Ralph Sheheen
Ralph Sheheen

SHEHEEN: The Demon Hits The Big Screen

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Damion Gardner earned the nickname “Demon” as a kid, and it served him well as he became one of the nation’s best sprint car racers.

Ten West Coast non-winged sprint car titles support that statement.

Win that much and it divides the fans. There are those who love you and respect your driving skills. There are others, however, who loathe your success and boo every time you win.

Gardner, who retired last winter, didn’t care. Fans were either with him or against him and he was fine with that. In fact, he fed on the negativity and used it as motivation to win again.

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Ralph Sheheen and Damion Gardner at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. (Hall of Fame photo)

That’s what champions do. They always find something that motivates them to dig a little deeper. The great Michael Jordan went as far as to make things up that an opponent might have said about him.

What Jordan knew was that you can’t just play that way in the NBA Finals. You always have to play that way if you want to be a winner and a champion. Damion Gardner knew it as well and raced that way.

The mindset of the “Demon” is fully explained in a new documentary titled “World’s Fastest Sprint Car, Damion Gardner and the Championship Mind.” The movie enjoyed a special screening at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum during the Knoxville Nationals. I was lucky enough to be invited and thoroughly enjoyed the film.

Based on the title one would assume the film focuses on Gardner’s quest to break the 200-mph mark in a sprint car at the Bonneville Salt Flats. However, the documentary, produced by Mike Grosswendt and written and directed by Sean Buckley, dives deep into what makes Gardner tick. Plus, there is plenty of great sprint car racing action from throughout Gardner’s career.

Eventually, the storyline shifts to the Salt Flats and pushing the ultimate limits of speed with a sprint car. I found this part to be riveting. Obviously, I already knew Gardner and his team achieved their goal.

It was the opportunity to go inside the team and behind the curtain as this group of dirt-track racers attacked the legendary Utah salt. They knew nothing about competing at Bonneville and the learning curve was steep. What originally started as a side project quickly became an obsession. Bonneville is known for doing that to people.

One of the most thrilling parts of the movie was watching Gardner try to control a wicked-handling race car as it skated on the salt and spun out of control at nearly 200 mph — more than once.

Gardner said they are working on distribution of the film. To keep up on when and where it can be viewed, visit the Damion Gardner Facebook fan page or @worldsfastestsprintcar on Instagram.

■ Four-time World of Outlaws champion Brad Sweet, who is operating the High Limit Racing Series along with his brother-in-law Kyle Larson, believes the series has been successful.

“We’ve proven that the High Limits concept works,” Sweet told us during the Knoxville Nationals. “People thought we wouldn’t get a crowd midweek without the Outlaws and that our purses were too high. We proved them all wrong.”

Sweet said plans are in the work to expand the series for next season.

■ Sweet and Larson also promote the famed Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, Calif. Sweet told us that promoting the northern California speed plant has made him appreciate what track owners go through. In fact, Sweet acknowledged, “Running a sanctioning body is way easier than running a track.”

■ Porsche is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and the biggest bash comes Sept. 28-Oct. 1 with the Porsche Rennsport Reunion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. It’s a must-attend event for anybody who has a passion for the legendary German marque.

There are two new books available to help celebrate Porsche’s birthday. The first is “Porsche at Le Mans,” by noted Porsche historian Glen Smale.

Starting in 1951, when a 356/2 Gmund Coupe won the 1100cc category,

this book goes year by year as Porsche annually battled the world’s greatest manufacturers twice around the clock, running through 2020 when the Dempsey-Proton Racing 911 RSR finished 25th overall and second in GTE Am.

Porsche race cars are some of the most beautiful to have raced at the Sarthe, and this 315-page book showcases many of them in hundreds of spectacular photos.

Randy Leffingwell decided to tell the Porsche story both on the track and in the dealership, covering Porsche race cars and production cars in his excellent book, “Porsche 75th Anniversary.”

It features every model, from the Gmund coupe to the electrified Taycan.

The author’s access to the Porsche archives was extensive, which means the reader gets rarely seen photos and details from those who were there when these legendary machines were conceived, put into production and raced. The archive photos are amazing. Outstanding job Randy.

■ While attending college at Chico State in California, there was a small dirt track on the outskirts of town called Cycleland Speedway. I reached out to the promoter, a gentleman by the name of Lowell Moural, and he gave me one of my first gigs on a microphone as his Friday night announcer.

Lowell had a massive impact on the northern California racing scene. I wasn’t the only one who started a career at Cycleland. Kyle Larson, Brad Sweet, Rico Abreu and Tyler Reddick are among those who ran regularly at Cycleland and went on to greater things.

Sadly, Lowell died prior to the Knoxville Nationals.

I will forever be grateful for the opportunity he gave me and for his friendship. RIP, Lowell!


This story appeared in the Sept 6, 2023 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.

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