Rick Ferkel, who came out of Findlay, Ohio, in 1973 and helped change the face of sprint car racing, is making one final swing of California sprint car tracks this year.
The ageless Ferkel, one of the founders of the World of Outlaws, will be driving his own Gambler car with its 5-foot by 5-foot overhead wings and a new Ron Shaver aluminum engine Friday and Saturday nights in the Midwinter Outlaw championships at Ascot Park against a combination of World of Outlaws and West Coast drivers.
It will be Ferkel's first visit to Ascot, where he and Bubby Jones, then of Danville, Ill., introduced the drag racing tire called the "humper" on the right rears of their sprinters in 1973, since the Pacific Coast Nationals in 1985 and his first year touring with the Outlaws since 1982.
"I've been staying pretty close to home the last few years but the opportunity came up this year to come out West and I decided to take it," said Ferkel, who still lives in Findlay. "It may be my last time out this way.
"Back in the early '70s, before the Outlaws came about, we raced wherever we heard there was a good payday. Me and Bubby read about this race at Ascot and came out with our humpers, which were nothing more than drag racing tires with a tall profile, and broke the track record by a ton and lapped nearly everybody in the race."
By the following season, nearly every car in the CRA was equipped with the odd-looking right rear tire, which is now standard equipment.
The Outlaws will present a new look this season and Ferkel, who helped Ted Johnson form the organization 12 years ago, is not pleased. Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell, who have won all 11 Outlaws championships, have left to help form a rival organization, the United Sprint Assn.
"Maybe I'm old-fashioned or something, but I don't understand the loyalty, or lack of it," Ferkel said. "The World of Outlaws brought sprint car racing national recognition, and it was that recognition that made millionaires out of Kinser and Swindell. How can they forget what got them where they are today?"
The USA will open its season Saturday night in Savannah, Ga. Kinser, Swindell and Karl Kinser, chief mechanic and owner of Steve's car, are among the majority stockholders of USA.
"If the USA was out to make sprint car racing a better product, I'd say fine, but it appears to me that it's just a group of guys with an ax to grind," Ferkel said. "If their idea is to cause a big split in the sport, it could set sprint car racing back, and that's crazy because the guys who owe the Outlaws the most are the guys who left."
Jeff Swindell, Sammy's younger brother, won the Outlaws' season opener last Saturday at Firebird Raceway in Chandler, Ariz., and will head the cast of Outlaws at Ascot. Swindell beat Bobby Davis Jr. to the flag in a battle of Memphis drivers. Davis finished third behind Kinser and Sammy Swindell in last year's standings.
Ascot fans may remember Jeff Swindell as an 18-year-old in 1980 who came from the rear of the C main, through the B main qualifier and eventually from 26th to finish fifth in the Pacific Coast Nationals.
Other prominent Outlaws entered include Andy Hillenburg of Broken Arrow, Okla., and Jac Haudenschild of Millersburg, Ohio, who were sixth and eighth, respectively, last year.
West Coast defenders will be led by Ron Shuman of Tempe, Ariz., a former Outlaw who stayed home last year and won the California Racing Assn. championship for wingless cars; Brent Kaeding of Campbell, Calif., the Northern Auto Racing Club champion; and Lealand McSpadden of Tempe, Ariz., who won 15 CRA main events while racing part-time.
OFF-ROAD--Competitors in the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Gran Prix series will face the longest and perhaps most demanding stadium course yet designed Saturday night when they compete at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. The course has been stretched to four-tenths of a mile, with 10 turns and nine jumps. Jeff Huber, the only driver to win a Grand National sport truck in a main event in a Ford, will rejoin the Ford team after a two-year stint with Mazda. Huber, an Apple Valley driver who won at Orange Show Stadium in 1985, will replace Dan Esslinger, who is co-owner of the team and was its driver the last two seasons.
MOTOCROSS--When Rick Johnson won his fifth straight Supercross last Saturday night at Miami, the Honda rider from El Cajon passed Bob (Hurricane) Hannah as the winningest rider in stadium motocross. It was Johnson's 28th win. Johnson is now after Hannah's national record of 64, counting both stadium and outdoor races. Johnson's combined total is 59. The next Supercross is set for Saturday night at Atlanta. . . . Sportsman riders will complete their season Sunday in the 13th annual Continental Motosport Club's Golden State Nationals series at Glen Helen Park in San Bernardino.
DRAG RACING--Bernie Longjohn, manager of L.A. County Raceway in Palmdale, has also been named manager of the new Bakersfield Raceway--formerly Famoso Drag Strip--by the National Hot Rod Assn., which recently acquired a 20-year lease on the famous strip where the March Meet Fuel and Gas Championships were held for 39 years. The March Meet will not be held this year while improvements are being made on the facility, but it will be resumed next year.
MOTORCYCLES--Round 2 of the Miller Formula One Grand Prix sprint series, sanctioned by the American Road Racing Assn., will be held Sunday at Willow Springs Raceway.
STOCK CARS--Former CRA champion Brad Noffsinger of Huntington Beach was a late scratch in the Daytona 500, being replaced by Charlie Glotzbach. . . . P. J. Jones of Torrance, after starting fifth in the Daytona Dash 200, led briefly before spinning out in a tangle of cars early in the race.
NEWSWORTHY--Gordon Hoyt of Whittier has been elected president of the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. . . . Jim Kropfeld, a two-time world unlimited hydroplane champion who suffered a broken neck when his Miss Budweiser flipped upside down in the opening race of 1988 in Miami, will return to racing this year for Bernie Little's Budweiser team. Tom D'Eath, who won the title in the same boat last year, has switched to car racing.