership group at Skagit Speedway.

Solwold from the Skagit River town of Mount Vernon rose from 1994 economy class champion to 2002-03 mastery of its 360 class and the Carnahan chair by 2004. When the National Sprint Tour opposed the World Racing Group, it was Brownfield booking dates and acting as competition director until his untimely death. Rudeen went with Fred; Carnahan and Rush remained Outlaws. Solwold won at Williams Grove and New Zealand but was released. He teamed with “Frenchy” Saumere to whip The Outlaws at Skagit. Solwold was a 2009 Outlaw with Roth, ran the Knoxville final for Jim Nace, and Skagit with 10-time track champ Marc Huson. He tried the 2010 National Open for Scott Mertz and Gene Jenkins then smoked Buffalo Wild Wings for two weeks of 2013. In the most recent Skagit Outlaw visit, Jason and Mike Anderson took third-place.

Langley, British Columbia’s Travis Rutz ran his first Outlaw Feature at Grays Harbor in 2004, did the Skagit Outlaw weekend with Saumere in 2007 and Rudeen in 2008-09. At the end of 2009 however, Travis was critically injured at Terre Haute, IN. Confined to a wheelchair, Rutz has not raced again. His father Doug fielded Travis Jacobson at the 2010 Skagit Outlaw weekend and brought Buddy Kofoid to the 2018 version. Jacobson partnered with Mike Anderson to author an enormous Outlaw upset victory at Skagit in 2012.

Third-generation racer Trey Starks started his first Outlaw Features at Cottage Grove and Calistoga in 2010-11. He was ninth in Edmonton for Rutz and made the 2015 World Finals with Jeff McCall. Starks paired McCall with Scott Gobrecht for sixth at Williams Grove in 2018 and first-place in their 2019 Knoxville Nationals preliminary feature.

Washington’s latest gift to Williams Grove is Devon Borden, the teen who so captivated Sean Michael that Sean advised Mike Heffner to hire the kid at once. Heffner harbors no regrets because Glenn Borden’s kid made Outlaw Features at Williams Grove before sweeping The Grove and The Port within 24 hours.

This weekend’s World of Outlaws return to Skagit Speedway is Beitler’s swan song. Last month, Steve finalized its sale to Kevin Rudeen, Mike Anderson and Australian native Peter Murphy. The new group is called Fifty Five Promotions. “They have the resources to do what they want to do,” Steve said. “They have business experience and they have passion.” Fifty Five sees Skagit Speedway as a great salmon hatch to be nurtured.

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