Please allow me to reintroduce myself to sprint car racing, the sport I helped transform into a household name. I’m Richard Day, Director of Public Relations of World of Outlaws Racing for 17 years.
I didn’t know what a sprint car was when I saw “World of Outlaws” as the last entry under Sports Promotions in the Dallas, TX, Yellow Pages. As a sportswriter who had written for three newspapers and a sports information service, I was intrigued. World of Outlaws Founder Ted Johnson just happened to be searching for a public relations man when I contacted him in January of 1987. Toward the end of our brief interview, the humble genius said, “well, you’ve written about sports before; I think you’ll do us a good job.” I was so overwhelmed by his faith in me, I devoted myself to promoting his series to the very best of my ability.
From my first day on the job – February 2nd (three days before Ted’s 53rd birthday) – to the 1987 season opener – February 21-22 at the Midwinter Winged Nationals at legendary Ascot Park in Gardena, CA – I took a crash course in sprint car racing. Of course “crash” isn’t the most appealing word in racing, but that’s exactly what it was as I read every publication mentioning the sport.
My eyes were as big as right rear tires as I walked through the pit area at Ascot Park. I’ll never forget the first driver I met – Dave Swindell – and what he said to me: “I’m not related to those other Swindells (World of Outlaws stars Sammy and Jeff).” Dave, who became an extremely successful West Coast race promoter, and I are still good friends to this day.
The second driver I met was Brad Doty, the ultra-personable fan favorite who won both feature races that weekend. He drove Fred Marks’ and Les Kepler’s #18 Coors Light Gambler into second place in the World of Outlaws point standings that year. Steve Kinser, Brad’s Coors Light teammate, solidified his reputation as “King of the Outlaws” by dominating the series in 1987. Steve drove cousin Karl Kinser’s #11 Coors Light Gambler to his seventh World of Outlaws championship in the series’ first nine seasons, winning 46 of the 69 main events including 12 straight and 24 of the last 26. Those two teams were so dominant, I’m sure my fingers gyrated like they were typing “Coors Light” in my sleep that year.
Thanks to Director of Competition Beryl Christian and Videographer Greg Stephens, I learned volumes and fell in love with sprint car racing that weekend. So many of the images and knowledge from that first event propelled me through the next few weeks as I returned to the World of Outlaws offices while five races were run on the West Coast. This was long before smart phones, e-mail or even fax machines allowed us to transmit results and notes. Beryl gave me everything I needed to write the series’ press releases during hour-plus phone conversations. Computers were little more than word processors in those days … it was mostly pens and legal pads. After putting it altogether, it took several hours to telecopy the information to the racing publications. Although that time-consuming routine seemed endless for the first few years, it allowed me to truly appreciate advances in technology like the fax machine, the 300-baud modem and e-mail. As technology progressed, I was able to dramatically increase the scope of my readership. I started posting my press releases on CompuServe, then messages boards and, according to former Open Wheel Magazine Associate Editor Robin Hartford, I was the first to post racing press releases on the Internet.
Competition Directors Bobby Watson, Gary Watson, Rick Ferkel and the late Bob Jackson picked up where Beryl left off before Ted hired Johnny Gibson to announce the World of Outlaws’ races. Johnny, who I worked with closely when he sold the series’ yearbooks for several years, was excellent from the beginning. He was so much more than just the voice of the Outlaws … Johnny knew exactly what information to give me and, as a direct result, my press releases improved dramatically. In fact, many fans and sponsors thought I had actually attended races I hadn’t because my descriptions of the action were so precise. So, although I was only in attendance at racetracks for about 10% of the time, great teamwork allowed me to write the press releases while handling my many duties at the office.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit writers and announcers who helped me develop my writing style: Dallas Morning News columnist Blackie Sherrod, Dallas Times-Herald columnist David Casstevens, tennis writer and announcer Bud Collins, ESPN’s Chris Berman and Alabama football announcer Eli Gold. It was a pleasure working closely with Eli, whose broadcasting I’ve enjoyed for many years, when he announced a couple of World of Outlaws races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Another group of people to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude are the photographers who so graciously and generously provided the images I used with my press releases in “Four Abreast” (the series’ newsletter), in the World of Outlaws Souvenir Yearbook and on World of Outlaws websites. The list of shooters would be extremely long and, because I don’t want to risk leaving any out, I won’t attempt to provide the names. They know who they are – and how much I truly appreciate them.
World of Outlaws super-fan Jim Taylor of James International Art and I couldn’t have produced the World of Outlaws trading card sets during the mid-1990s without contributions from the photographers who followed the series either. I really felt like I was somebody when I first saw my card.
I cherish so many fond memories of the World of Outlaws’ birthplace – Devil’s Bowl Speedway – and Knoxville Raceway, which hosts sprint car racing’s premier event. Several years ago, Bill Klingbeil, who I helped get involved in the sport, invited me to a special anniversary race at the Devil’s Bowl as a guest of Tony Stewart Racing. It was great seeing so many old friends again, but one split-second experience made that weekend – and my World of Outlaws experience – unforgettable. Steve Kinser, who was still racing full-time then, had just finished his first hot-lap session when I walked over to his hauler. He was still revving the engine in his familiar ol’ #11 when he saw me. Even though we hadn’t seen each other in many years, he removed his helmet and winked. That wink – such a simple gesture of respect from “The King of the Outlaws” – means so much to me.
I had the pleasure of meeting racing legends A.J. Foyt, Jeff Gordon, Bill Elliott and Richard Petty at the Knoxville Nationals. I’ll never forget Petty, who has still won more races than anybody in NASCAR history, saying “those guys are crazy” when he first saw the sprinters flying around Knoxville’s high-banked half-mile.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the World of Outlaws Benevolent Fund softball games in Knoxville when sponsors and series officials squared off against the drivers during the mid-1990s.
I’m eternally thankful to God for guiding me and Ted Johnson for hiring me as Director of Public Relations for World of Outlaws Racing from 1987 to 2004.