February 14, 2008
DOUG WOLFGANG - THE
SOUTH DAKOTA WOLF
LONE WOLF, Dave
Argabright’s new book on Doug Wolfgang, is haunting. In fact, it is
that kind of read you keep coming back to in your mind, day after
Anyone who has spent a lifetime in
and around sprinters would have yarns to spin. But with the South
Dakota Wolf they just never seemed to stop. There were the nights of
glory with the country’s finest owners, Trostle, Weikert, et al.;
the tragedies culminating with the Larsen-Dawley fatal at Knoxville;
the pranks with Lealand McSpadden; the life-threatening incident at
LONE WOLF, however, are two amazing stories that symbolize
just how unusual Wolfgang actually is in terms of his physical
makeup. When Doug came to the Motorsports show in Atlantic City in
January, 2008, we talked about both of them.
The first one involved those glasses.
Do you remember those horrid black-rimmed ones he used to wear? Doug
does. "Gosh, by high school I couldn’t even see the blackboard. So,
in the car I used big plastic ones in the race car so they wouldn’t
hurt my nose when I crashed. But everyone thought that nobody that
dorky-looking could become anything, let alone a good racer!"
Then came along that night at
Hartford, SD, in 1977. Doug was leading, but got into the fence,
landing upside down, tail to the pack. And around came the field.
"Some guy drilled the X in back of my cage, driving my head right on
top of the magneto. I remember walking away seeing stars, but pissed
off I hadn’t won the race. I immediately started getting headaches,
and it was time for an eye appointment. The doctor said something
very uncommon had happened. I had hit so hard I didn’t need the
Fifteen years later, following his
debilitating crash at Lakeside, Doug experienced another
one-in-a-million transition. "When I first started racing," he
explained, "I assumed it would be palms-wet, scary fast. I was so
disappointed. It seemed like slow motion. I hated that feeling
because I thought it was a curse and I was always over-driving
because of it. But then I began to harness it and I realized it was
more like a gift from God. The more I focused, the more I could win.
Gosh, I could actually be leading at Knoxville and still clearly
pick out my wife and two kids in the grandstands."
But, just as the dorky glasses went
away after his 1977 accident, so did Doug’s accelerated perception
ability. It was two full years of recuperation from the burns and
other injuries at Lakeside before Doug returned to the seat. "I
probably ended up running 100 races after the accident, and I bet I
won 30 of them. But these weren’t at the highest level of sprint car
racing – and I was finding myself a completely different driver.
Suddenly things in front of me were happening FAST instead of in
that slow motion, and I would back off way too much in reaction.
Still today I don’t know what to make of it. I think about it a lot.
But, in the end, I interpreted it as God’s way of telling me, okay,
now it’s time to hang it up.’
"And I did."
© 2008 Lew
Boyd, Coastal 181