June 18, 2009
CATCHING UP WITH
Area Auto Racing News’ annual Motorsports Show this year was
a great time as always, but it did have its challenges.
It was in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in mid-January. The East Coast
was brittle cold and dark, as was the mood of our country, anxious
about the depth of the financial crisis and the daunting challenges
confronting the new administration.
In the Coastal 181 exhibit space, however, it was as if a bright
light had suddenly been turned on. That’s when Brad Doty arrived to
spend a couple of days with us signing books. What actually appeared
at our booth was not just a legendary former sprint car driver and
now popular TV and print journalist. It was a huge, infectious grin.
Brad Doty brought warmth and cheer to every one of the hundreds and
hundreds of people he met in Atlantic City. He was a soothing balm
for the blues.
The irony, of course, was that, if anyone had the right to question
life and to be overwhelmed by tough circumstance, it would have been
Doty himself. Twenty-two years have passed since his savage,
paralyzing crash at Eldora; a full 40% of his life has already been
spent in a wheelchair.
We caught up with Brad the other day, and what follows are his words
about his life, his fate, and how he’s dealt with it. It is hard to
imagine that this unassuming guy could have become an even bigger
role model now than he was as an active World of Outlaws megastar,
but, without question, that is what’s happened.
|No way I can
downplay the gravity of what happened to me. It was one
horrific time. Laurie, my wife, was 8 ½ months pregnant.
We’d just purchased a real motorhome and we had house
payments. Maybe it was a good thing I was so out of it
in intensive care for a few weeks.
It seemed like an especially dark time because I had
thought I had the world by the tail. 1987 had been a
great season. I felt I had my racing game sorted out as
best I possibly could. Then in early 1988, I had to
switch owners, and then the accident happened. Wham.
The first year after the wreck I did little, if anything
– watching TV, feeling sorry for myself. I was really
beat up mentally and physically. I lost so much muscle
mass I couldn’t even get myself from the wheelchair to
Finally I got to the point that you can either blow your
brains out or you can soldier on.
One little incident that got me going was looking
through the window and watching Laurie mow the lawn. It
bothered me, because I really love to do yard work. So
one day I went out and pulled myself onto that garden
tractor and started mowing. Laurie saw me and came out
all excited. I’m only 5’7’, but I felt ten feet tall on
Then one day I worked myself up into our Bronco and blew
the horn until Laurie knew I was there. I constantly
challenged myself. It was a hundred little challenges
that made me better.
To be honest, my ego was hurting, though. Drivers have
big egos. Ever notice that? In August of 1989 I was
invited to the Knoxville Nationals. I pulled the van
into the infield, opened the door, and did a five-minute
interview from inside. I had driven 12 hours to get
there and I never got out of the van. They raised
$60,000 for me, but I was ashamed to have anyone see me
in a wheel chair. Even when my book STILL WIDE OPEN with
Dave Argabright, came out ten years later, I was much
less outgoing that way than I am now.
All the money all those wonderful people raised made it
possible for us to get a single floor, fully accessible
home. Gary Stanton gave me a welder, and I started
making custom metal pieces for the Amish. I got more and
more into it, challenging myself more and more.
Then Pat Patterson called me to do TV for that ten-week
Slick 50 Sprint Car Series in Arizona in February 1992.
I was really proud that I could get out there each week
by myself. A big accomplishment.
It sure was tougher to be articulate on the microphone
when I wasn’t wearing a fire suit. I was unsure and
nervous. Then in one instant I saw a broken radius rod
that would result in a wreck – and I chimed in. Dick
Berggren and Mike Joy looked over at me and smiled, as
if to say, ‘You’ve got the hang of it now.’ Little
things mean a lot.
With TV, my little parts assembly business, tee shirts,
die cast cars, and book royalties, I was actually able
to keep things together. It might have been lunch money
for the NASCAR guys, but Laurie did not have to go to
work and she could concentrate on home schooling our
three kids. She sure has been good at it. As those kids
got older, I just got dumber.
I’ve always loved to travel – and I still do. I’m quite
proud of having gone to Australia three times by myself.
In a way, it’s the travel to the races that keeps me
going. It would be hard to know that the sport was going
along without me.
…and his winning
smile. (Doug Auld photo)
You know, I’ve always been self-critical. It probably
hurt me as a driver because I felt I wasn’t as good as
the other guy. I knew I’d never go to Indy. But, over
the years, I have become more comfortable with what I
accomplished. I could have won more, but I guess I was
I just plain love sprint car racing. I’ve never had any
bitterness about my accident, but I can admit to being
kind of envious about guys who still can do it.
What does get me cranked up are those people who piss
and moan about our sport. It’s so hard for me to listen
about how this is wrong and that is wrong. I can’t
fathom nay-sayers, whether it is about the economy,
about racing, or about some personal trouble they may
have. Sure, life isn’t all wine and roses, but I think
it’s pretty neat to be here.
And, in my view, tomorrow is gonna be even better.
Maybe next time you see Brad Doty
on TV calling a World of Outlaws event so passionately, you’ll enjoy
him even more. We sure do.
© 2009 Lew
Boyd, Coastal 181