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It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. – A recent-social media post following the minor controversy with World of Outlaws officials penalizing Kyle Larson at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway: “Who cares, the Outlaws will be gone next year anyway.”

Oh, man. Some people are hopelessly out of touch with history.

Here’s the quick narrative, in case you’ve been on a snipe hunt these past nine months: Larson and Brad Sweet launched the High Limit Sprint Car Series last fall, scheduling big midweek races with broadcast partner Flo Racing. The general view is that World Racing Group (which owns the Outlaws and DIRTVision) has taken a dim view of the new series.

When Larson was penalized at Eldora for driving to the work area under red-flag conditions, the conspiracy theories instantly came to top of mind.

A large crowd at Eldora Speedway for the May 6 World of Outlaws and USAC sprint car doubleheader. (Frank Smith photo)

But … this means the Outlaws are approaching extinction?

Here’s a bold prediction: The World of Outlaws will be around long enough for the next generation of racers to fulfill their career aspirations, and then some.

Why do I make that statement?

Because history says so. Since Ted Johnson cobbled together a highly unlikely coalition of headstrong drivers and car owners back in 1978, one constant has been that other people have tried to take it away from him. Not much has changed through 45 years, as several entities — some formidable — tried to dislodge the Outlaws from the top. All failed.

It would be easy to say, “Well, I don’t have a dog in this fight.” Actually, I do. We ALL do. If history has taught us nothing else, it is that our sport thrives when it is stable, and it stumbles when it is not. Two entities fighting for control of a sport is the ultimate instability.

There has been recent grumbling from teams that they deserve a larger slice of the revenue pie, and that streaming money has brought the issue to the forefront. People who have followed the sport for many years might chuckle at that issue, because — history, once again — money has always been at the top of the grievances against the Outlaws. No matter who is in charge.

This gripe isn’t exclusive to the Outlaws, of course. If you surveyed racers from every series in America and asked their biggest gripe, it would likely be, “We should be getting paid more money.”

To their credit, Larson and Sweet have been adamant they want only to add to the sport, not take anything away. Thus far their actions have been true to their words.

Maybe there is room for another high-level series in sprint car racing. We operate in a capitalistic society, and people have every right to search for viable business opportunities. That element will take care of itself, frankly. If High Limit can get tracks, racers, fans and viewers, it will work. Time is the ultimate test.

But it’s folly to think an entity can simply stroll into the picture and displace the Outlaws. To quote my dear friend the late Speedy Bill Smith, “It ain’t that easy.”

Like every series, the Outlaws probably do some things that irritate racers and teams. For what it’s worth, raise your hand if you’ve ever had a job where you didn’t like how the boss did things.

That isn’t to diminish the Outlaws’ faults. It’s just pointing out the obvious: For the most part, we don’t like whoever is in charge.

We racing people are a funny bunch. We crave strong leadership, but immediately push back against any directive — because we don’t want to be led. (I raise my hand because I share this distinctive trait.)

Is the High Limit series a threat to the World of Outlaws? At the moment, it doesn’t appear that is their plan. Time will tell. I hope not, because a struggle for control of the top level of the sport would be a distraction that could do more harm than good.

Ted Johnson would find all of this quite interesting. It’s déjà vu all over again.


This story appeared in the May 17, 2023 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.

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