Doug Wolfgang (Ken Simon Photo)
Doug Wolfgang. (Ken Simon photo)

Doug Wolfgang: ‘I Was OK’

The images of Doug Wolfgang standing amid a joyous celebration in victory lane at the Knoxville Nationals are iconic. Five times Wolfgang reached that hallowed platform, with different scenarios leading to the same outcome.

The history of the Nationals is filled with memorable characters and stories, some inevitably fading with the passing of time. But Wolfgang and Knoxville seem to be forever linked and time has not diminished his legend at the iconic Iowa track.

At the time of his arrival as a fledgling racer in 1975, Wolfgang teamed with noted car owner Bob Trostle for the 1976 season. They enjoyed a phenomenal 1977 season that saw them win an astonishing 45 races, including the Knoxville Nationals.

That was the victory — and the season — that launched Wolfgang’s amazing career. What is particularly intriguing today is the fact that Wolfgang did not set about to have a great sprint car career; he had his sights set elsewhere.

“For me as a young kid what I really wanted was to be a star in a professional sport like football or basketball,” he recalled. “But when I got to be a certain age it was obvious the NFL or the NBA wasn’t remotely possible. So I figured the next best thing would be to be a star at the Indianapolis 500, which I figured was the biggest and greatest race there ever was.

“When I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, the guys at Indianapolis learned their trade on the dirt tracks and Winchester and Salem. But by the time I got there, those days were over. But I figured if I could win the Knoxville Nationals, surely Roger Penske would call me the next morning, right? So my focus was on where it might get me, not on winning the race itself.

“Maybe that’s why I have literally no memory of winning the 1977 Nationals with Bob,” Wolfgang said. “I don’t have any recall of those nights, just none at all. I’ve seen pictures and I’ve seen the car (I drove) sitting in the Hall of Fame, but in my mind I don’t remember. That always made Bob mad that I couldn’t remember much, but I can’t help it. That’s just how it is.”

At the end of the 1977 season, Wolfgang left Trostle to drive the famed No. 4x Speedway Motors car owned by “Speedy” Bill Smith. The pairing won the 1978 Nationals and Wolfgang admits he has more memories of the event itself.

“Actually, the only reason I went to drive for ‘Speedy’ Bill was that I figured it could get me to Indy,” he said. “That was our deal, but it never happened. We both wanted it to but it didn’t work out, that’s just the way it was.”

In due course Wolfgang gradually came to accept that his racing destiny would not progress through Indianapolis, but places such as Knoxville, Williams Grove, Eldora and Syracuse. His career carried him literally all across the nation, but each August his path led back to the storied dark-gumbo surface at Knoxville Raceway.

In 1984, Wolfgang returned to Knoxville with Pennsylvania car owner Bob Weikert and mechanics Davey Brown and Davey Brown Jr. The team was just hitting its stride, with Wolfgang joining the team just weeks earlier. They captured the 1984 Nationals title and backed it up with another triumph the following year.

Wolfgang’s tenure with Weikert was nothing short of sensational. In the course of 42 months together they won 130 races, including a phenomenal 53 in a 1985 season that was highlighted by a streak of 17 consecutive wins — a stretch that included the Knoxville Nationals.

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