On February 23,
2017, Will Cagle, the extraordinary Modified driver out of
Tampa, Florida, was inducted into the Living Legends of Auto
Racing at the Shore Resort in Daytona Beach. It was an honor
to do the presentation.
So, I'm from up
We've got a tradition up that way of great
pavement Late Model and Modified racing. We've also got lots
of clay tracks, especially under the sanction of D.I.R.T.
But there is something that is a little embarrassing for
us. One of the plaques in the DIRT HALL OF FAME in New York
reads, "If Yankee Stadium was the house that Babe Ruth
built, then DIRT is the circuit that Will Cagle built."
The problem is that Will Cagle is from Florida, his
nickname "The Tampa Terror."
Will was a single child,
raised by his mom, and she was pretty freaked out about his
growing passion for racing. His granddad saw that Will was
special and came to the rescue, buying him a rudimentary
Midget at 16 and sending him off to the racing wars out in
"It was rough," Will recalls. "I could
never make more than $5 a night out there with that car. I
came back home flat broke in my first and last train ride,
but I sure had had my college education."
couple of seasons of winning prodigiously in Florida -
pulling in around $100 for a feature, he heard about the
Northlands where a good run might be worth $400.
in 1959, with wife Barbara and son Billy alongside, he
motored to New Jersey with a Sprint Car, a 283 Chevy with
three carbs up front. The first race would be in Lancaster,
NY, way up by Lake Erie. It was not a welcoming adventure.
On the way up north, the Cagles tried to sleep in
the homemade wooden cap on their pickup, and it got VERY
cold, especially for Floridians. Then, at the track, still
dirt at the time, it got VERY dusty, and that's when Will
got bonked in the face by a big rock. He pulled into the
infield and fell over onto his hot exhaust headers. At the
hospital an unaccomplished doctor sewed his eye shut by
But, back in New Jersey, almost immediately
Will ran into some uncommonly good luck - a famous and funky
stock car owner named Lucky Jordan. They became instant
buddies, and Lucky announced, "Well, you've got a ride. I'll
treat you just like a camshaft. I'll run you for two weeks.
If you don't work out, I'll put you back on the shelf. No
hard feelings." They never looked back.
Over the next
few summers Will blistered 'em at East Windsor, Reading,
Flemington, Nazareth, and Middletown. In the winter, the
family Cagle was back in the Sunshine state, running
Supermodifieds on the short tracks and on the Daytona
tri-oval three times. He won hundreds of shows.
having met Glenn Donnelly, Will ventured even further north,
a territory ruled by Donnelly's DIRT organization. Will was
flat-out incredible, almost all of the time aboard his own
machinery. Seventy DIRT trophies at Rolling Wheels, 53 at
Canandaigua, 84 at Weedsport - and four straight Syracuse
“Cagle on the dirt at
(Racing History Preservation Group
Collection, Dick Berggren Photo)
A non-drinker, always intense, up on the wheel, Cagle did
what he had to do to win. That determination seemed to be
born within him. Way back on Labor Day of 1952, in his first
race ever, Will whupped a huge Soap Box Derby field that
included Buzzie Reutimann. His advantage was the weighty V-8
cylinder head that he hid under the cowl to give him more
Years later in the pits at an All Star show
at Weedsport, all eyes were on him to see what rubber he
would pick for the main. He bolted on hards and motored out
to the lineup early. Then, right before the pace laps, he
snuck back into the pits where his waiting crew hustled on a
set of softs. He blew them all away. "The Tampa Terror" was
now also "Wily Will."
Astoundingly, all in all, by
August 18, 1985, Wily Will, Barbara, Billy, and his sister
Vicky, had visited 115 different race tracks and won on 75
of them, for a tally of over 900 victories. His best year
was likely 1966, when he romped off with both Middletown's
EASTERN STATES 200 and his favorite win, Langhorne, in its
second year as pavement. Amazingly he did that with his dirt
car, refitted with different springs and shocks, powered by
a 402 small block he assembled with Buzzie Reutimann, and
shoed with some special chemistry from Marvin Rifchin's M&H
But everything has its season.
August night at Weedsport, a driveshaft in Will's Modified
broke, wrapping up his leg in an unsightly, bloody mess
right in front of the grandstands. It took 45 minutes to
extricate him from the car. The leg was saved - barely - at
the cost of 31 agonizing days and nights in the hospital.
Subsequently Will would withdraw from driving. He spent
the next decade promoting the races at Middletown for
Donnelly and later, moving back south, at East Bay near
He did jump back in the seat briefly, running
Legends at Charlotte at age 69. He was very impressive.
Today Will and Barbara live in Lutz, Florida, and they
summer in the Smokeys. He's sharp as a razor, always loving
to recall his racing days on the road. It could be, however,
that Will Cagle's greatest triumph was not his high speed
competence behind the wheel. It was his unusually cautious
way of life, always attentive to his family, never spending
on credit, never partying. Very few family units were able
to survive the trials, the grind, danger, and expense of
those 60 racing years with the devotion that the Cagles
And, now, will the one and only Tampa
Terror, the wily Southerner who took the Union down, please
approach the podium to join in perpetuity the Living Legends
of Auto Racing.
"Winning in the Legends"
Preservation Group Photo)