Brad Doty’s story is the most emotional in sprint car racing history. Brad, one of the first sprint car drivers I met, was a ultra-personable fan favorite who dominated the World of Outlaws’ 1987 season opener – the Midwinter Winged Nationals at legendary Ascot Park in Gardena, CA. He drove Fred Marks’ and Les Kepler’s #18 Coors Light Gambler into second place in the World of Outlaws point standings that year. Brad’s racing career ended abruptly a year later, however, when he crashed early in the opening lap of the year’s richest sprint car event – the Kings Royal – at Eldora Speedway. The racing community showed what a deeply caring, close-knit family it is during the next few years with heartfelt love and support for Brad. Drivers’ helmets were filled with fans’ donations as they toured the stands during World of Outlaws events. Drivers and organizations from every major series in racing contributed heavily to the Brad Doty auctions, too.
Brad, the fiercely determined man he is, didn’t let that end his life in racing though. Several years later, he put on a headset and joined The Nashville Network as TNN Motorsports’ World of Outlaws color analyst. He and Ralph Sheheen have been an amazing announcing team for years. It was such an honor for me to work with them during World of Outlaws telecasts.
One of the telecasts is particularly memorable to me. In fact, I remember it like it was yesterday. The cars were coasting around Knoxville Raceway in the World of Outlaws’ Four Abreast formation, Knoxville Raceway’s legendary flagman Doug Clark was ready to wave the green flag to start the Knoxville Nationals’ 1997 championship feature and Ralph had just said, “Isn’t it great to be in a place where the press box at the racetrack is the tallest building in town,” when tornado sirens started blowing. Brad, sitting in his wheelchair between Ralph and me looked at us in terror. He had ridden the elevator – which had become inoperable due to the tornado warning – to the press box. Ralph and I knew exactly what we had to do, so we grabbed the wheels on either side of Brad’s wheelchair and carefully carried him down the stairs to safety.
These days, Brad still handles chores around his Millerstown, OH, home between telecasts. “It’s important for people to see that I’m active and doing things,” he says. “I don’t want them thinking that the poor guy is in a wheelchair, his life is over and can’t do anything.”
Brad’s autobiography, “Still Wide Open,” written with Dave Argabright, is a must-read for all racing fans.
In 1998, Larry Wood and Bill Holder got together and built a replica of the #18 Coors Light Gambler equipped with special hand levers that controlled the acceleration – a squeezable throttle mechanism attached to the steering wheel and a fuel injector – along with a braking system so Brad could drive at Eldora Speedway again during an unforgettable TNN telecast. On July 23rd, exactly 10 years after his horrific crash, Brad was on the track again at “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.”
“When I grabbed the steering wheel and looked across the hood, it felt like I had raced the car the night before,” Brad said as he recalled driving ahead of the World of Outlaws’ Four Abreast parade lap. “It seemed like time had stood still.
“I had told my wife (Laurie) that I would never drive a sprint car again, but she knew this was important to me. She told me to go for it.”
Old friends Steve Kinser and Jac Haudenschild drove next to Brad and gave him thumbs ups. Sammy Swindell nudged the pushbar on the rear of Brad’s #18 sprinter as the field drove through the second turn.
The eyes of the all 30,000 people in the stands – and thousands more watching the TNN Motorsports telecast – were filled with tears and … I’m not ashamed to admit it – I sobbed as well.
Here’s a link to a YouTube video of Brad’s fateful lap and Steve Evans’ beautiful call: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXwCDiaAbR0
“I went in there thinking that I was going to thumb my nose at that racetrack,” Brad said. “I wanted to know that I beat it and it didn’t beat me. I took more laps – something that a lot of people thought I would never do. It was another part of the healing process for all of us.”
Thanks for the memories, Brad.