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Popular band of Outlaws set for Speedway

May 23, 1998

By Mike Sirbaugh

Staff Correspondent

Today and Sunday, the Hagerstown Speedway will host a $75,000 sprint car racing event, part of the Pennzoil World of Outlaw Series.

According to figures compiled by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, the World of Outlaws was 1997's fifth-highest attended form of auto racing. With 1,602,300 fans in attendance at 73 events, the Outlaws may not pack in 100,000 per race like NASCAR, but they do draw a large and loyal contingent each time out, averaging close to 22,000 per event.

Ted Johnson, president of the organization and a former midget racer from Madison, Wis., formed the World of Outlaws in 1978. Before that, sprint car racing was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure.

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There were no rules governing the sport to determine where, when or how they raced: hence, they became known as "outlaws." The dirt tracks were located wherever space provided, often in the sides of mountains. The cars were heavy and non-winged, and looked a lot like dune buggies and midgets.

Early sprint car drivers such as A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Mario Andretti embraced the outlaw image, traversing the country searching for the highest paying races and hoping for a shot at driving in the Indianapolis 500.

Johnson believed in the sport and was committed to organize and improve it. His strategy was simple: develop a basic set of rules, schedule a calendar of events, and acquire corporate sponsorship, then emphasize safety and higher prize money.

Under Johnson's leadership, the World of Outlaws has become the largest sprint-car sanctioning body in the United States and the fourth-largest auto racing tour in the world.

The cars evolved into strong, lightweight, winged racers and, beginning in 1984, the World of Outlaw Series went to winged racing exclusively. The initial reasoning was to extend the lives of the cars, but it just happened to add 25 square feet of advertising space on each machine.

The sponsors that are taking advantage of this advertising are no longer just those related to the auto industry. They range from manufacturers of water purification products to alertness aids to land-moving machinery.

Pennzoil Products Company has been the World of Outlaws' title sponsor since January 1997. Network Enterprises, Inc., a property of The Nashville Network, has formed a joint venture with the World of Outlaws since July 1996.

NEI is responsible for marketing and promotion of the World of Outlaws events and will oversee the media rights for the series. TNN is committed to televising 11 Series events this season and ESPN2 and Fox Sports are joining the fold. Television has helped the fan base grow tremendously because of the accessibility of both drivers and the sport.

The Associated Press has increased its coverage of sprint car racing and radio stations have invited drivers to appear on call-in shows. Of course, as the newest form of electronic media, fans can communicate with the drivers via the World Wide Web.

But most of all, fans have more opportunities to visit the drivers at the tracks because, as more events are added to the Series, sprint car racing has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States.

DRIVER PROFILES

Last season, Sammy Swindell won his third World of Outlaws championship. He or Mark Kinser won 43 of the 71 events in the Series. At Hagerstown last year, Swindell took the early lead in the Channellock Dash but Kinser won for his second straight victory at the local track.

Swindell won his first two championships in 1981-82. The 15-year gap between titles is a record among major auto racing series. The 43-year old celebrates his 26th year in sprint car racing in 1998. Swindell is the second-winningest driver in Pennzoil World of Outlaw Series history. His first victory this year was Eldora Speedway on April 11.

Kinser is the current points leader in the Series on the strength of three straight early-season victories, including a sweep of the Silver State Shootout at Las Vegas. The 34-year old shared the Rookie of the Year honors with Greg Wooley in 1984. He broke 13 single-lap track records in 1997, including the Hagerstown Speedway record.

Steve Kinser, Mark's cousin, is known as "The King of the Outlaws" and is a five-time winner at Hagerstown. He won three out of four races in March, including a sweep of the Spring Nationals at the Devil's Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas. The 42-year old is considered the greatest driver in sprint car history and has won more "A" Features than any other driver in World of Outlaws Series history.

31-year old Stevie Smith has seven to five finishes, including a victory at West Plains, MO on April 18, to place him third in the points race. Smith was the World of Outlaws Series Rookie of the Year in 1990.

The season opener at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, Arizona was won by Jac Haudenschild, who rests in fourth place in the points race. "The Wild Child" finished second in the 1995 points race and broke 10 single-lap records on his way to a fourth place finish last year.

Andy Hillenburg has finished in the top five in the Series point standings five of the last six years, including a third in 1994, beating Jeff Swindell by one point. He has single-digit finishes in all but one main event this season. Andy won a World of Outlaws feature at Hagerstown on May 30, 1993 and was the Rookie of the Year in 1988.

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