Volume 11, Number 1
Loving Every Minute of It
For the average working stiff who grinds out a mundane forty-plus
hours fifty-two times a year, waking up on Monday morning to do it
all over again sure gets old rather quickly. Some new
responsibilities or a scant pay raise may add a little bit of life
for a few days, but a job is just that and in reality, we’re all
working to settle our debts, aiming for the weekend when we can
truly enjoy what life has to offer. Sure, one should be thankful to
have an outlet to earn a wage in such bleak economic times, but that
sort of reminder isn’t the most comforting when having to
consistently deal with overwhelming workplace demands.
In such a drab, dull existence, weekend variety is the ray of light
that provides a pulse. For couples who have children and can land a
babysitter for an evening, a rare night on the town can certainly
serve as a refreshing oasis in the desert of family responsibility.
For those unattached, the sky is virtually the limit on what the
weekend can bear.
It could be a date with a beautiful woman, enjoying witty banter
over drinks and dinner. It could be a two day getaway to Chicago or
Cincinnati, where the thrill of the big city awaits. It could even
be time spent at home lounging in sweatpants in front of the
television. And for those of us afflicted with the racing bug, our
dream weekend might consist of chasing sprint cars to Bloomington,
Eldora, and Winchester. Regardless of how one chooses to spend his
or her hours from Friday evening through Monday morning, it’s a
welcomed break from the ball and chain and it helps recharge our
The Dog – A candid shot of Staab at Kelly’s Pub Too in Speedway.
(Dan Laycock photo)
When faced with the most unenviable tasks, while counting to ten,
taking deep breaths, and reverting to our own happy place, how many
of us have daydreams dominated by flying mud, slide jobs, and
screaming engines? Refuting the theory that variety is the spice of
life, those outside of the “scene” cannot fathom how anyone would
want to spend six months of their year sitting on hard pine benches,
inhaling exhaust fumes, dodging dirt clods, squinting through
irritating dust, and dining on fast food. Time consuming and
all-encompassing, it’s not for everyone. Do addicted shoppers,
gamblers, or golf players partake in their activity more than fifty
times a year? Can they afford to? Suffice it to say, racing folk
are infinitely passionate about their weekend preference and unlike
the daily grind, such repetitive behavior never seems to lose its
One such passionate soul who has pursued his motor racing madness
with unequaled fervor is Cincinnati, Ohio native Greg Staab. An
only-son who was raised on the banks of the mighty Ohio River in the
blue-collar burg of Anderson Ferry, located just three houses down
from the Staabs was the Rose residence, home to Greg’s childhood
pals Pete and Dave, Pete of course going on to make quite a name for
himself in major league baseball. Probably interrupting some
sporting event in the backyard, Mr. Rose first took his two boys and
their neighbor friend to Lawrenceburg Speedway in 1958. Completely
in awe of the spectacle that was automobile racing, from that point
on it was all over for Greg, as motorsports completely consumed his
existence since that fateful trip to the track. That’s a lot of
weekends devoted to just one activity, wouldn’t you say?
But with all sincerity, he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Simple, resolute, persistent, and to the point, that’s the German
influence in Mr. Gregory J. Staab. Absolutely certain of what he
liked at an early age, for fifty years he chased those boyhood
dreams, setting and achieving seemingly unattainable goals when
considering his humble beginnings. Unfazed by society’s norms and
doing what he wanted to do, he did so in a fashion that made his
mother and father proud.
Soon after that initial taste of auto racing, both Greg and Dave
Rose had their own go-karts for Milford Speedway competition.
Absolutely inseparable, by 1967 they moved up to the late model
stock car division at Lawrenceburg Speedway. Staab handled the
driving chores and ultimately produced championships in 1969 and
1970, the first of many to come in his storied career at the
Dearborn County speed plant.
Just two years later, a chance midget opportunity came courtesy of
Tom Dickinson at Illinois’ Grundy County Speedway, albeit in some
rather antiquated equipment. Battling a 103 degree temperature,
Greg failed to make the cut but thankfully another offer was
extended by Norm Powers for the following weekend. Qualifying and
finishing fourth against a stout AMRA field proved that he could do
this and his dream of reaching the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
suddenly didn’t seem too far fetched.
In the early 1970s, the road to Indy still began with the United
States Auto Club midget division so naturally the Staabs pooled
resources to purchase some hardware. Hitting the road when USAC’s
midgets crisscrossed the country, the grueling slate rivaled any
rock band’s North American World Tour. Underfunded and
inexperienced, Greg honed his skills by dueling night after night
with men like Pancho Carter, Johnny Parsons, Tommy Astone, Jimmy
Caruthers, Sleepy Tripp, Mel Kenyon, Rich Vogler, and Steve
Lotshaw. Despite the humbling experience of struggling to make
features, in the same breath it was the time of his life, getting to
see all corners of the country while enjoying unequaled
Battling uphill for a handful of seasons, a 1977 Salem thumb and
shoulder injury provided a pause and allowed the family unit to
re-evaluate priorities. Nearly void of sponsorship and
necessitating an endless supply of dollars to keep up with the
latest in engine technology, the travel-intensive schedule also did
not allow time for a proper income producing position. Forever
grounded in blue-collar work ethic, Greg made the bold but suddenly
sensible decision to stay closer to home and resume a Monday through
Friday job, eventually landing a position as a mechanic with the
City of Cincinnati’s Municipal Garage in October of 1979, punching
the same time clock for 25 years.
Full-scale racing dreams did not have to be abandoned however, as
the Queen City’s proximity to Indiana dirt tracks allowed him an
opportunity to sample the previously unexplored society of sprint
cars. Sleep deprived and elbows-up in oil and grease, just how many
Monday mornings did he have visions of the upcoming racing weekend?
Fueled by his insatiable racing desire and long before the days of
Red Bull, sprint car racing gave Greg his wings.
Early into his sprint car career Staab’s talent caught the eye of
Dayton, Ohio businessman Tom Stenger. Finally afforded the
resources and personnel to excel against the best of the best, not
surprisingly the decade from 1978 through 1988 was Greg’s most
productive. Racking up 56 feature victories in that time span, 19
came in a mind-blowing 1984 campaign where his win total was fourth
highest in the nation. Along the way, he nailed down an impressive
array of track titles, five of them at Lawrenceburg Speedway (’82,
’83, ’84, ’85, ’87) and one at Bloomington (1984).
Owner of numerous awards to commemorate his accomplishments, during
the Stenger era Staab was named driver of the year by the Cincinnati
Auto Race Club (’82, ’87, ‘89), the Buckeye Auto Race Fans (’83,
‘89), and the Dayton Auto Racing Fans (’83). The dream of competing
at 16th and Georgetown nearly came true in 1983, invited
to drive for the Rattlesnake Racing Team out of Pensacola, Florida.
Unfortunately, funding never materialized and outside of his days of
working as a crew member for Hoffman Auto Racing’s 1979 and 1980
“500” efforts, Indy was alas, still just a dream.
Holding His Own – A legend among legends, Greg kneels on the
front row (second from the left) in a photo opportunity after the
Hoosier Racers Swap Meet Legends Roundtable discussion in January of
2007. (Unknown photo source)
Readjusting goals yet again and having accomplished everything he
could at The Burg, he returned to the USAC trail full-time in 1988
and wound up a solid second in the national sprint car standings.
Nursing a deflating right rear tire, he dramatically held off all
comers to steal his first career national victory at Indianapolis
Raceway Park, televised live to the world on ESPN’s Thursday Night
Thunder. Close enough to sniff a national championship, in the
years following 1988 he isolated all energies to achieving that
goal. A USAC loyalist through and through, unfortunately he never
quite reached his goal, rewarded with points finishes of fourth
(’89), third (’90), seventh (’91), thirteenth (’92), eighth (’93),
seventh (’94), and sixth (’95). Tenth in ’85 points, eight out of
eleven years he would wind up inside of USAC’s top ten, a feat in of
Even more amazing is the fact that he did it while holding down that
full-time job with the city of Cincinnati. In 1986 alone, he
managed to compete 86 times while staying in the good graces of his
employer. Combine day-time duties with racecar maintenance, a
rigorous and religious workout regimen, and the travel required to
race and what you have is one dizzying schedule. How many kids from
today’s world could keep up with such an agenda?
Making 177 USAC sprint car starts through July of 1996, while in
action at Paragon, Indiana another competitor’s wheel entered his
cockpit, seriously injuring his left humerus and thus requiring the
services of famed racing fixer-upper Dr. Terry Trammel. Somehow
recovering from serious spills at Lakeside (’91) and Salem (’77), he
made yet another bold decision to hang up his driving gear for good
after the Paragon incident, earning him the coveted Emma Ray Award
for Courage from the late Joie Ray.
Strong-willed and stubborn, it only seems logical that the man who
devoted his entire existence to auto racing would find a way to stay
involved. Reinventing himself, he teamed up with young Cincinnati
charger Joey Kerr to campaign a USAC sprint car effort for 1997.
Not to be undone, he also took over operation and promotion of his
beloved Lawrenceburg Speedway from 1997 through 2000, saving the
place from extinction. Burning the candle at both ends and
literally running on fumes for those four years, Staab got very
little sleep when dealing with the headaches and stress of running a
racetrack. And yet, he still managed to faithfully punch that clock
for the city of Cincinnati. After splitting with Kerr, he still
managed to field a sprint car as well, earning a Lawrenceburg
Speedway sprint car championship with Jason Setser behind the wheel
of his familiar yellow number 44.
Along the way, he befriended fellow competitor Johnny Heydenreich,
annihilating I-74 asphalt to maintain Johnny’s Silver Crown car that
was based out of Indianapolis. And for a brief while, he was even
employed at Tony Stewart Racing before he landed his dream job with
the United States Auto Club, heading up the national sprint car
division for 2006. Finally, after two decades of desiring such an
address, he packed up his belongings and made the move to
Indianapolis. Nearly everything he had ever envisioned was now
reality and things could not get any better.
Happy Dog – At a Hoffman Auto Racing fish fry, Greg grins after
testing out creator Josh Shaw’s 1940s era sprint car replica. Shaw
is kneeling in the background while Rob Hoffman admires the machine.
(Keith Wendel photo)
Unfortunately, life is never perfect as a shift in USAC management
and philosophy eliminated his position midway through 2008.
Disappointed but undaunted, like a chameleon he changed colors once
again and adapted to the environment of the day, joining Darryl
Guiducci’s Team Six-R Racing. Having the time of his life, he
couldn’t be any happier, continuing to do what he wants to do, all
these years later. Now sixty years old, he’s spent all but ten of
his years heavily involved in motor racing. How many of us can
maintain that level of devotion for that many years, in any chosen
field? It’s simply amazing.
Even with his one-track mind on automobile racing, variety and some
level of balance is still key to Greg’s life. He enjoys baseball
and football. He is heavily involved in physical fitness. He is an
avid fan of music. He also loves animals, nursing his diabetic
feline friend Ralph. On the racing front, he’s kept things
interesting by competing as both a driver and a car owner. He’s
promoted and operated a racetrack. He’s served as a mechanic and a
crew chief. He’s mentored young drivers. He’s even served as a
series official, working with other track owners to develop
schedules. Still setting goals, he remains as passionate and
focused as the day he began racing go-karts with his lifelong buddy
Dave Rose, who also moved to Indianapolis and shares the same
address just west of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since being
introduced to auto racing at Lawrenceburg Speedway in 1958, he has
been there, done that, and enjoyed it, loving every minute of it.
As has been said a million times, racing is full of so many unique
personalities who keep things extremely interesting. But among that
cast of characters, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone as
dignified, classy, well-liked, and positive as Greg. You’d also be
hard pressed to find anyone as relentless and resilient, knocked
down so many times only to get back up, dust himself off, and stay
intimately involved in the activity he loves most. One of the
hardest working men I’ve ever known, the blue-collar racer is a true
go-getter, consistently making the impossible seem possible.
Honored and privileged to have had the opportunities to chase his
dreams for so long, it is because of passionate people like Greg
Staab that sprint car racing has managed to survive and thrive
through the years.
Perhaps he hasn’t accomplished everything he has wanted in terms of
feature wins and national championships, but he still beams with
pride when thinking of where he has come from and what he’s been
able to get done on pure desire. If there were ever was a category
for premier ambassador on the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame
ballot, Mr. Staab would be a landslide winner.
Regardless of whether or not he makes the Hall of Fame, he is still
living the dream, now combining work with his lifelong obsession.
Not having to worry about the stress of maintaining a fleet of
trucks on a tight budget or supervising the work of others, he still
enjoys getting his hands dirty and tinkering with mechanical
equipment. But, instead of daydreaming about his weekend racing
during those work hours, he is literally living the dream. I have
to say, I’m more than a little envious.
Many a special thank you is extended to the generous souls of Dave
Rose, Keith Wendel, Gene Marderness, John Mahoney, Jackie
Litchfield, Kevin Eckert, and Danny Laycock, as each one went out of
their way to dig through the archives to provide valuable
information, stories, statistics, and timeless photographs that
added so much color to an already vibrant story and career. And of
course, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank “The Dog” himself, Greg
Staab, for so eloquently answering three and a half hours of
questions. Putting his memory to the test, he passed with flying
So without futher delay, please sit back and enjoy the recount of a
mid-January afternoon conversation I shared with Greg, one of the
most interesting and entertaining stories I’ve been able to put into
words thus far. It’s a long road, so beware - you might have to
complete the reading in more than one sitting. Enjoy!
KO: You have had a long standing
love affair with motor racing and I know of few people who have
remained as fiercely passionate and upbeat about the sport through
the years. Cincinnati isn’t a huge racing town, so what got it
started for you?
GS: In 1958, I was neighbors with the Roses. The name Pete Rose
would be synonymous with the baseball player. It was his father,
his brother, and himself. His father took me to Lawrenceburg
Speedway in 1958 and it was completely over with for me. From that
point on, I was locked in and this is what I wanted to do at age
KO: As a kid, did you attend any
midget races at the Cincinnati Race Bowl or were you too young?
That track went away in the late 1950s or so. Did you go to any
GS: I can remember being there. I can’t give you any details, but
I believe my father and my uncle Charlie took me there one time or
maybe more. I can remember seeing the place. I can remember it
being in Evendale. I know exactly where it was. I could take you
to the spot where it was. But I can’t remember a whole lot about
the things that were going on. I might have even been younger than
eight at the time.
GS: Evendale - not too terribly far from the GE jet engine plant.
KO: Were there any other
racetracks you attended as a kid? Other than Lawrenceburg and the
Race Bowl, there weren’t too many choices in the Cincinnati area.
Was it just being at The Burg that got that bug started?
GS: Shortly after that, there was a racetrack in Glen Este, Ohio
that had quite a bit of stock car racing and the sprint cars would
go there occasionally. And then my mom and dad would take me to
that occasionally and we’d get to see sprint cars run there on a
KO: You mentioned Pete Rose’s
younger brother Dave. You’ve known him nearly your whole life and
he is currently your Indianapolis roommate here on west 16th,
not too far from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While growing up,
how close did you live to the Rose family, two houses down or three
GS: We were three houses down from the Rose family. We moved there
in 1953 and from that point on, I’ve been around Dave and his
brother for most all of my life.
KO: So did you play any backyard
sports with those guys?
GS: Oh, we did everything! We played baseball. We played
football. We did it all. We did the whole thing. I did little
league baseball. I didn’t do football because it was too tough for
my father to get me to practices and so forth. Yeah, I did a lot of
sports. I was not as gifted as those guys were but we did a lot of
KO: So talking about Pete Rose,
were you able to stay in contact with him when he was at his peak in
baseball? Obviously Pete Rose was HUGE and he was a busy guy, in
demand all of the time. Were you still able to maintain any contact
GS: We did. We did. We remained friends for years. I’d see him
when he was in town when I lived in Cincinnati. Just recently, we
had dinner with him in Las Vegas. He signs autographs at the Field
of Dreams at Caesar’s Palace Mall in Las Vegas and Dave, Dick
Jordan, and I had dinner. It was a very, very cordial, warm
dinner. It was a great time. We had a great time with him. Yeah,
we’re still good friends.
KO: Was he able to keep track of
your racing even when he was winning World Series games? Was he
always interested in your racing?
GS: He did to a point. Obviously he was preoccupied with his life
and what a great, great career he had. He kind of new what was
going on with me. He also knew when I got hurt, so I guess he was
keeping fairly close tabs whenever there were any injuries.
KO: So you’ve known Dave Rose
since you were about three years old, but did you ever lose touch
with him throughout the years?
GS: David moved to Tampa. David moved to Boca Raton. But we
always kept in touch. There might be a month or six weeks where we
wouldn’t talk, but it was always pretty close.
KO: Since you lived very close to
the Roses, you would have grown up in the Anderson Ferry area of
Cincinnati, not Western Hills like many would want to believe. You
went to high school in Western Hills. Talk a little bit about your
community of Anderson Ferry and what it was like growing up there in
the ‘50s and ‘60s.
GS: Anderson Ferry was down on the river, right near the Anderson
Ferry which still runs today. The ferry boat is a shortcut across
to the airport for a lot of people who can cut out going downtown to
go to the bridges to get to the airport. You can just jump across
on the ferry boat and shoot to the top of the hill and the airport
is right at the top of the hill. It was a basic, low or mid-level
blue-collar area I would say. Everyone worked. Everyone had daily
jobs. Everyone worked and strived very hard to get ahead and keep
their heads above water. Work ethic was a big thing in the area.
Dave Rose still has an incredible work ethic. Pete obviously has a
work ethic. Mine’s pretty good where I come from. We work pretty
hard. It was just a blue-collar, hard-work area and you were taught
as a kid to learn how to work and create things for yourself.
And I picked a sport that was very difficult to get into. With the
grace of my mother and father, who were the best in the world, and I
miss them terribly, but they got me a go-kart and a go-kart
progressed onto the next level into stock cars. We didn’t have a
lot of money but we just kept trying, trying, and trying and
eventually it worked out to be a pretty good ending of a pretty good
story, really. From no money and a blue-collar area to what I ended
up doing, I’m pretty proud of it.
KO: Dave told me that you guys
would have been considered “river rats”. Was flooding ever an issue
for your home?
GS: Flooding was an issue in two years. The water got across the
road and that was when we’d all get together and get our ball bats
and go down towards the railroad tracks and club the rats as they
came across. When the rats would come across, our main sport was
killing rats before they could get to our house. Or my dad would sit
in the front yard with a .22 and pop them when they tried to come up
in the yard.
KO: So they were pretty big?
GS: Yeah. And there were a lot of them too.
KO: Wow! So what’s that
neighborhood like in 2009 compared to growing up?
GS: Like any neighborhood, the blight has taken effect and it has
deteriorated to the point where it’s nowhere near as nice as when we
had it. I’m sure everyone understands that, that they’ve seen the
same thing happen with their areas or a lot of areas. It’s nowhere
near as nice as it was when we were there.
KO: So is your house still there
that you grew up in?
GS: It is. It is for a fact. And it had a long-standing history.
It’s a huge stone house and it can be seen for miles on the Ohio
River. You can see it standing out on the hill compared to all the
rest. That’s pretty much the way it was. It was a blue-collar area
without a lot of money and we actually rented the second floor for,
oh geez, twenty-nine years I believe it was. Nobody could afford to
do anything different. So, that’s the way that was.
KO: Did you have any brothers and
sisters and what did your dad do for a living?
GS: No brothers or sisters. I was an only-child which right away
people are going to think, wow, spoiled brat but guess what? It
wasn’t that way at all.
My father worked for the C&O Railroad. He retired from the
Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad after 33 years of service. He started
out as an operator and then he became a yardmaster, which puts the
trains together. And he moved around from Spring Grove, Kentucky to
across the river to Cincinnati and then back over to Covington.
Every night he’d be in a different place putting trains together as
KO: With your dad retiring from
the C&O, it’s kind of ironic that your house is so close to the C&O,
or B&O, tracks that ran through the middle of Speedway. You could
probably hit a baseball or golf ball from your house to the old
tracks. I guess the railroads aren’t necessarily dying, but it’s
kind of sad to see all that infrastructure go away.
GS: They still use it a lot, if you’re paying attention out on the
road. When we go out west, you’ll see the huge trains out through
New Mexico and Arizona – great big, long trains with lots of cars –
front-end pushers and back-end pushers…
KO: I know Dave Rose enjoyed
baseball and geared his life towards becoming a baseball player.
Did you have any aspirations other than racing?
GS: After eight years old, that’s all I cared about. That’s all I
wanted to do. The nuns would catch me drawing pictures of sprint
cars in between papers in the books and it probably took away from
some of my education but racing is all I ever wanted to do. And to
this day, it’s really what I want to do.
KO: To my knowledge, you were an
employee for the city of Cincinnati for many, many, many years until
you retired. When did you start working for the city?
GS: October 27th, 1979.
KO: So what was your position when
you started and what was it when you stopped?
GS: I started out as a mechanic’s helper and moved up to a
mechanic. Then I moved up to crew chief and then became an
assistant supervisor before I left and retired at 25 years and 55
years of age.
KO: Ok! Other than at
Lawrenceburg Speedway when you were running that joint, did you have
any other jobs outside of racing?
GS: I did in fact. I had many, many jobs because when it came time
for racing season, I was gone to go racing and that job was gone.
Except for one – I worked seven years for the Kroger Company at the
Gold Crest Candy Company - making candy. I was a candy cook. I was
a candy enrober operator. Everything we had to do to make every
kind of candy, I did it. You name a candy and I can tell you how it
was made. We made it.
KO: Wow. And that was owned by
GS: Kroger Company – it was under the Gold Crest label and I think
they moved it down south near Atlanta or someplace and capitalized
on cheaper labor.
KO: In talking to Dave Rose, I
learned that you both were racing karts at about age 12. Is that
when you first started?
GS: That is a fact. I started at eleven years old racing go-karts
at Milford Speedway with David. Gary McCabe, Eddie Fowler and some
other friends of mine, we all had karts around that time. The
go-karts went from ’59 to ’63 and there were a couple of years in
there where I didn’t have anything to do and couldn’t get anything
going. In ’67 or ’68, we put our first stock car together.
KO: So in those karting years, who
did better, you or Dave?
GS: Dave didn’t get a lot of help from a lot of people. I did
better than Dave but Dave had the potential. He was going to win
his first race he was ever in. The chain came off the kart. Yeah,
he was a gifted driver actually when he was young.
KO: So he did everything good,
huh? We were talking about him earlier from one of your pictures,
having all the talent…
GS: Well, when God gave out the talent, he gave it all to David.
And he gave Pete the work ethic. David had God-given talent - to
burn. He could out run you. He could out hit you. He could knock
you down. He could hit a ball farther. He could do all of it. He
was just gifted by God up above.
KO: He was a bad-ass huh!
GS: Pretty much.
KO: So your yellow number 44 – did
you choose this color and number on your own or were you influenced
in any way by some other driver or car, maybe one that you were
drawing pictures of?
GS: Ironically, the number 44 came from Jim Bob Luebbert and Tom
Soudrette. Jim Bob runs Speedway Monogramming up here, the same guy
who went on to run USAC sprints and moved on through the ranks
also. That’s where the number came from.
And for some strange reason, I was at Salem Speedway or Dayton
Speedway and I saw George Snider’s gorgeous yellow number 22 car
that he built back in 1970 or ’71 and it just took me completely out
of my mind and I had to have a yellow racecar with a number 44 on
it. And that’s exactly the way we went from there. I chose the
number and the color just jumped up. That bright yellow was just
beautiful to me and that’s why we did the yellow 44 thing.
KO: And in later years, your gold
or silver leaf lettering and stuff like that, that’s probably where
it came from?
GS: Snider’s car had yellow with silver leaf numbers on it – it was
just incredible to me.
KO: And I’m sure the numbers
GS: Mmm, MMM! Mmm, MMM!
KO: At Kelly’s Pub one of the
other nights, I recall Dave Rose talking about one of your stock
cars you raced – it was a ’66 Falcon body placed on a ’56 Ford
frame. Doing a little further research I found that you were the
1969 and 1970 Lawrenceburg late model champion, which I’m sure was a
feat in its day because I imagine there were some stout guys
competing. Was the stock car deal a successful endeavor?
GS: One of those seasons was an abbreviated season because of a
problem with the fair board. It was a short season with seven races
or something and we did well in several of them and it ended up
being that way. But, what it did Kevin was let me know whether I
could do this or not. Everyone doubts themselves to a point and
even I was doubting myself whether I could get out there and do this
after watching some of the things that I’d seen. And this proved to
me that I could go do this thing and I enjoyed the heck out of it.
Learning Curve – The USAC midget circuit served as a supreme test
for the Staab family, as Greg circles the east end of Terre Haute’s
Action Track on July 30th, 1974. (John Mahoney photo)
KO: Some of the guys you raced
against, perhaps Shane Mugavin’s dad?
GS: Father John. John Mugavin. Oh geeze…Don Wilbur. Pat
Patrick. Rodney Combs. On and on and on. Chuck McWilliams later
on. There’s just a billion. Gene Petro. A lot of the guys who
were around back then were really fast.
KO: So other than Lawrenceburg,
would you run a place like Florence?
GS: Tri-County! Tri-County Speedway.
KO: When it was dirt?
GS: When it was dirt, it was THE class place of the racing areas
around here. It was so far ahead of its time. It had bathrooms in
the infield and a nice driver’s lounge upstairs. It was NICE! And
we would run a Wednesday night there and a Saturday night there, two
nights a week. And I learned a heckuva lot running that half-mile
with that little Falcon. It stepped me on up to go to the next
KO: So if Tri-County ran
Wednesdays and Saturdays, did The Burg run Fridays?
GS: That was during the time when there were problems with the fair
board. There was a contract issue and I’m not real sure what it was
KO: Did you have some feature wins
in the stock cars?
GS: Second, third, second, third, fourth, fifth…we just didn’t have
the money to have the big 300 cubic inch Ford truck engine. We had
a little 240. Everyone else had the 300s and the 292 inch
Chevrolets. I was a little bit outclassed on the horsepower on that
big racetrack but we gave them Hell with what we had. We eventually
got a 300 and they of course stepped it up too but it was just a
progression. It was a very good learning experience to run that
KO: With the smaller engine, it
probably taught you to be smooth… you couldn’t afford to ease up and
you had to be precise.
GS: Momentum was a big issue there and like you said, there wasn’t
enough power to pass these guys. You’d creep up on ‘em and get to
them and once you got to them, it was very difficult to pass them
because you didn't have enough power to go by.
KO: Doing a little research again,
1972 was the first year I saw you listed in USAC midget points. Was
this indeed your first year for midgets?
GS: I got to run a car at Grundy County. A fellow by the name of
Tom Dickinson had a car. He had an Offy-Kurtis. My dad allowed me
to run with Tom up there and we went to Grundy County and I ran the
pavement one time and missed it. I had a 103 fever and tried to run
the car up there that night the very first time. And then the
following week we went to McCutchenville, Ohio at an AMRA race with
Norm Powers. I ran against the likes of John Tenney and Les Scott
and Jack Calabrase. People like that. I qualified fourth. I made
the dash. And I finished fourth in the feature, my first time on
dirt with a midget back then. I knew then that I could do it.
KO: You had to be pumped.
GS: I knew then that I could do it. I was wound up!
KO: Making the jump to midgets
instead of sprint cars - was that just the natural progression in
those days? You had to start off in midgets and that’s unlike today
when kids can race sprint cars at tracks where they let ‘em run
before they are of proper age. You had to learn somewhere and
midgets were the place to learn?
GS: Midgets were the place to learn and even after running them for
seven years, I still had a great, great difficulty in getting a
ride. I was 31 years old, check that, 29 years old before they even
let me get in a sprint car. They said I didn’t have enough
experience. And I’d already run six or seven years of USAC
KO: Man! It was a different
GS: People were hardcore back then and they didn’t want just anyone
sitting in their racecar.
KO: Too many guys getting killed…
GS: Oh, it was much more lethal than it is now. There’s no
KO: Safety just wasn’t even a
KO: So who did you purchase your
first midget from? I’m sure you have some interesting stories. I’m
curious about the chassis and engine combination.
GS: The first midget came from a fellow from Pennsylvania by the
name of Wayne Woodward. We drove to York, Pennsylvania to take a
look at it and when we got there, the pictures of the car that he
sent us weren’t the car we were looking at. The description of the
car wasn’t the car. The trailer wasn’t the trailer he described and
we were pretty much stuck. But dad talked him down on the price and
we grabbed this old car and brought it home. It turns out that the
car had a devious past and I’m not going to get into that…
We took it and put it back together, completely rebuilding it with
Mel and Don Kenyon’s help. Dad built a Chevy-II four cylinder
engine for it, which was a pretty good engine at the time. That
next year, the Sesco came out and made the Chevy-II obsolete. That
comes full circle again later. Once I got my Sesco, the VWs came
out and made that Sesco outdated. So then shortly after that, the
Cosworth came out and made the VWs outdated. So this thing becomes
a long, roundabout thing and I was out of the midgets by then
Say Cheese – Strapped in his midget, Greg poses for the camera at
the Indiana State Fairgrounds on May 16th, 1975. (John Mahoney
KO: It just ends up being a lot of
money that you spend and prices a lot of people out I’m sure. So
the Kenyons, you said they helped you out but were there any other
guys along the way who were invaluable as far as advice?
GS: Bob Higman was good to me. Mel and Don Kenyon – I can’t say
enough about them. There were times I’d drive up to Don’s shop,
take my welding helmet with me, and take a day off of work just to
sit and watch him weld, to learn how to TIG weld. And I’m not the
best TIG welder. I’m not Billy Puterbaugh. I’m not as good as
these guys they’ve got here. But I learned to put these cars
together and they won’t fall apart. I put my front end together for
the sprint car at Winchester and it never fell off so I guess we did
KO: Yeah – that’s a lot of force
on that right front!
GS: But Don took very good care of me. There were times when we
had money problems and they waited on their money and they waited
until we could get it. They were very good to me over the years and
Don taught me a lot. And Mel taught me a lot on assembly. He was
very, very hard on me. He was very point blank about things. He
told the truth and it paid off because we assemble a pretty nice
KO: Tough love from Mel?
GS: I’d say that’s a good one!
KO: Looking at your USAC points
finishes, I’ll read off the stats. 115th in ’72, 28th
in ’73, 14th in ’74, 16th in ’75, and 14th
in ’76 (also competing sporadically in ’77, ’78, and ’79). Judging
by the numbers, this looked like a tough series to find success.
Were you a full-time competitor, chasing the entire deal in ’74,
’75, and ’76?
GS: Pretty much. We had one sponsor one year, I believe it was
’76. ’75 or ’76. It was the Scio Cabinet Company. Mr. Bob Riggs
from up in Ohio, he helped us out a bit, spent a little money, and
bought us a few items. It made all the difference in the world. I
was never able to crack the top-ten because of money. We worked
very, very hard at it and as you can see, I didn’t let up. But it
taught me an unbelievable amount about racing and cars. It came
back to do me a better deal later on.
KO: Chasing the USAC midget tour
back then, I cannot imagine that you had a full-time job when you
were literally crisscrossing the country, but did you have a
full-time job when you were doing that? Did you try?
GS: I did most of the time. I worked for Don’s Crankshaft Company
for two of those years, ’75 and ’76 I think it was. Or ’74 and
’75. And Don would let me go racing whenever necessary.
KO: What’s Don’s last name?
GS: Kemper. And Don’s Crankshaft Company is now defunct and
everyone has pretty much gone to different areas and Don passed away
several years ago. It made a difference. He let me do that. And
if I didn’t have a job, jobs were easy to get back then. You’d just
go get another job. It was no big deal. You’d walk in, put your
application in, and a few days later they’d call you. It isn’t like
today. It’s tough now.
KO: When you traveled the country,
who was your primary help? You had told me earlier that you went
through a lot of guys because it was a grueling schedule. From your
scrapbook, I saw that your dad helped you out a lot but when you’re
up and down the road, hauling all the way to Denver or Salt Lake
City, who were some of the guys you remember helping?
GS: Timmy Martini from Cincinnati went with me quite a bit. Bob
Noppert went with me quite a bit. And Rick Schwarm, who lives in
Tampa now, or Fort Meyers, he helped me a ton many years ago. But
basically it was my dad and myself. Dad was a rock. He would plan
his vacation time. He’d get the schedule. He’d pre-plan his
vacation time of when he could be off. He would hit as many races
as he possibly could. I think he only sent me out on my own in the
first few years for like six races total.
KO: Is Timmy Martini any relation
to Denny Martini?
KO: Talk about some of the names
from the USAC midgets you had to race against on a regular basis.
When I was looking through those stats from Kevin Eckert’s website (www.openwheeltimes.com),
it was amazing to see some of the guys you went head-to-head
against. It was just such a different time back then compared to
now. I’m not sure why, but the quality of competitors seemed so
much stronger in your era. Who were some of those names?
GS: I can load you up on names. Pancho Carter. Johnny Parsons.
Tommy Astone. Jimmy Caruthers. Danny Caruthers. Well, Danny was
gone by the time I got there. But Jimmy Caruthers was still
around. Sleepy Tripp. Bobby Tripp. Danny McKnight. Uh…geeze.
KO: Rich Vogler?
GS: Rich Vogler. I’ve been to Rich Vogler’s house. We’ve worked
out of their yard before. We’ve traveled with them. Steve Lotshaw
is a very close friend of mine. Mike Gregg became a close friend of
mine. Jimmy Beckley from Denver became a close friend. So many
people that if you sit there for a few minutes and think, but those
are the ones that I got to know. I got to know Rick Goudy. I got
to know Wally Pankratz from out there. Just all the west coast
guys…Leigh Earnshaw from the East. And Ken “Mister” Brenn from the
East. There’s a lot of relationships you build over the years just
by doing the USAC midget schedule.
KO: Who did you like to race
GS: Steve Lotshaw was quality. Mike Gregg was quality. You could
run against those guys. Some of the other guys would hit you and
knock you out of the way. I wasn’t used to that nor could I afford
to have that. You couldn’t afford to have your stuff bent up. They
all ended up being great racers and that proves it right there.
KO: Who did you NOT like to race
against? Who were some of those who ran into you?
GS: You had to watch Rich when you were around Rich. He would
whack you on the way by. Rich would not intentionally do it but it
would happen and then you’d be sitting there with a bent racecar.
And if you saw him coming, you’d kind of give him a little extra
room because he’d slam you.
KO: Anybody else you remember like
GS: Not really. Not in the midgets. There wasn’t too many. There
wasn’t a lot of that. Well, safety equipment wasn’t anywhere near
what it is now. So you couldn’t afford to be that way. You had to
watch your ass because you could get hurt in a heartbeat in these
things and it isn’t like it is now with the seats and head and neck
restraint devices and everything.
KO: Plus with the number of races
you went to, you’re way out in the middle of nowhere and trying to
repair cars would be tough.
GS: Precisely. And you can’t always find a garage to fix a bent
tubular chassis you know?
KO: At the bigger races like the
Hut Hundred, some even bigger names would come out like Foyt, Gary
B., etc. At the time when you were just trying to make the show,
could you appreciate the legendary talent that you raced against?
GS: Absolutely. You’d just be overwhelmed because generally the
Hoosier Hundred was the day before. And you went up there and
licked your chops, watching the Silver Crown cars. Back then they
were called Champ Dirt cars. And you watched those guys run those
cars and they’d come to the Hut Hundred the following day. You’d
see George Snider. Tom Bigelow. Pancho. You’d see Johnny
Parsons. Jan Opperman. A.J. Foyt would come over and run. There’s
just all big names would come over and run like you said. Don Holley
was a guy from California that I could remember reading about. Don
Holley, he ran flat-track motorcycles, was running for Gus Sohm and
he came to the Hut Hundred.
And the Hut Hundred was much tougher. Much, much tougher to make
back then. I only made two I believe.
KO: You were saying that 80 cars
would show up for 33 spots.
GS: And the same thing for Ascot Park at Turkey Night. You’d go
out there and there would be 80 racecars. I never did make a Turkey
Night race. Never.
KO: So you’d have to qualify
within a certain range?
GS: If not, you’re on the trailer. You didn’t get a C-main, B-main
– none of that stuff. It was either what you did or what you
didn’t. The Hut Hundred was very, very difficult to make.
KO: Go hard or go home!
KO: No provisionals either.
GS: It wasn’t even heard of.
KO: My gut tells me that the USAC
midget scene in the ‘70s might just have been a fun time. Of course
it was harder than hell to make those shows, but what was it really
GS: It was hard work. It was educational. You got to befriend a
lot of people and create a lot of great relationships. The
competition was absolutely incredible. You really didn’t know who
was going to win each night. It was very, very competitive.
KO: Some of the characters…who
were they and how much fun was it being around those people?
Traveling from city to city in a caravan, I’m sure there were some
jokesters in there.
GS: Oh you know it. Billy Engelhart – I got to be really good
friends with him. Steve Lotshaw was pretty much a case. He had a
dry sort of sense of humor and we just had a great time with Stevie
Lotshaw and his father Dick. They were great people. They treated
me good and I’ll never forget those days either. They were probably
KO: Talk about the stark
differences between the midget scene back then compared to now.
Money, equipment, resourcefulness, ingenuity of the racers, and the
camaraderie. Back in the ‘70s, money and equipment weren’t as big
of a factor. The resourcefulness and ingenuity – this was more
prevalent back then compared to now. Camaraderie - especially
bigger back then compared to now. Was that the reality? People
talk about how good things were and they look at them now and things
aren’t horrible, but there’s quite a big difference.
GS: We all had a great level of camaraderie back then. As I said,
I stayed at Vogler’s house. I stayed at Mike Gregg’s house. We all
just got along good and it was a lot of father-son things, kind of
like it is now. But I guess the main difference is now all the cars
are cookie-cutter cars. Back then, there were the LTC cars. There
were the Edmunds cars. There were the Higman cars. There were five
or six different manufacturers of cars and five different motors.
You didn’t have to have one specific thing. Now, it’s a
cookie-cutter situation. You have to have this or that, whatever is
hot at the time. It could be the Toyota. Nowadays it could be the
Mopar. You don’t know. It could be the new Chevrolet. Back then
it was a little bit like that but the cars were different. You
could have a Benson. George Benson, up in Northern California,
built one heck of a pavement car, probably THE best pavement car
that was built back then. But he would only build like five a year
and the west coast guys would grab ‘em up. So you’d go out west to
run Roseville or San Jose and the Benson cars would just blow you
away. And it’s not that way anymore. It’s one particular car.
Cookie-cutter cars have kind of changed that part.
KO: I miss the days of seeing some
of those Badger midgets. Donnie Jones had one around here.
GS: Rollie Lindblad. Very good. Rollie Lindblad built those and
they were similar to a supermodified. They were a one-of-a-kind
deal and they worked great. If you didn’t have one, they were going
to go by you. They were going to beat you.
KO: This was like mid-to-late ‘80s
and he was still running a Chevy II in the thing. But the engine
was totally offset on the left hand side of the car and Jones was
blowing by everybody on the high banks.
GS: John Parsons ran one for Lockhard. Lockhards had one too.
KO: One of your first forays into
car ownership came on October 20th, 1974. Lloyd Ruby
finished 11th on the Pocono ¾ mile in your midget.
According to Eckert’s site, it was a $3000 to win show won by Pancho
Carter. Other names in the race included Billy Vukovich, Jimmy
Caruthers, Johnny Parsons, Johnny Rutherford, A.J. Foyt, Jim
McElreath, Roger McCluskey, Wally Dallenbach, Steve Krisiloff, your
man Ruby, and Bobby Unser. Wow! What a show! Any thoughts on that
race and Lloyd Ruby? That sounded like a neat event.
GS: Lloyd was great to work with. That whole scene was a great,
great show. I don’t know why more people didn’t show up to watch
it. It was very poorly attended but it was very, very brutally cold
in the Poconos that year. It was horribly cold. We would have went
better. I didn’t know what was wrong. He kept talking about the
car moving around. There was a broken birdcage on the car from a
flip I had the week before at Terre Haute and I didn’t know it. So
it had pulled the studs out of the hub. I could have made it better
but I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t tell what it was.
Yeah, it was a great time and we got paid handsomely to go there.
It was a good experience. It was a great time.
KO: So was that just a stand-alone
GS: They ran sprint cars also because I remember seeing Seymour’s
car pitted right next to us. I think that’s the two classes they
ran. They might have run something else.
Wounded Soldier – Staab is interviewed at Winchester in the
summer of 1996 after his Paragon Speedway injuries. (Keith Wendel
KO: I remember in the mid to late
‘80s they still ran midgets there on the front straightaway and up
pit road. Or did they run behind pit road?
GS: There was an actual three-quarter mile, if I’m not mistaken, on
the inside of the Pocono two and a half. I think that’s pretty much
what they used.
KO: Another unusual event I
noticed in your records included a fifth place finish at Trenton in
August of 1976, the second of a two day show. You trailed Billy
Vukovich (Pool 9), Billy Engelhart, Doug Craig, and Steve Lotshaw.
Midgets on a 1.5 mile paved oval – how treacherous, twitchy, and
fast were they?
GS: If anyone remembers the old Trenton track, it had a dog-leg in
the backstretch. You actually turned right and we had never done
that before. These cars weren’t set to do that. And it took quite
a bit of bravado to figure out how you’re going to go through this
dog-leg flat-out, the opposite way. You had to change the shocks a
little bit and the car around just a little bit to get it to work
but I was particularly proud of that fifth place finish up there.
That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done and I can remember
going down the straightaway and you can barely hear the engine run.
And the poles are going by (Greg is making sound effects – shu, shu,
shu) as fast as you can see. That thing is geared so high to run
that huge racetrack. But it was a great time and we did quite well
obviously. And the day before, I was going to do good too. There
was a two day show. I believe they had the Indycars there. That
was a Friday-Saturday and I think they had Indycars there on
Sunday. It was the neatest thing I’ve done.
KO: That sounded fun! Pucker-up
on that big track.
GS: Oh yeah! Oh yeah! But look at the names you’re running
against. I was right up in there and that made me feel really good
KO: In the two weeks following
Trenton, you raced at IRP, Little Springfield, Denver, Boise, Salt
Lake City, and Pikes Peak, finishing 2nd to Larry Patton
at the Salt Palace. Was that an indoor race?
GS: Indoor show in August at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City!
KO: It must have better hotter
than you know what there.
GS: Bad…really bad.
KO: Did they have the A/C on in
GS: Yeah, I think they did. The night before, I was going to win
it and I tried to take somebody out and I took myself out. I
believe I tried to take Sleepy out as a matter of fact to win it and
this one here I elected to run second. I had him passed one time
and a yellow took it back. And it could have been my first and only
USAC midget feature win.
KO: But you did it the class way.
GS: I backed off and ran second.
KO: So did you do all the shows in
GS: Oh yeah. Every one of them. Oh yeah. Every single one of
KO: That sounded like a pretty
awesome swing there. It appears that the midget schedule was almost
reminiscent of a World of Outlaws schedule with all the traveling.
How grueling was that for an owner/operator?
GS: Pretty tough. We had a camper on the truck and we slept in the
truck. We didn’t get rooms a whole lot. Once in awhile we’d get a
room or we’d use somebody else’s room when they were done with it to
shower. But you know what? Looking back it was one of the greatest
times I’ve ever had in my life. It was great.
KO: You got to see a lot of stuff
GS: Mount Saint Helens. I was in Washington state before it blew
KO: So did you get any kind of tow
money to do that or was gas just that cheap back then?
GS: Gas was 75 cents a gallon back then and you didn’t even care
about it. All you wanted to do was race and you hoped that you made
enough racing. Plus, we did occasionally smuggle a little Olympia
beer and Coors beer back from the west and make five bucks a case on
that so we’d make our gas money back!
KO: Sounds like a little Smokey and the Bandit deal!
GS: Oh, whatever it took! We had to do what we had to do.
KO: In that timeframe, did you
have a ton of vacation time or were those the days when you took a
hiatus from work and looked for a job when you came back?
GS: In ’73, I quit the Kroger Company candy plant because I was
going to be a professional racer. Whatever! And then in ’74, ’75,
and ’76 they were all just sporadic jobs and Don’s Crankshaft was in
there for two years. I worked at a grain elevator in 6 and 7.
Again, they were just hit and miss jobs.
KO: So with all the different
places you raced with the midgets, there had to be some trips that
still stand out as memorable. You talk about that as being one of
the best times of your life. Are there any you remember more than
GS: Absolutely. The Pacific Northwest tour started out at Provo,
Utah. Then from Provo, Utah to Boise, Idaho. From Boise, Idaho to
Spanaway, Washington which rained out. From Spanaway to Olympia.
From Olympia to Tenino Speedway, which you could see Mount Rainier
right in the distance. Across the Juan de Fuca Straits to Victoria,
British Columbia. Raced at Victoria, British Columbia, come back
across to Skagit Speedway, which still runs to this day. Down from
Skagit and down to Denver, finished up in Denver and came home.
That was a terrific two and a half to three week trip that I will
never forget as long as I live.
KO: Unbelievable! Wow! I guess I
will leave it at that because I’m sure there are others you can
think about too but that sounds pretty dramatic.
GS: Yeah. That was the greatest one.
KO: What about unusual places to
race? You raced on mile dirt tracks at DuQuoin, which may have been
dusted out, and Syracuse. What about any other oddball joints that
seem strange compared to now? I remember seeing midgets on the mile
at Springfield but at DuQuoin, they must have been fast there.
Syracuse? They must have been fast there too.
GS: Indianapolis Mile. My first USAC midget race was on the
Indianapolis Mile, which we had engine problems that night. I
didn’t qualify or even get to race. That’s where the first one was,
the mile there.
Yeah the Trenton thing was pretty much the capper on that deal.
KO: You didn’t know you were going
to have to run a road course!
GS: But you’ve got to remember, Dayton, Salem, and Winchester were
always a blast too with a midget. That would scare the pants off of
KO: Are there any places you miss
racing at? I remember you mentioning Olympic Stadium in Kansas City
was always a place you enjoyed.
GS: Olympic Stadium had gooey black river gumbo from some place out
there they found. And even on a hot day, they’d water it and it
would be so tacky that you couldn’t spin a wheel. And for some
reason, it worked for me. I did ok there in my car one night. We
were pretty close to winning my first feature there too.
KO: You didn’t break any rear ends
on that sticky surface?
GS: No. I ran out of tear-offs. I could barely see what I was
doing. It was so black and gooey. But that place had a history
with the Weld brothers, Tiger Bob Williams, Carl Williams, Jay
Woodside, Ray Lee Goodwin and all those guys used to run that
racetrack and I was just tickled to death from history to be able to
run on a track where those guys ran. You know?
KO: So was it really too dusty
that day at DuQuoin? I saw in Eckert’s results that it just said
“DUST”. Was the show cancelled?
GS: Yeah. They shut it down. It was just horrible. Terrible.
KO: And people think about tracks
being too dusty today. It’s always been an issue when you try to
run during the day.
GS: Yeah. It was very difficult. You couldn’t see anything. And
it wasn’t good for the cars. It was just a real bad deal.
KO: You mainly chased USAC midgets
but there were a ton of other sanctioning bodies in the ‘70s. Did
you score any midget feature wins outside of USAC, like maybe with
GS: I did. As a matter of fact, they took it away because they
wanted to cube check our engine and my dad wouldn’t let them cube
check our engine because he had to go to work that night. And he
just refused and they took the win away from him.
KO: And where would that have
GS: That was at Lawrenceburg.
KO: Man, you had to be upset to
say the least. Heartbroken?
GS: I know I won it. I finally won a midget feature. It hurt.
But that’s ok. I know in my heart that we won it.
KO: The USAC records still show
you competing sporadically with the midget group from ’77 to ’79.
Did you already transition to sprint cars in that timeframe?
GS: I was injured at Salem pretty badly in ’77. And that’s when we
pretty much quit running. I had Roger Rager in my car shortly after
that. I wanted to move on. I had my training ground time. It was
time to move onto sprint cars one way or another. I kind of sat out
a year and ran some late model stock cars around Lawrenceburg and
started getting into sprint cars down at Lawrenceburg. I caught the
eye of Mr. Tom Stenger in Dayton and he elected to start helping us
out and get a car. And we got a car and it got better and better
from that point on.
KO: The midget series was very
competitive with a ton of talent but the local sprint cars in
Indiana featured some tough hombres too. On a regular basis, you
raced wheel to wheel with Dick Gaines, Bob Kinser, Sheldon Kinser,
Bobby Adkins, Butch Wilkerson, Louie Mann, Randy Kinser, Kelly
Kinser, Tony Solomito, Bernie Graybeal, Allen Barr, Kerry Norris,
Danny Milburn, Bobby Black, Marvin Deputy, and Larry Martin. How
bad-ass were these guys?
GS: All bad-ass! Dick Gaines, Butch Wilkerson, Allen Barr, Bob
Kinser…nobody has a clue unless they’ve seen it or done it or been
around it or watched them do it. It was just a very competitive,
good bunch of guys, wouldn’t tell you a whole lot, and wouldn’t
teach you a whole lot because they knew you were going to come try
beat ‘em with it. But it was a great, great time actually.
KO: Back in ’79, I see that you
ran 6th against the Outlaws at New Bremen. Steve Kinser,
Dub May, Lee James, Rick Ferkel, and Doug Wolfgang finished ahead of
you, with Sammy chasing you. The next year, you ran 9th
against the Outlaws at the same track. When you ran sixth, was that
a wingless show?
GS: It was. Back then the Outlaws bounced back and forth from day
to day. You didn’t know what it was going to be until however it
was advertised. Yeah, that was quite an enjoying day that day.
Wolfgang, Swindell, myself, and I believe Ferkel traded third,
fourth, fifth, and sixth back and forth for I don’t know, ten or
fifteen laps. Finally, Wolfgang started cutting down through the
infield and started kicking up rocks, gravel, dirt, and grass – kind
of distracted you for a minute and I lost one spot to him but I
think we would have run fourth that day if it hadn’t been for that.
KO: As a local racer, was your
equipment up to par with those guys? Did they have the stout
engines and the lightweight cars like today?
GS: They had the lightweight cars and all the good engines and I
had an 1840 pound Bob Trostle car that Frank Hollingsworth from over
in Illinois sold us. It was a big, old heavy .120 wall car and it
worked really well. I wish I had a big picture of that…I had a
picture of that someplace but it went away. That was one of the
better days. Those guys raced hard. It taught me a lot just
running with those guys, how hard you’ve really got to run with
KO: To see a local racer do that,
except for central PA, Knoxville, or northern California, you’d
never see that today. Was it easier to do that with those guys back
then or was it still a pretty big feat?
GS: By no means was it easy. I felt extremely gifted when we
rolled out of there that day with that good of a finish because of
the people we were running with. You had the names you were naming
and there were about five more that were there. I beat some pretty
significant people that day and it really felt good to accomplish
that, you know? This isn’t all about an ego thing with me or an
“I’m better than you” type thing. This is about accomplishing
something, setting goals, and going after it. Here I am running
against some of the best guys around and heck, I’m able to stay with
them and beat some of them. And I’m feeling pretty good about that,
thinking that some day I’d catch somebody’s eye and get a ride.
KO: And be able to keep chasing
GS: Oh yeah! Exactly.
KO: I found that you ran second to
Fred Linder against the All Stars at Charlestown, Indiana on May 14th,
1982. The next night, you won a sprint car feature at
Lawrenceburg. I know recordkeeping for local Indiana races is not
that good. I’m wondering if May 15th of ’82 might have
been your first-ever sprint car feature victory. Maybe you got
another one or two before that?
GS: That was the first sprint car feature win and I knew when I
rolled out of Charlestown, after running second in an All Star show,
I knew that we were going to do really well the following night. I
just had a feeling that this was going to be it and it was.
KO: What memories do you have of
that first sprint car win? Obviously the drive across the bottom
half of Indiana that night from Charlestown back to Cincinnati you
were feeling good, but what do you remember from that actual night
when you did get the win?
GS: We had finally gotten a Gambler chassis car that was able to
compete with Kerry Norris. Kerry Norris was the hot shoe back
then. And we actually were able to have a car that could run with
him and I don’t know where he finished that night but we won and he
didn’t. To have a car that works so well, with so little effort,
after trying to get that heavier Trostle car to do what we did with
it, (which it ended up in Tampa Bay, by the way, running a pavement
series down in Tampa Bay)…the Gambler chassis made all the
difference in the world and that’s exactly why we won. The night
before wound me up. We ran second against the All Stars, you know?
KO: It’s amazing what confidence
GS: Oh, it was incredible!
KO: In June of ’82, you won a
local feature at Kokomo, beating Kelly Kinser, Bob Kinser, Louie
Mann, and another one of those bad-asses, Bob Christian. Kokomo has
always been a demanding track and I would guess it was no different
back in ’82. With its rich racing history and all the big names
that have rolled through the pit gate, becoming a winner there had
to be special. Do you have any memories of winning at Kokomo for
the first time?
GS: I did and I also had a shot rear bumper from the guys pounding
on the back of it trying to knock me out of the way. I’ll probably
need to point it out too that from 1979, October and on now, from
anything we speak of from this point, I’m working a full-time job
with the city of Cincinnati. So that Sunday night we ran at Kokomo,
we won, I had to be back at work the next morning at 6 AM.
KO: And we were on different time
with Cincinnati back then.
GS: We lost the hour coming back. Yeah, it was very difficult
physically and mentally to be able to keep this up from that point
KO: Did it feel like a significant
feather in your cap by winning at Kokomo, more so than at
Lawrenceburg because it was a track that you may not have raced at
nearly as much? A guy from Cincinnati coming in there to beat the
Indiana guys, it seems like Kokomo has always had that local flair,
so did it feel extra special?
GS: There’s no question. It felt good to go there and beat those
guys at their track. Any time you do that, you’ve accomplished
something because like you said, they’ve got their local group that
are really, really tough to beat. And those guys were tough to
beat. I have to remember who Kelly Kinser was running for at the
time, but he and somebody else just pounded the rear bumper clear
off my car just trying to knock me out of the way and for some
reason I was able to muscle past it and keep on going.
KO: Were you running huggy pole
GS: Yeah. Oh yeah. There was nothing else really. There was
nothing out there to play with. I could hear people back there
trying it, but obviously they weren’t making it work.
KO: Some people loved the old
Kokomo. A lot of people hated it. How did it suit your style?
GS: It didn’t matter. A racetrack was a racetrack. And after
you’ve run as many racetracks as I’ve run and as many states as I’ve
run, you didn’t even pay attention to it. You didn’t cry about the
tracks like a lot of them do nowadays.
KO: Without question ’82 was your
breakout season, winning at least six times - once at Kokomo, once
at Lincoln Park, and four times at Lawrenceburg. And success
continued into 1983, finding a pair of July Bloomington victories,
three more at The Burg, and some second place winged efforts at
Eldora and Findlay. What were you doing differently in ’82 and ’83
compared to before? I know you talked about the Gambler chassis.
Was that the main thing or were there some other things?
GS: The Gambler chassis was the main thing. And it was a learning
process for us to learn. Because we were non-winged guys, we didn’t
run the wings all the time. So consequently, we didn’t exactly know
how to go about setting them up and how the guys do it. And the
winged guys all had better engines than we did. That second at
Findlay you were talking about - that was great! Nobody gets it.
But that was a really great feeling because you had the Keegans and
you had all the Northern Ohio guys who went to Findlay on Sunday
night. Then again, I had to tow home. A three hour tow to get home
and go back to work the next morning at 6 AM.
KO: Grueling! Did winning change
you in any way? You were used to doing things the hard way and not
having the success. Winning can sometimes change a person –
obviously adding some confidence – but did it change you any other
way you think?
GS: I liked it! It made me even more determined to do it and
sometimes I got a little bit over-focused and didn’t think about the
people around me. They were being affected by my drive and
determination and I probably should have been a little bit more
user-friendly with some of the people around me. Male and female.
KO: Winning is a focus and if
you’re getting it done, you want more of it. I can understand
that. For the most part, you’ve primarily driven your own stuff. I
saw your name listed in Bud Doty’s number 50 in the midgets.
GS: Yep. Bud’s a friend of mine. Has been for many years. Kevin
was a little young guy at 12 years old when I went to race for his
father in Wichita and Olympic Stadium. I remember Kevin, I think he
was 11 or 12. And then Kevin came up and did quite well before his
demise but yeah, the Dotys were great people. They treated me
nice. I stayed at their house and they had a special bedroom for
the drivers and it was just a really nice thing with those people.
KO: You were the man! So on July
17th, 1982, for Eldora you landed in the Gingerich 72.
Was this Kokomo’s Fenton Gingerich?
GS: Absolutely. With Jim McQueen wrenching.
KO: Interesting. So I’ve heard he
could be a hard guy to drive for. And I guess for that matter,
McQueen maybe a little harder with both of those guys being kind of
crusty. Can you confirm the speculation?
GS: Yep! Sure enough. That was not one of my finest hours. We
did ok. They wanted more. They wanted better. They wanted to
win. I was not used to the things that Jim was doing. I could have
adapted to them over a period of time but Jim was one of the best
mechanics ever around here and I just didn’t catch on quick enough
and I only got to run two races with them.
KO: How did you land that deal?
GS: It came open. They fired somebody and my name popped up
because I was winning at Lawrenceburg and winning at Kokomo and
doing ok at Eldora. My name just popped up. In racing, there’s a
list that goes on. Like right now, there’s a list of five guys that
you want to drive for you. Robert Ballou, Jesse Hockett, Casey
Shuman, Daron Clayton two years ago, Jon Stanbrough, Dave Darland.
There’s your list nowadays. Back then there was a list also. It
was Randy Kinser, Greg Staab, Kerry Norris – that type of thing.
And I was on that list. I happened to get that chance to do that
KO: So other than Doty and
Gingerich, up until ’82, I know you spoke about getting to drive Tom
Dickinson’s midget, but was there anybody else in your early midget
and sprint car days that you got to drive for?
GS: I did. There was a fellow by the name of Troy Wagner in
Cincinnati. He was a friend of mine back then and still is. He got
a car and it was an old Bobby Allen car. And we stuck it together
and ran ’78 with it – right after I came back from being hurt. I
think it was ’78. We ran it quite a few races and it was an ok car
to learn in. I learned quite a bit out of the deal. It was a
short-term deal but nevertheless, we went racing with them.
KO: Back in those early sprint car
days, you mentioned hooking up with Tom Stenger Ford. I remember
seeing that on your car for years and years but how did that
relationship with Tom start out?
GS: There was a lady in Cincinnati who was president of CAR –
Competitive Auto Racing Fan Club. It was Georgeann Stemler. I
don’t know if she’s still around or not but I sure hope so. She met
Tom somewhere and Tom mentioned he wanted to get his name on some
sprint cars. Georgeann gave me his phone number. I called him. I
went up and met him. We arrived at a fifty dollar per race deal if
I made a feature in the first year. He saw the potential there and
it blossomed from there. And my greatest years were with Tom
KO: How long did that relationship
GS: Ten years. From 1978 to 1988. We had ten great years and a
lot of championships.
KO: Any thoughts about Tom
Stenger that stand out? The type of guy he was?
GS: Gruff. Tough. Heart of gold. Do anything for you but on the
outside you just thought he was the toughest bastard to ever walk
the face of the earth. Big guy. Kind of gruff guy. But a great,
great person who along with my father got me to where I’m at right
KO: Given that he had a Ford
dealership, did he ever want you to run Ford engines in your sprint
GS: We did. As a matter of fact, “Ohio” George Montgomery, the
drag racer, built a cast iron 410 Ford and we tried to run it a
couple of times. We ran it at Granite City, Illinois and we ran it
at Lawrenceburg. We won a heat race with it at Lawrenceburg with a
wing on and it had a lot of horsepower but you could feel it was
heavier because of the cast iron block. There weren’t any aluminum
Ford blocks back then. We ran Hinsdale – Santa Fe Speedway. We
were going to run a TV race with it one night and something broke in
the valve train on it and we didn’t get to run it but just a few
But the Ford ended up being ok. Casey Luna ran one when they
finally came out with an aluminum block. But the weight
disadvantage was a problem.
KO: So other than Michel Tire,
which I saw on some of your midgets, Stenger Ford, and Don’s
Crankshaft, I don’t recall too many sponsor decals on your cars.
Who were some of your other supporters over the years?
GS: Jerry Scarlato from Cincinnati, Ohio. He and his brother Greg
are names around the Cincinnati area. Greg has four Popeye’s
Chicken places down there. They’ve been friends of mine for years.
Greg Scarlato had the Italian Inn downtown across from the City
Hall. He helped me out quite a bit to get me to some of the races
out west. He paid my travel expenses to go out to California and
Mr. A.J. Esterkamp from the Western Hills area has been a lifelong
friend. I’ve known him since I was about eleven. He gave me great
assistance over the years by helping me physically and financially
to get the cars to the track and he was thoroughly involved in my
racing up until just a few years back. He ended up being an
official at the speedway. He worked with Glen Niebel for awhile and
helped Glen. He’s a genuine racer and he’s a good person.
KO: Do I still see that Esterkamp
name on some Lawrenceburg Speedway billboards?
GS: Yes. Very same one.
KO: Speaking of Stenger though,
was that his car that you drove to fourth at the Silver Crown
portion of Eldora’s Four Crown in October of ’82? I think you said
you might have been laid up in the hospital in October of ’82.
GS: It might have been ’82. I’m pretty sure it was ’83. Anyway,
that was Tom’s car. We started dead last and ran ‘er up to fourth.
KO: It says Ron Shuman won. Steve
Kinser was second. And Kenny Schrader in third.
GS: Schrader was right out ahead of me.
KO: And you came from the back to
KO: In the Data Processing
Solutions number 71.
GS: Exactly. Ironically, there’s some history to that. That car
is the exact same car Jan Opperman was hurt in at the Fairgrounds
when it was the Longhorn 48. And that car ended up just about
taking me out at the Fairgrounds because I flipped it when Charlie
Ledford bought it and Glen Niebel was wrenching it. I just about
bought it on that one. Knocked five of the six cage points off of
it when I turned it over at the Fairgrounds.
KO: The Silver Crown deal was
prestigious back then and I would guess that it was kind of a
clique. You had to be a big name to get one of those rides. How
hard was it to attract Silver Crown owners in the early 1980s? Was
gaining a Silver Crown ride a priority for you?
GS: It was a rung on the ladder – yes. That’s all I really wanted
to do – was keep moving up and moving up. Obviously the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the final goal, which never
happened. But, I came close to that too. The Silver Crown cars –
that’s what I wanted to get into. Tom gave me a break but for some
reason he kept me off the miles with it. He’d let me run the short
tracks though. To this day, I don’t understand why that was but
that’s neither here nor there.
He put Butch Wilkerson in it for the miles or he put someone else in
it for the miles. He put Barry Camp in it at Nazareth. I’d just
come off finishing fourth with it. The following week, he put Barry
Camp in it.
KO: A hard guy to figure out I
GS: And you don’t bother. You just do what you’re told.
Manzy Mud – Greg gets dirty at Manzanita’s Western World
Championships on October 30th, 1987, finding his way to tenth place
in the A-main. (Gene Marderness photo)
KO: As long as you can have the
ride the next time it becomes available…
GS: Yeah, you don’t question it.
KO: 1984 – what a year! 19 wins!
Eckert has 18 but I’ll go with your 19 because stats can be hard to
come by. All I have to say is WOW! These days, you hear guys like
Jon Stanbrough, Tony Elliott, Dave Darland, Jay Drake, and J.J.
Yeley having those types of years and they are cemented into
memory. Either way, that is a dominating year. According to
Eckert’s website, I found 11 scores at Lawrenceburg, 3 at Lincoln
Park, 3 at Bloomington, and 1 at Twin Cities. Rarely did you ever
finish outside of the top-five in the stats I found. Can you nail
down a reason why you were so dominant?
GS: Preparation and another Gambler chassis. It was a 1984
Gambler. It was a brand new car and it was a very good car. Our
preparation and everything we’d learned, where we’d broken items,
every mistake there is to be made on a racecar, I’ve made it. And
I’ve worked really, really hard in those years after that not to
make those mistakes again. I think that made the difference and I’m
pretty sure that sums it up, really.
KO: Was it car, engine, driver,
crew or was it the whole combination?
GS: I had a phenomenal crew. I had Andy Martini. I had five guys
and everybody had a specific job, which lightened my load
considerably. One guy did fuel. One guy did tires. One guy did
chassis. Me and dad took care of the engines. And another guy took
care of the truck and trailer. We had a great group of guys and
that was a great time! That was also the year we went to California
for the Pacific Coast Nationals with the first car sitting on the
roof. I carried it out on top of the roof of the trailer. No one
had ever seen that done before.
KO: Did you come up with that on
GS: We were the first ones as far as I know.
KO: I remember seeing Outlaw guys
who would put the chassis and body up on the trailer in ‘87.
GS: This is a complete car, engine and everything!
KO: Oh WOW!
KO: Why doesn’t your name come up
when people mention dominant years? When I did my research, I just
found this out. I didn’t even know about it because I didn’t start
following racing, hard core, until about 1985. Nobody ever really
talks about that time, you know? I don’t know if there’s a reason
why that’s never brought up, but I’m just kind of curious.
GS: I don’t really know Kevin. I wish I had an answer for that. I
think that they feel that the competition wasn’t as tough back
then. Everyone in their own little era thinks that their
competition is the toughest. And if they don’t think it wasn’t hard
back then, they needed to trade spots. You know? That could be
part of it. Age is another thing. People are starting to get
older. Their memories aren’t as sharp. Fortunately you and I have
some stats here. I have a fairly good memory even though I’ve got
“dain bramage” from all the concussions and head injuries and stuff
but I can still remember a lot of things that really jump out.
KO: Toward the end of ’84, did you
feel like King Kong? Did the ladies swoon over you because you were
a huge winner?
GS: I wouldn’t go quite that far but it made you a little more
popular than normal, let’s put it that way.
KO: Did you make any money that
year or was it still expensive and a break-even deal at best?
GS: No, that year, that racecar made money and I’m not going to go
into details but yes, it did. Enough to go to California and
Manzanita and pay for that out of what we made.
KO: On August 16th of
1984, I see that Rick Hood drove your car to a 3rd place
finish at Eldora. With all the success you had that season and the
possibility of winning at Eldora, which I’m sure would have been a
big deal to you, what made you give up your seat?
GS: Completely political move. Ricky was chasing points and the
Fortunes were good people and they needed a ride. They broke theirs
and I got out of the car to let him do that. I caught a lot of hell
from a lot of people for doing it.
KO: But I would guess he would
have appreciated that.
GS: I would think so. It stands out in people’s minds when you do
things like that. I’m sure it does.
KO: You already mentioned this but
at the end of ’84, you made the long tow out to Ascot and Manzy.
How much of an eye-opening of an experience was that tow out there?
You’d already done these tows before with the midgets but the
California sprint car scene had to be different than the midget
scene. An eye opener?
GS: Culture shock! When you see Dean Thompson, Bubby Jones, and
Lealand McSpadden doing this thing and you think you’re good, you’re
not even in the same ball park as those guys when you go out there.
Incredible experience…watching Dean Thompson run Ascot was worth the
price of admission! I’d pay $25 just to walk through the pits to
see that. He was that good. Bubby was right behind him, better
than him some nights. Bubby was great.
Yes, you’re right. It was a culture shock. We missed the A-main by
one car. I was first alternate for the Pacific Coast Nationals and
I missed Manzanita by two cars. I was the second alternate at
Manzanita. People can laugh about that all they want but it was
very, very difficult to make those races.
KO: I imagine Indiana drivers back
then were straight and smooth. They liked to run the bottom. But
those west coast guys, were they that much faster and braver than
the Midwestern guys? Or was it just a style that you had to get
GS: It was a style that they did every week. They ran Ascot, what
35 times a year, 39 times a year? They knew their racetrack. They
knew the Manzanita track. I’d been around Manzy a lot in a midget,
but never a sprint car. The first time out there at Manzanita, I
won my heat race right out of the box, the first night, which made
us feel pretty good. But, it was a point accumulation thing and I
missed that one by two cars. It was just a great experience.
KO: So did you adjust your driving
style to the west coast or did you keep doing what you were doing
GS: What you needed to do was free your car up to slide like they
did. They had special cars with the engines down and forward. And
the fuel tanks were down and forward where the car would lighten
up. They had different chassis torsion tube heights where the cars
would slide on purpose. It was intentionally done that way so they
could get in the corner harder.
But we learned a few things. Roger Newell, who was later killed at
Ascot, and Bill Pryor, from Donovan, helped me out a ton back then
and got me going better that night at Ascot. We got better as the
thing went on. In other words, if I could have stayed there and
learned it, I could have gotten good at it.
KO: So did you like backing it in?
GS: I loved it. I did. I absolutely loved it. There were some
experiences that happened on that Ascot trip that we don’t have time
to go into now but it’s a great experience. Anybody that missed
Ascot Park missed one of the neatest things going – ever!
KO: That’s exactly where I was
going with my next question. Are there any wild Ascot stories to
tell that won’t get you into trouble?
GS: I can. I can for a fact. We went out and they used to
register your muffler reading on the scoreboard when you’d go out to
qualify. If you were loud, you had to correct it right away or you
didn’t get to run. We were working on our mufflers and all of a
sudden the crowd was gasping…and roared…and everybody screamed. I
looked up and I saw this double-zero car go flying by and then
pretty soon you hear this “chink, chink” crash metal noise.
Well, everything is quiet and a few minutes later and they announced
it was Stanley Atherton in Bill Hicks’ car. Everything was quiet
again. Stanley was out of the car, moving around. Everything was
quiet again. A few minutes later, if I can think of his name, the
announcer at Ascot…
KO: Bruce Flanders?
GS: Bruce Flanders came over the P.A. and I will never forget this
as long as I live. “Will the owners of a Toyota pickup truck,
da-da-da-da-da license plate, the owners of a gold Ford Thunderbird,
and the owners of a blue Lincoln,” and he gave the license plate
number and paused for a second, “please report to the parking lot.
Stanley Atherton just customized your cars for you.”
He flew out of the racetrack, into the parking lot, through the
fence, knocked a big shark bite looking chunk out of the fence, and
bounced off these three cars and annihilated these three cars
apparently. So that’s an Ascot story I’ll never forget. I just saw
Bruce Flanders, who still announces at Irwindale for Turkey Night.
I just saw him a few weeks ago when we were out there.
KO: It seems like you and D.O.
Laycock occasionally discuss a wild Phoenix pool party from the mid
‘80s. I’m wondering if it was it on this trip.
GS: Youuuuuu got it! Actually, I believe it was on the ’83 trip,
but at any rate, yeah, we walked up to the pool and we didn’t have a
way to make a cooler for the beer. And everybody was having a good
time. It was Brad Noffsinger, Stan Atherton, their wives, all my
crew, D.O., and some other people he was with. He went out to the
trailer, grabbed an old tire, filled the tire up with ice, and made
his cooler out of an old right rear tire!
KO: Very nice!
GS: VERY nice! And we walked up to the pool and there were some
people in there that didn’t really have all of their clothes on. So
I backed away from the pool pretty quick! We backed away and went
back to the beer cooler instead!
KO: So some of those guys without
their clothes on were drivers?
GS: OH YEAH!
KO: Any of them we talked about
GS: OH YEAH!
KO: Any guys that won
GS: Uh huh! Uh huh!
KO: But we don’t need to name any
names, do we?
GS: No, no names. You can be creative with it.
KO: I think I’ve got an idea. But
you guys still talk about that party. That was just a good time,
GS: We did quite well that night. It was pretty much fun and
everybody had a good time. We got to know people we didn’t know
before. It was just a great time. When you go out there back then,
you were much better received for some reason than you are now.
KO: And you got a long-tow award
from Manzy? You got a plaque for that.
GS: I have gotten a couple of those. Yep. We got the furthest tow
award from Manzanita – I think three times we got it.
KO: Interesting. So no wonder you
like driving out there!
GS: Oh, it’s just good people. And they treat you well.
KO: This is kind of going on a
tangent, but I had to throw this question in there somewhere. Dave
Rose told me that Kevin Doran, famous for managing Al Holbert’s IMSA
GTP championships for all those years, used to work on your
racecars. Kevin even built his own Grand Am cars in recent years
before selling out to Dallara. If this is true, when was that?
GS: It’s even deeper than that. He helped me with the midget
actually. In ’75 and ’76. But it goes a little deeper than that.
His father had a dirt late model. They were famous with their dirt
late model and they requested me to drive it several places for
them. I ran it at Florence. I ran it at Brown County. I ran at
Portsmouth, Ohio for them. I did ok with it. I drove the wheels
off of it, as fast as it would go. And I learned the newer style
late models as we went on in ’77, so it was different than me doing
it ten years earlier, or eight years earlier.
But yeah, Kevin is a friend of mine, has been a friend. I’ve been a
friend of the family for years. I see his brother around once in
awhile. His brother was driving for awhile. I think he was running
ASA maybe, for awhile. I see Kevin occasionally and we exchange
stories. He’s got his deal going on the east side of Cincinnati,
over around Milford or something.
Nice Form – Smooth and straight, Greg debuts his revolutionary
1987 Gambler at the February 9th, 1987 USAC season opener at the
Florida State Fairgrounds. (Gene Marderness photo)
KO: It seems like he sold his car
building deal to Dallara. In that Grand Am series, only so many car
builders can be in it. But were you able to teach him something
about racecars or did he teach you about racecars?
GS: It was a give and take. He was very adamant on the way he
wanted things done and I was very adamant on the way I wanted things
done and we had an impasse. We ended up dealing with it. Once he
taught me what I needed to know, I was good and he thanked me for
learning what he learned too.
KO: So did his dad own and operate
the Tri-County track which became Queen City?
GS: He did for a fact. After Mr. Redwine had it, his father was
the promoter there. You’re exactly right.
KO: In 1985 you opened up with a
TBARA win at East Bay in the Ledford car. Was that Charles
GS: That’s it! Charlie Ledford Construction from Tarpon Springs,
KO: How did you end up with that
ride and was it your first win with a wing?
GS: Tom Stenger and Charles Ledford were close friends because they
went to the Copper World at Phoenix and Tom helped sponsor Jimmy
Haynes, who ran for Charlie. Jimmy Haynes was killed at Phoenix
International and they needed a driver to fill in. Tom recommended
me to Charlie and I got the ride and immediately produced for him.
I ran the Fairgrounds for him. I ran East Bay for him. I ended up
winning the Florida State Championship at Volusia County in 1986, on
the half mile. I beat Rick Ferkel, Jack Hewitt, and a whole bunch
of people who were running down there that night.
KO: We were at the same racetrack
in 1986, at the fall All Star race at Woodstock, Georgia and you
were running the Ledford car down there. You took your car down
with Mike Bowling too?
GS: I said we’re going down, we might as well take my car. It’s
sitting there ready to race. And Mike ran my car at Woodstock.
KO: The Ledford deal was in April
of ’85. About a week later, I remember I was writing a term paper
and I couldn’t go. But you ran second to Rickey Hood on a Sunday
afternoon at Eldora. I recall lots of third and fourth place
finishes there after that second place run. But how bad did you
want an Eldora win on your resume?
GS: In the absolute worst way I wanted a win at Eldora. That’s
what I told Robert Ballou the other day. I said, “You don’t have
any idea how cool it is for you to win that many races in that short
of a time at Eldora.” It’s hard to do! It’s a very difficult place
to race at. Always has been.
KO: Compared to your monumental
1984 season with 19 wins, there were not as many wins in ’85. Were
there any significant changes made to your program over the winter
that caused you not to win as many shows?
GS: Actually, that’s the year that Lawrenceburg banned aluminum
blocks. In ’85, that was the year that they banned aluminum
blocks. They seemed to think that was the only reason we were
winning, because we had an aluminum block, which we only used three
times because we didn’t understand how to make the car work with the
lighter engine. They banned aluminum blocks because certain people
said that was the reason we were winning. I only ran it three times
and I only won with it once. It was hard to make the car work. It
was jumpy. It was very different. So that following year, Mr.
Stenger and my dad got together and they built two 434 inch small
blocks that worked pretty well when we won our features at
Lawrenceburg and we won another championship at Lawrenceburg.
KO: Excellent! Moving onto ’86,
you were finally dethroned as Lawrenceburg champ. 1982, 1983, 1984,
and 1985 you were a title winner there. I didn’t know about your
Bloomington championship in ’84 until today. Were there any other
championships that I missed?
GS: No. That’s it. 1986 was interesting because I pretty much
took myself out of that. It was my own stupid fault. If I really
wanted to win it, we probably could have worked a little harder and
won it but I elected to go to another USAC show one night when there
was a Lawrenceburg race. I think it was at Eldora as a matter of
fact. And rather than go to Lawrenceburg that night, not the night
of the championship, I went to Eldora instead. I missed the show
and that would have made the difference. If we’d have had a decent
night, we’d have won again.
KO: One year later though, you
regained your throne with another title in ’87 so that made you a
five-time champ. Was there any satisfaction from being the big dog
at The Burg?
GS: It is, but it puts a certain stigma over you that you have a
hard time shaking. They say that you can’t go fast at other places
and being the stubborn German that I am, I had to go prove that it
was not true. As the record shows, it was not true. We could do
other things you know.
KO: Were they all wingless
championships in that timeframe or did Lawrenceburg switch to wings
at some point? I’m guessing ’82 through ’85 were all wingless but I
don’t know if they switched to wings in ’86 or ’87.
GS: ’87 was wings.
KO: Interesting! So you got one
on your resume with wings. A little diversity. So what was the
local scene like down at The Burg in the mid-1980s? Now, it’s quite
a bit different with the bigger track but when Tom Wieck had it,
there were certain guys that ran down there and I’m sure in the
mid-‘80s there was a core group of racers too. Was it still a fun
time? What was the scene like?
GS: It was a fun time. When you’re on top of things like we were,
you become disliked. Everyone wants to see you do good in the
beginning, and then they dislike you later because you’re winning
too much. I could not believe in 1974 that I heard them boo Dick
Gaines. In ’74, he came back from winning the Knoxville Nationals
and people were booing Dick Gaines. I’m going, “Wow, how does this
work?” Here’s a guy that’s the baddest in the country, how could
you possibly think anything bad about the guy who just won the
biggest race in the country? And the same thing happened to me.
People were disliking what we did. Accusations flew, and they
weren’t true, about this and that. It just wasn’t true. It got old
and that’s another reason why I decided, “Ok, we’ve done all we can
do here. It’s time to branch out and go do the USAC thing.”
Circa 1986 – Here’s how Greg appeared in January of 1986,
competing for Charles Ledford Construction. (Gene Marderness photo)
KO: What did racing at
Lawrenceburg teach you that you took on the USAC trail?
GS: Seat time. Lap after lap after lap. No matter what you do in
auto racing, the more seat time you have, the better you are. And
it taught you how to win. It taught you how to prepare a car to
win. It didn’t teach you setups for Eldora or setups for New Bremen
or Winchester or anything like that. It taught you how to go about
setting those cars up and the procedure you have to go through to
make them work.
KO: In one of your early season
1987 Lawrenceburg winged victories, you beat a very young Jeff
Gordon. At the time, did you seem him as a special talent or was he
just another racer?
GS: To be very honest with you, I didn’t really pay a lot of
attention to Jeff until a couple of years later. He went back to
Bloomington and won a lot of races at Bloomington I believe in that
time span. I became friends with his father later. His father and
I are best of friends at this point still. It’s just a different
situation. I didn’t pay attention. I was too preoccupied with
trying to make my own deal work, which was very hard.
KO: Back in ’87, did you think
that 15 or 16 year old kids were too young to get into sprint cars?
GS: I never really gave it much thought. The only time that came
up was recently, when there’s so darned many of them. Now they are
everywhere. There’s just a ton of them. It doesn’t dawn on you
until you realize there’s so darned many of them out there right
KO: So in ’87, it was mostly
winged racing in your brand new 1987 Gambler, which was a
revolutionary car at the time with those down tubes. That was a
good-looking piece by the way. I have a picture of that car
wheel-packing at Terre Haute and that was one sharp car. I really
liked it. So kudos on that.
GS: Well thank you!
Just Winging It – In the Charles Ledford Construction number 1L
at the Florida State Fairgrounds in January of 1986. (Gene
KO: Were there any other
significant differences with that chassis over the previous Gambler
models, other than the down tubes?
GS: You had to learn to make it work a little different because of
the down tubes. That stiffened the chassis up and you had to run
different torsion bars with it in the front and you had to learn
that. It took four or five times out to learn exactly what you
needed to do.
KO: Were you able to switch back
and forth with that car? It seemed like it was pretty versatile. I
thought I saw it on dirt with and without a wing and also on
asphalt. How much did you like that car?
GS: I liked it a lot. I liked it a whole lot. The ’84 was good
but the ’87 was as good or better. I liked it a whole lot. That’s
the car we converted to asphalt and we actually won that TV race
with, which we’ll come to later.
KO: Again in the fall of ’87, you
hauled out to Ascot and Manzy, this time running 10th at
Manzy. There might have even been a race for you on the Phoenix
mile with the champ car. At least that’s why I was out there. You
must have been hooked on those west coast excursions. Was it easier
this time than in ’83 or ’84?
GS: Yes it was. We had better power plants. We had a Ron Shaver
engine at the time. Mr. Stenger enabled us to get this Shaver
engine and it made all the difference in the world. The California
trips were just the shit. They’re just great.
That was the highlight of the year. You worked all year, started
planning way in advance to go do the Pacific Coast Nationals and the
Western World. That was the greatest thing.
KO: How about those west coast
trophy girls? I seem to remember the name of Leslie Bremer.
GS: Leslie Bremer! Ha ha!
KO: I daydreamed about her when I
was sitting in high school class. People were paying attention and
I was thinking about Leslie Bremer and Open Wheel magazine. So how
about those west coast trophy girls?
GS: I asked questions and tried to track her down, her history and
where she’s at in California this last trip I was there. And the
story I got was that she became a born-again Christian, then she
became an exotic dancer, then she became a grandma and after that,
nobody really knows where’s she’s at right now. But she was the
all-time best and you are correct about that!
KO: So that was almost a
single-handed reason to go out to the west coast, wasn’t it? An
GS: They do things with a much nicer, greater flair in Southern
California than they do back here for some reason. And you know you
try to have that carryover back here and it doesn’t always work that
way. But there’s just something about out there – there’s a little
more showmanship involved.
KO: There you go! They have nice
looking racecars and nice looking trophy girls.
GS: Yes they do!
KO: So moving onto 1988, I found
victories at The Burg, the $3,000 to win wingless show at
Bloomington and of course, the now world famous USAC score on
Thursday Night Thunder at IRP on ESPN. I believe you used a
McCreary right rear tire that night. Steve Butler was a bad ass
there that year and you beat Kevin Huntley in the Hoffman car for
the win. Any significant memories of that evening?
GS: That evening was absolutely nothing but pure desire on my part
to win that race. We had been issued an American Race Tire/McCreary
by John Summers to try for the evening. And it felt ok early and he
requested we leave it on. There was no specific tire rule at the
time. Well I believe Bob Frey and Rich Vogler took each other out
or something to that effect, which eliminated two of the better
cars. And our car came to life about two-thirds of the way through
the race and I just caught Kevin Huntley and just drove right by
him. Well, little did I know the right rear was going flat and
that’s why the car hooked up so hard. So if you ever watch the TV
film of this thing, I’m running cross-ways and sideways and every
which-a-way. The tire was going down badly and was nowhere near
inflation-wise of where it should have been. And that’s why the car
picked up so fast and that’s why I was running sideways at the end.
I wasn’t going to back off for nothing. I didn’t care. I was going
to win this race and we won it and it was one of the coolest things
that’s ever happened to me in my life. It’s like the epitome of
what we’ve worked to get to do. I know it’s just sprint cars. It’s
not the Indy 500 but it was a great, great thing and I’ll never
KO: Did you feel like you had a
USAC monkey on your back up until that point?
GS: I did and I really thought that it would open a few eyes to
some other owners who may give me a shot in their cars later. But
it never really panned out that way. I was still stuck with the
individual role of doing it on my own and trying to finance my own
deal. But it was a great experience. I’ll never forget it.
KO: When people talk about Greg
Staab, do you think they primarily remember you for that TV win?
GS: Actually, that’s part of it but the Lawrenceburg championships
seem to be the highlight. I’ve got another stat that I’m
particularly proud of that I can’t prove but I think is accurate. I
believe 9 out of 11 years we ran in the top-ten in USAC points. You
might want to research that.
KO: Okay. Yeah, I can check
GS: It might be 8 out of 11 years. But I don’t think anyone’s ever
done that before and that’s pretty consistent with the way we raced
KO: Okay, well I’ve got some
figures here. Second in 1988, 4th in 1989, 3rd
in 1990, 7th in 1991, 1992 was 13th, 8th
in 1993, 7th in 1994, and 6th in 1995. I’d
have to go back and see what was before 1988. Let’s see…1985 you
were 10th, 1986 you were 16th and 1987 you
were 18th. So that makes 8 out of 11 years in the
top-ten in USAC sprint car points.
GS: That’s A LOT of races. That’s A LOT of races if anybody
tallies those up.
KO: For sure. That’s a good
stat. Any more on that – that you want to touch on?
GS: That’s one of my proud things. Of course the national feature
win, which a lot of people win bunches of races, but this was
particularly hard for me to do because we financed this on our own.
It was Mr. Stenger, my dad, and myself. It was very hard to do this
sport and we adapted to the pavement and the American Race Tire. In
fact, we rolled that car out of victory lane that night on a flat
tire. The right rear was down. So it was a great time. It
finalized everything that I’ve done and I’m very happy with that.
KO: That season of 1988, USAC
brought pavement sprint cars back for the first time since the early
‘80s. Something seemed so right about that series when thinking
about it now. There was lots of participation with converted dirt
cars and at IRP, the racing was simply spectacular. I was a dirt
guy and loved dirt, but that racing opened my eyes to pavement. In
your opinion, can pavement racing ever get back to that excitement
level or is there just no hope because the cars are too technical
and too hooked up?
GS: I don’t have a real honest answer on that. I do know that ’88
was very exciting racing with us running the pavement. I liked it a
lot. Of course I kind of cheated too. Vogler, myself, and a couple
of us guys had run midgets on the pavement so we had a rough idea of
what was going on with it. Some of the other people didn’t. But
that’s just the way it is. We had a leg up on them for a short
period of time. But, the problem I’ve got now is that Raceway Park
won’t even take a USAC sprint race.
KO: Yeah. They say they can’t
make money on it.
GS: I can’t comprehend why that is but it is. They wouldn’t take
one from me when I was working with USAC. They won’t take one now
and I really can’t get it together in my mind as to why that is.
KO: Well, Kevin Kotansky, from
Kroger, who has worked with IRP on sponsorship for a long time, he
says that they can’t make money on it. But, he and I remember back
in the day, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, that they always had a title
sponsor for that race. To me, if they get a title sponsor, maybe
they can afford it. Maybe they just don’t have the personnel there
at IRP to get that job done?
In my opinion, 1988 was just a
great time and provided some great TV. I thought it made the series
look pretty good.
GS: I think it advanced sprint car racing. I think it helped
sprint car racing – those Thursday Night Thunder shows and Saturday
Night Thunder shows to be placed when they were, in basically prime
time, and people enjoyed it. They looked forward to watching it.
Glory Days – Greg’s lone USAC national win was televised live to
the world on ESPN’s Thursday Night Thunder at Indianapolis Raceway
Park on July 28, 1988. Oh what a night! (John Mahoney photo)
KO: I recall a USAC sprint car
race at Eldora in June of ’88 when you finished 4th. At
the time, that was billed as the last wingless USAC sprint car race
on dirt. What were your feelings about USAC going to exclusive
winged sprint car racing on dirt?
GS: I thought it was preposterous. I thought it was ludicrous. To
this day I can’t figure out why they did what they wanted to do.
Just basically for car counts, that’s what they were looking for. I
know it was. But, I didn’t like it a bit. I had a preference of
non-winged racing. When I started racing go-karts, they didn’t have
wings on them. And that’s what I wanted to be – a good non-winged
sprint car driver. I didn’t care about the wings. I did it because
it was a necessity. And yeah we won some races with wings. But I
didn’t care for it as much – just my personal feelings.
KO: From the late ‘80s all the way
through ’96 you faithfully followed the USAC sprint car series as
one of the little guys, the owner-operator without much sponsorship
help and having to work a full-time job. So it was a tough deal.
In that range, you had some decent point finishes and we’ve already
talked about that. Second in ’88 was a big deal that I’m sure you
were very proud of. Fourth in ’89 and then third in ’90. For a low
dollar guy like you, how much was a championship on the brain?
GS: Every minute of every day, every day of every year. I wanted a
championship. I wanted to be number one so bad but knew I didn’t
have the finances to do it. I tried everything in the world I
could. My desire level was at a max. My determination level was at
a max. I couldn’t do any more. It was like watching Pete Rose
sliding into home plate head-first…I wanted to do this just as bad.
KO: So championship was on the
brain, every minute of every day, but how proud were you of those
solid points finishes, especially 2nd in ’88, 4th
in ’89, and 3rd in ’90. There were still some guys who
you were racing with that had money, the Hoffmans being a perfect
example. Jeff Stoops, Johnny Vance – there were some guys in that
series that had some dough.
GS: It was difficult and I’m so proud of the finishes we did have.
If you look at these records, as many races as we ran, I believe it
was in 1986 that I ran 86 races and kept a full-time job. This is a
feat. Can you imagine some of these guys nowadays trying to run 86
races a year and work an eight hour a day job?
KO: No, it doesn’t happen. For
the guys that do work, they might work a halfway job but nothing
full-time. Not to harp about the pride in your points finishes, but
how proud were you?
GS: Incredibly proud. I’m so proud of my second place finish ring
that it’s my Super Bowl ring. It’s my wife, my kids, my cars, my
house I never had, my nice clothes I never had, the new cars I never
had. That’s wrapped up in that ring. That may sound silly, but
it’s a fact.
KO: Well, it’s what you wanted to
do from when you were a kid. So there you go. Was it easier
following the sprint car trail compared to the midgets? Even though
you still held down a full-time job, there wasn’t nearly the
traveling involved. Was it easier?
GS: Much easier because of the locale of the racetracks you run.
You run Bloomington. You run Eldora. You run Findlay, Winchester,
Salem, IRP. It kept it within travel range to where you could go do
it and still keep the job that I had.
KO: Back when USAC dirt races were
winged, what did you think about all the cherry picking from World
of Outlaws and All Star guys? I’m sure you had an opinion about it
at the time.
GS: It pissed me off! But that’s what they do for a living and I
accepted that and that’s the way it is. They do it to put food on
the table and they do it for a living and that’s fully acceptable.
I envy them.
KO: So did you welcome or dread
that kind of competition when you were going for a championship,
especially in a day when there were no provisionals?
GS: It only made you a better racer but it could hurt you in the
long term points standings. To run against those guys you
automatically became sharper and better than what you were doing.
But it also could hurt you points-wise if you got knocked out of the
show by a Danny Smith or a Steve Kinser that came in to cherry pick
or a Doug Wolfgang because they finished ahead of you in the heat
race and you didn’t make the feature.
KO: You were picked to drive the
famed Leader Card number 7 for A.J. Watson at the Hoosier Hundred of
1989. You might have even driven it at Springfield the race
before. What kind of an honor was this for you?
GS: Incredible – Kevin. That was one of the highest honors I’ve
had to this day. They asked me to hot lap it at Springfield because
I believe Tom Bigelow was supposed to run it. He got tied up on an
airplane problem from Pocono and couldn’t get down there in time.
They stuck me in it to hot lap. We went out to hot lap and this
racecar was the most incredible feeling thing I’ve ever sat in my
life. It stuck. It moved. You turned the wheel, it turned. You
pushed the throttle, it went forward. It was the greatest car I’ve
ever felt. And I was actually able to flat-foot the thing around
the Springfield mile and I’ll never forget that as long as I live!
And we were the quickest car in practice that day.
came in and the cam drive broke on the water pump. I could have
fixed it because I knew how to fix it. But A.J. Watson was with
Bigelow, he wasn’t there. So his helper guys, they somehow got a
hold of him and they wouldn’t let me fix it. So it got parked that
Then I think we qualified 6th or 7th with it
at the Hoosier Hundred. I pulled out on purpose because I couldn’t
see. That was the night it was very wet, very muddy. The sand was
getting in my eyes and rather than crash the man’s beautiful
racecar, I pulled in and he thanked me for it!
KO: Wow! I remember a lot of
plugged up radiators that night. A lot of overheating.
GS: A lot of engines broke that night because of that.
KO: So you wound up 30th
at that race but you did manage to run 12th in it at
DuQuoin. What was it like working with A.J. Watson and have you
figured out what made his car different than any other champ car
you’d previously driven?
GS: He’s just a shrewd, sharp man. His cars were the best. That
was the nicest feeling champ car I’ve driven to this day. And it
was just incredible. Everything worked well. You asked him to do
this or that and he’d do it. We tossed a few things around and I
probably could have gotten a little bit better finish for him that
day with a softer tire but for some reason, I was able to run softer
tires than most people. He probably went with his previous
experience with the throttle stompers that chewed the tires off of
them and we could have done better for him I think. As it was, we
parted friends and still are friends. I still see him at El Rodeo
for lunch every once in a while.
KO: Up until that point, was that
THE career highlight, other than the USAC sprint car win? I know
you have done a lot of things that you’re proud of, but getting to
drive for A.J. Watson, just thinking of the guys he has worked with,
GS: Exactly. That’s probably one of the highlights. I’d say
that’s probably in the top two things that ever happened to me
because it was a great honor and he was respectful for what I was
doing too. It was really neat.
KO: Later that year, you competed
with the All Stars at Orange County Speedway in Rougemount, NC, a
quick little 3/8ths mile paved circle. I think Jeff Gordon ended up
winning but what was that like? Were you dizzy?
GS: That was different altogether. With a winged pavement car, I’d
never done that before. And that was a whole new experience too
with how fast the corner speeds are and how fast you enter the
corners with the thing. I understand he was down there testing
before we ever got there.
KO: But definitely a fast little
GS: Oh yeah. And that’s where we learned to eat fried bologna
sandwiches too, with pickles on them.
KO: Pretty good?
GS: Very good. Very good.
KO: Do you still make them up
GS: I don’t fool with it! It’s not in my diet. You know about the
KO: The next year, you wound up
third in USAC sprint car points, yet another thing you were proud
of. You collected fourth place finishes at Eldora, Winchester, and
Wilmot, Wisconsin. I know you liked Wilmot, but why?
GS: I adapted to Wilmot for some reason. It was just like an
automatic. We rolled in there and I believe we were third or fourth
quick and we did well in the heat race and finished fourth in the
feature with the potential to run second or third. It was a close
race. I just liked the Wilmot racetrack. I don’t know why.
There’s places you fall into that you adapt to and that happened to
be one of them. It’s like me with Grand Rapids – Berlin. I love,
love Berlin! Some people adapt to certain places and it’s just one
of those deals.
KO: Also in ’90, you drove a
midget for the first time in a long while for Eddie Griffith. You
also drove in a CRA race at Mesa Marin not too long after Billy
Vukovich III was fatally injured there. Earlier that year, of
course Rich Vogler was killed at Salem. Danny Milburn wasn’t too
far after that. Did you have any concerns about pavement safety at
that time? The cars were getting faster and pavement was no longer
the series that USAC thought it would be in ’88 when they brought it
back with a lot of converted dirt cars. Were there things that
worried you at the time when those guys died?
GS: Any time you lose a friend like that, it bothers you. But I
wasn’t real concerned with the safety. I just decided that
everything and anything we could do to upgrade our belts and our
head restraints and things like that…and this was before arm
restraints. There’s quite a bit of things that have come along
since then. But no, I really didn’t pay much attention to it. I
was too focused to try and do well at the races. I probably should
have been more knowledgeable of it but I wasn’t.
KO: In ’91, you were fourth at
Berlin and I seem to recall several top-fives for you there in the
years that followed. In talking to Eric Gordon last year, I know he
mentioned how much he loves that place and it wasn’t always because
of the track itself, but also the fans up there who seemed so into
the USAC deal. Why did you like racing up there?
GS: It was a track that I adapted to very quickly. I don’t know
why. I can’t explain but maybe it was a go-kart thing years ago.
We raced another go-kart track that was smaller but similar to that
design – a D-shape. It was kind of like that. The other thing,
like you said, the fans were incredible. It was just an incredible
show of fan support up there. They were hanging out of trees and
hanging up on tree limbs and watching races from up above in the
trees nearby. And the place was just packed with people who shared
a terrific amount of respect and enthusiasm for us.
KO: That had to make you feel
GS: Oh, it was great! Great!
KO: Obviously the significant
lowlight of 1991 was a Lakeside accident in September. Thinking of
Vogler, Vukovich, and Danny Millburn, who I’m sure was a friend of
yours since you were his teammate at Eldora in the Silver Crown wars
back in ’82, it seems like so many accidents had been happening on
pavement. And not too long after your accident, that’s when
Wolfgang got burned at the same Lakeside track. What happened with
you and how devastating were the injuries?
GS: I went to pass Steve Butler in the Hoffman car on the outside
in a heat race and the lights went out for me. The car spun around
backwards. I apparently spun the left side of the car into the
wall, hit my head on the concrete wall and it gave me a closed head
injury and a shoulder separation on the left side. The rest of it,
I was just beat up in the other areas of my body. But the head
injury was critical and they didn’t know if I’d make it through the
night or not.
They were getting ready to drill my skull and take the pressure off
because the brain was swelling so badly and for some reason on the
second cat scan they caught that the swelling had stopped. They saw
it and they didn’t have to drill the proverbial hole in your head.
I spent several days in the University of Kansas Medical Center and
after that I was flown home by Rod Urish, who volunteered from the
Jayhawk Fan Club, to fly me home in his private plane. I had no way
to get home. All my friends had to go back to work and everybody
left. I was pretty much in the hospital there by myself. He flew
me home and some people met me there at the airport and took me to
my mom’s house and it took several weeks of trying…I broke my jaw.
I broke three teeth off flush with my jaw on this side. It took
several weeks to get myself back together. That one was tough.
That was very difficult.
KO: So definitely your hardest
GS: Oh, no question about it!
KO: When were you able to get back
to work after that accident? That was in September.
GS: I was off ten days or nine days.
KO: Still pretty groggy when you
GS: I was fuzzy for six months. I’m not going to lie about it. It
was not good.
KO: Your injuries didn’t keep you
from being a car owner. I remember that Stevie Reeves, Terry
Shepherd (3rd at Four Crown), and Leon Thickstun (in a
winged show at the end of the year at Paragon) piloted your
GS: That was the night we lost the car in a cornfield.
KO: Wow! I forgot about that!
Did it come off the trailer?
GS: It came off the trailer on route 44 between Paragon and
Shelbyville. It ended up out in a cornfield and mowed down a bunch
of corn stalks and sat out there in the field. A Martinsville
policeman found it with his alley lights on the top of the thing.
KO: I can’t believe you towed that
way because I’ve been that way when it was light out, between 37 and
135, and that’s super tight and twisty…and at night? You were
GS: It was a shortcut for us to cut down to Shelbyville.
KO: Had you even given any
thoughts to retiring as a driver when you suffered those injuries?
GS: A lot of people wanted me to but stubborn German, pig head…I
still had some things to prove. I wanted another ring.
KO: Did watching those guys race
your car, especially Terry Shepherd, motivate you to get better?
GS: Not really. Terry’s been a great friend of mine for many
years. He just about won the Four Crown. If we hadn’t broken a
rocker arm that day, he probably would have won the Four Crown in my
KO: Man, that would have been
GS: That was a good racecar. But no, I just wanted to race. I
still wanted to race and that was what I had to do and nothing
stopped me from it.
KO: By 1992, USAC returned to
exclusive wingless racing.
KO: I’m sure you were happy and
GS: Oh yeah. There was nobody any more happy than myself. We were
able to adapt back to that pretty quick because we were pretty good
at it anyway.
KO: For ’92, you hooked up with
Carmel, Indiana’s Larry Fritz, a guy who specializes in repairing
Jaguars – Just Jags. The best finish I found was a 3rd
at the Sheldon Kinser Memorial. Were you fully recovered from your
injuries by the time the racing season started in ’92?
GS: Yes. The reason for the split…Larry Miller was the other car.
It was a combination car owner thing there. It was Larry Miller
from Dayton and Larry Fritz from over there. I tried to get them to
coincide on the numbers so the points would turn out right for
everybody. Back at Eldora, the opening race, I led it for a little
while and caught Frankie Kerr and passed Frankie Kerr. We did ok
right out of the box with those guys and then the thing got kind of
cut back and the money ran out on both parts at the middle of the
season and it didn’t really pan out at the end of the year like it
KO: So you never got a Jaguar out
of the deal?
GS: No! Heavens no. He repaired them. He didn’t just hand them
KO: So for ’93, you did your own
pavement sprint car deal and your own Silver Crown deal. I remember
that Silver Crown car, at least when you first got it a few years
before, it was an Oz-Car and had that reverse gear in it. I
remember you backing it out of your pit area at Eldora. I always
thought that was kind of cool.
GS: I wanted to put a back-up beeper on it, like off of one of our
garbage trucks that the city had. I was never able to get it done.
KO: That was unique. I don’t know
that many people had the reverse gear on those cars. But anyway, on
the Indiana bullrings, you hooked up with Commiskey, Indiana’s Law
GS: Very good.
KO: I think you mentioned that
they had a 430 cubic inch small block which had to be quite a horse
on those short tracks. Any thoughts about racing with the Law
Brothers? Any memories?
GS: Great people. Great to deal with. We had fun. I darn near
won the Bloomington thing when Cary Faas beat me with only just a
few laps left. I was hoping to win it for them and it didn’t quite
happen but it ended up where we ran second.
KO: But what does it mean to you
when you hear that guys like that are hanging it up for good after
GS: It’s a sign of the times. I believe Roger is retired now and
Vic is retiring soon or already has. It’s just a sign of the times
and the economics produce racecars that cost more than the guys can
afford to run. You know? It’s very expensive to run these things
nowadays. They probably won’t be the last one we hear happen.
KO: July 16th of 1993,
you just mentioned it. You finished second to Cary Faas at
Bloomington which would have been an Indiana Sprintweek show. Faas
hadn’t been to Indiana that long but he gassed it up and showed
people a way…you saw it when you went out to the west coast…a lot of
people hadn’t seen that style coming back to Indiana. But if I
remember right, Faas passed you on the bottom to win. Is that
GS: Full crossways, full right lock, complete full Ascot slide
right in front of me and on around and he was gone! Just that
KO: Did you say that there was a
lesson learned in that deal?
GS: I used one of my tricks. I watched the lights. I saw him
coming. And I saw him try it the lap before. So I gave him enough
room to where if he tried to come through there he didn’t take us
both out. And you could see the shadows in the lights at
Bloomington…you can just glance at the shadows getting in the
corner, look down at the shadow and you could see another car
coming. And I spotted him coming and gave him room to go. Again, I
wanted to finish. I didn’t want to end up in a ball and of course I
wanted to win, but this guy was faster than me. What are you going
to do? There comes a point when you say this guy is faster, there
is nothing you can do about it. And he went on by me and he got the
win that night.
KO: It was almost a resurgence of
sorts. You had some good runs with the Law Brothers that year and
maybe it rejuvenated you just a little?
GS: Not only that, but they were both good mechanics. They both
took care of their cars. They had been doing it for awhile and
they’re just good guys. They knew what to do. And they had good
KO: 1994 was rocked by the death
of Robbie Stanley at Winchester in May. Any thoughts on racing with
GS: I wasn’t that close with Robbie. There was an age difference
there between he and I but I was good friends with the family. I
was friends with his mother and father. From traveling with them
and being around them, you don’t have a choice but to be friends
with people like that.
Robbie was good. He was very good. It was very unfortunate to how
that happened, for him to meet his demise.
KO: What do you think he could
have gone on to do had that not happened? I’m not sure he would
have had the great opportunities down south, but do you think he
would have scored a few more USAC championships?
GS: I’m sure. I’m sure of that or possibly with the Indiana
connections he had, he might have even been able to do an IRL
thing. At the time, Tony George was running Ed Carpenter in quarter
midgets and I’m sure they were running Robbie’s father’s quarter
KO: Throughout the early to
mid-1990s, you were a solid top-ten guy, night in and night out.
Were you content with this or did you feel a need to improve? By
then, things were getting pretty costly for an owner/operator to
succeed. Knowing you, I’m thinking that you wanted to improve on
GS: That’s a pretty accurate statement. You got to the point where
you saw, no matter what you did or how you went about it, you
couldn’t improve your finishes because those cars were better than
your car, which boils down to economics and I didn’t have the money
to compete with those guys. Just plain and simple.
Game Face – Fit and trim in his Valvoline suit, Greg readies for
battle in Larry Miller’s sprint car for the 1992 Four Crown at
Eldora. (Keith Wendel photo)
KO: Despite the increase in costs
and need for testing on pavement, which seemed to become prevalent
in the early ‘90s, USAC racing seemed pretty healthy in that era.
There were plenty of cars, lots of TV exposure, and all kinds of
ingenuity was abound with different chassis, especially on
pavement. Looking back, were there better times for USAC than the
GS: The ‘70s were really good. ’74, five, and six, for the USAC
sprint division, that was really good. I’d say ’72 and on up, ’72
to ’76 was great. There were some good times in both eras. It’s
just hard to say. But like you said, we had cars. We didn’t have a
problem with car counts. It is what it is and economics dictate
everything in our sport. I hate to say that. I hate to keep
throwing back on that. It sounds like I’m using it as a crutch but
it’s just the bare-bones truth.
KO: July of ’96, we’ll fast
forward onto that. You had an on-track incident with Mark Cassella
at Paragon. What all did it break?
GS: Broke my left humerus on my left arm. The car came into the
cockpit and hit my arm and I ended up in Methodist Hospital with Dr.
Trammel’s bunch. They put me back together with a six inch piece of
tubing with nine screws in it.
KO: So that’s still in there?
GS: Oh yeah. The bone has grown around it. I saw the X-ray of it
about five years later. They did a great repair. Cold weather is a
bitch because you can feel that cold piece of steel in there
sometimes. But they did a great job and I got great treatment at
Methodist. I don’t think anybody could ask for anything better.
And that was a time when there was a realization that you’ve gone as
far as you can as a driver in this sport. There are other avenues
you can pursue to still stay involved in the sport. You can’t beat
these kids with their money coming in. You can’t beat the kids
because they’re probably better than you now. It’s called
diminishing skills. Diminishing skills happen with people and being
able to be intelligent enough or brave enough to recognize that
they’re happening to you…
Yellow Jacket – Looking quite dapper in his yellow sport coat,
Greg hands the 1998 Lawrenceburg championship trophy to Sheldon
Kinser, Jr. (Keith Wendel photo)
KO: That takes some balls.
GS: Yes it does. And there are people out there, some of them are
friends of mine, that really need to take a second look at their
skill from ten years ago to their skill from now…and say ok, I’m not
as good as I was. But I can do other things. I’ve got a ton of
knowledge. I can do other things. That’s precisely where we went
from that point.
KO: In the latter stages of ’96,
you decided to team up with another Cincinnati-area racer, an up and
comer named Joey Kerr. You ended ’96 together and planned for a
full assault on USAC for 1997. So other than debating about
staggered numbers on the tail tank, what prevented you two from
doing better? I think the kid had some talent.
GS: Joey is a great guy. He is a great fabricator. He’s gone on
to build some custom motorcycles that he’s nationally known for
right now. People here don’t know that but he’s tremendous at
building these custom motorcycles.
Joey had a different way of doing things. You move into a group of
people and they have a way of doing things and they don’t feel like
your way of doing things is exactly like it should be done. So it’s
differences of opinions. I took Joey to the Phoenix mile, he’d
never been on a mile in his life, and with Tom Klein building the
engine for us, he got up to seventh or eighth in the Desert Star
Classic, and he’d never even seen a mile before. And he was going
forward and the engine expired – burned head gasket.
It was a parting of the ways. Joey wanted to go one way and I
wanted to go another and it just didn’t go any further. We’re still
friends to this day and I respect his abilities a ton.
KO: This was a busy time for you.
In addition to car ownership and your full-time job with the city of
Cincinnati, in the winter of ’96 you decided to take over the reins
of the legendary Lawrenceburg Speedway for ’97. What made you want
to take on such a challenge like that?
GS: A love affair with that place that I had. I loved the place
from the time I was a kid. I saw that it was not being maintained
or taken care of like it should have been. I thought a shot of new
blood like myself may be able to resurrect it and make it more user
friendly, make some changes and do some things like that.
Handing Out Hardware – On July 15th, of 2000, Greg gives a USAC
regional midget feature winner plaque to Shane Cottle. With a
modified rolling by, it appears that they are in a hurry. (Keith
KO: What unforeseen issues existed
with that position that caused you great stress?
GS: Well your best friends call you four letter words within two
weeks of running the racetrack. You get M-F’d by your best friends
because you have to be the decision maker. You’re now the bad cop
and there’s nothing you can do about it but move on and stand your
ground. And I’ve had toe-to-toes with people – that’s the way it’s
going to be and this is the way we’re going to do it. And in my
heart I felt that I was doing the right thing, you know?
KO: So anything else with The Burg
that caused you headaches?
GS: The floods. The floods. And the more floods! (Laughing)
Being down in the sump hole, hooking the pumps up… It’s an
incredible physical amount of work involved in doing that. Allen
Barr came in, and he’s one of the best in the world on a grader.
He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever met. And he taught me how to
water the racetrack and he taught me how much water to put on the
racetrack. He did the grading because he was better at it than me.
He volunteered to come over and do it. We had a great relationship
with it. The first two years, I flat-out sucked at preparing a
racetrack. After I understood how to do it and what to do, trying
different things, there’s a combination you have to arrive at, and
we found that combination. The final two-three years, it was a good
racetrack, all the time.
KO: I can only imagine the amount
of hours you were putting in a week. You had your normal job and
then working at the racetrack…you still had a racecar with Joey Kerr
and then you did your own sprint car again. From ’97 to 2000, did
you get any sleep whatsoever?
GS: Not a whole lot. It was really hard. We kind of left Joey
going – he moved over here (Indy) and Steve Stapp took him under his
wing and they kind of did things together. And I really didn’t get
a whole lot of hands-on with that deal, which is probably another
reason why had I been around more with him, maybe, maybe not, he
might have done better. Who knows because he didn’t have a lot of
guidance. A young kid just going out and doing it, it wasn’t fair
But the racetrack consumed my life. The racetrack consumed me for
four years and I’d learned a ton. I still would do it again but
under different circumstances because I enjoyed it that much.
Double Duty – Greg is pictured with Eric Gordon on September 5th,
1998 after Eric steered his car to victory at the same Lawrenceburg
Speedway he promoted. (Keith Wendel photo)
KO: So how did you stay sane
throughout those years? You’re a pretty positive, upbeat guy,
always seeing the glass half-full, but how did you stay sane when
friends are calling you names and accusing you of this or that or
whatever? How do you live with that?
GS: You become very callous to it. You also have a firm way of
looking at things. If you are a firm believer and doing what you’re
doing is the right thing to do, you stick with it no matter what.
And somehow that converts back to respect from the competitors. If
you have a rainout that night and you’re halfway through a feature
and you tell them they’re going to be the first event next Saturday
night, that’s what you’re going to do and they respect the fact that
you’re telling them the truth.
KO: Eventually you had to give up
the deal so what was the deciding factor there?
GS: Oh, there were some other people coming in with promises that
they were going to do this and that and the city government looked
at it as a positive for them and they chose his contract over mine.
KO: But you would have kept on
doing it had the city not changed their direction?
GS: We had just gotten it turned around and just had gotten it
where it was beginning to make money as opposed to losing money
every night, which most nights it did except for special events. I
just did get it to where it was turned around and start to break
KO: Were you glad to get away from
being the guy running the show there or was there some regret in
having to step away?
GS: It started out being very regretful and after seeing how it was
run later it was even more regretful. But there’s a bit of relief
involved. I mean physically, I don’t think I could have done it
anymore like I was doing it.
All Smiles – Wearing the promoter’s hat on 9/25/99, Greg salutes
Lawrenceburg feature winner Derek Scheffel. (Keith Wendel photo)
KO: So what did it teach you about
racing and racing people?
GS: There’s definitely two sides to everything. There’s definitely
two viewpoints. Even though they respect you as a racer, they may
not respect you as a promoter. People have a false interpretation
of promoters as they’re all thieves and crooks. These guys work
their butts off. Jiggs Thomason, Mike Miles, these guys are all
friends of mine. Keith Ford. They work their ass off to make this
work, you know?
KO: Those guys take a lot of
financial risks every time that they have a show because there’s
money that goes out before you even get any people in the gate.
GS: Jared and Reece up at Kokomo, those people work their behinds
off. And hard work is where it’s at.
KO: If you could have done
something different with the racetrack and if hindsight is 20/20,
what would you have done?
GS: Well now, the Lawrenceburg city is upgrading the thing so much
that I wish I would have had my bathrooms nice like they are now
because they couldn’t even take care of the bathrooms for me back
then. But right now, there’s a bit of money to play around with
down there that they can improve their properties. That would have
helped a ton.
KO: When somebody with money gets
excited about a project, it’s amazing what they can do. But it all
comes down to money again.
GS: Absolutely. Argosy’s tax contributions down there are making a
world of difference in the city of Lawrenceburg.
Working Hard – Check out Lawrenceburg’s unique water application
system for the 1997 season. Yep, that’s Greg riding the bus. (Keith
KO: Question number 81, but who’s
counting? You’ve done everything in racing from driving, to car
ownership, to duties as a mechanic, to toiling as a chief
mechanic/team manager, to racetrack promoter/operator, to
sanctioning body series organizer/official. Is there something that
you haven’t done? What about announcing?
GS: I leave that to the likes of Rob Klepper and people like him.
There are gifted people on the mike that say and do the right thing
and have the proper voice for it. I realize where I don’t belong
and I think that’s one of them.
KO: So that’s something that you
haven’t done but is there something you haven’t done that you want
to do? I don’t know that there’s anything out there that’s left.
GS: I’m open for suggestions if anyone wants to get ahold of me.
I’m not opposed to going back to running another racetrack for some
people again, some day. But it would have to be on my terms and it
would have to be somewhat convenient because I don’t want to have to
drive seventy miles a day to go to the event and do that.
KO: So after your Paragon injury
in ’96, you plugged many a driver into the seat of your number 44.
A short list contains Tyce Carlson, Eric Gordon (you won some races
with him in ’98), Kenneth Nichols, Joey Kerr. How about Rust-O-Leum
(Rusty McClure)? Then there’s Mike Mann (3rd at Kokomo
Sprintweek 1999), the legendary Allen Barr, Jason Setser (who won a
championship for you down at The Burg), Critter Malone, Chris Coers,
Johnny Heydenreich, Wil Newlin, Matt Westfall, Jeff Harris, Don
Droud, Jr., and Mat Neely. One of the names I forgot to put down on
this list is Cary Faas! Danny Smith, Terry Shepherd, Lealand
McSpadden, Kenny Jacobs, and Dave Darland drove your champ car. I
don’t know that you can nail down one guy, maybe it’s a few guys,
but who out of this group did you really enjoy working with? You
probably enjoyed working with all of them, so maybe I’m putting too
much pressure on you.
GS: Terry Shepherd was great. Jason Setser probably was the most
underdeveloped natural talent of the whole bunch that I’ve ever
seen. We’re not measuring him against Lealand McSpadden, but I
pride myself in giving…because I was subjected to such late years of
being allowed to get in a sprint car, and no one would let me get in
a sprint car, that I went way out of my way to let these young guys
get a ride. Critter was one. Chris Coers. Jason Setser. Jason
Setser was an incredible talent until he had his injury at North
Vernon in one of the Keith Kunz-mobiles.
But they were all great! Lealand was great to work with. Kenny
Jacobs was fantastic. I mean I really can’t single one of them
out. But the most talent I’ve seen was Jason Setser. He never sat
in a sprint car before and won the first night out. You don’t have
that. That just doesn’t happen.
KO: That’s a once in a blue moon
type of deal. And is he still driving late models?
GS: I don’t know. He lost his father two years ago I believe and I
don’t know what he’s doing right now.
KO: But you ended up winning a
Lawrenceburg track title with him in 2000, which I’m sure was
special since you’d done it as a driver and then you did it as a car
owner, while you were running the track.
GS: Well of course I caught hell for that too. We supposedly set
the races up.
KO: People would say, “Oh, he’s
got a good draw. He’s starting on the pole!”
GS: Exactly. I heard that over and over again.
KO: People always want to list
excuses, some how, some way. But we should say something about
that. Winning a title as a car owner, when you look back and think
about it now, what does it mean to you?
GS: I had to stay low key because I didn’t want it to look like it
was fixed in any way. It wasn’t. There was no way anything was out
of line. I wouldn’t do that. I’m not that kind of person. But he
(Setser) was just a good race driver. I think he won three features
that year with that car.
KO: I think he got a win at North
Vernon in your car somewhere along the way too. Obviously that
title was a good feeling.
In the years following your
relinquishment of Lawrenceburg, you spent the majority of your
racing time assisting Johnny Heydenreich’s Silver Crown effort as
the crew chief. Were you indeed the crew chief?
GS: Pretty much. I’d drive over from Cincinnati and maintain it.
I’d take care of it and go to the races with them. Sharon Bank was
the owner. Stephanie, my girlfriend at the time, she and I would
take care of things. And my friend Vern would help me. We took
care of the racecar and I’m very, very happy with some of the great
finishes we had with that car. I pride myself on the car finishing
those races. And he did finish.
Crew Chief – Staab advises Johnny Heydenreich prior to the 2002
Syracuse 100 mile Silver Crown event. (Keith Wendel photo)
KO: The hundred mile races…I
remember Eric Gordon talking about that with Phil Shuler – all the
maintenance that you’ve got to get done. The parts only last for a
certain amount of time and you’ve either got to rebuild them or
replace them. So obviously you already knew that stuff.
GS: And Eric Gordon is another great one. He drove for me and he
won several features for us too. And he is another great race
driver…an underrated guy who should have went further and didn’t.
The two people who stand out in my mind, in our group, that didn’t
get to go any further, were Brian Tyler and Eric Gordon. Brian is
making a good living now down south but these two guys are great.
In fact, I’m very happy that I get to help on Brian’s car now.
Yeah, the Silver Crown thing with Johnny, we came close to winning a
couple of races and we should have won a couple of races. But
woulda, shoulda, coulda, it didn’t happen. And now I’m focused. I
want to win a Silver Crown race as a mechanic now. I haven’t done
that yet and I want it in the worst way.
KO: It sounds like it could
GS: That’s “goal-oriented me” speaking right now but that’s what I
KO: So is it possible to give an
estimate of how many times you traveled back and forth from
Cincinnati to Indy’s 21st Street and Country Club Road?
Do you have any idea?
GS: I have no idea. Sometimes it was twice a week back and forth.
But I have no clue. You were riding by there seeing my car there
all the time. You know it’s a fact!
Saturday Banking – Staab exits turn two of Winchester’s high
banks, on his way to an 8th place finish on July 16th, 1994. (Keith
KO: Oh yeah! I lived pretty close
to there so I always saw what was going on at Heydenreich’s place.
In the process, you must have
logged many miles on your big Mercedes sedan? I'm assuming that’s
the car that you drove.
GS: It was my white one that I eventually sold down the road. I
put a ton of miles on it and now I’ve got the blue one and it’s got
230,000 miles on it. So yeah, they’re a pretty reliable vehicle.
KO: I know Pete Rose became a
Porsche man because of insistence from brother Dave, but here I
always thought you were a Ford man.
GS: I was a Ford truck man. I got to realize that the Mercedes
piece is such a tough and durable piece that I like ‘em. Plus, they
go along with my German heritage. It’s just an overall good deal
for me and I’ll probably have one until the day I die, somehow.
KO: So you like German food then?
GS: Yes I do!
KO: Any good places in
Indianapolis other than Rathskeller?
GS: I haven’t been there yet. We have a couple in Cincinnati that
I’m familiar with but some of them have closed because they were in
the ghetto areas, the riot problems and so forth. Nobody would go
down there and eat anymore.
KO: Before you took your job with
USAC, you worked for Tony Stewart Racing for a few weeks. I don’t
know how long of a time period that was. I seem to recall a busy
Toledo/IRP weekend thrash that you were involved with. Did you see
anything with Tony Stewart Racing that might have surprised you with
the current state of affairs of the sport?
GS: (Thinking and sighing) They wanted for nothing. They had
everything and anything they wanted. It was really refreshing to
see that because I know how hard I worked. Sometimes I would have
to drive up here from Cincinnati just to get bolts and nuts for my
racecar because Cincinnati wouldn’t even have it…a grade A bolt and
nut or an aircraft bolt and nut. Or a head gasket or an intake
gasket. I couldn’t get them in Cincinnati. I had to drive up here
to Galen Fox’s and get the parts up here. So to see these guys have
their parts right on the shelf, and everything right there, was very
refreshing. That was very cool.
KO: The right way to do it.
KO: Anything else that might have
opened your eyes there?
GS: There were a lot of people involved, a lot of people hanging
around there a lot. Tony Stewart’s an interesting guy and people
flock around him. He wasn’t around there that much. In fact, I
don’t recall seeing him in the shop but one time. I wasn’t there
that day. I had a dental appointment.
But it was interesting. I worked for Larry Curry. Larry brought me
in to help the guys out.
KO: Another Cincinnati guy.
GS: We were rookies with the Hoffman Indycar team in 1975.
KO: I’ve got a Hoffman Indy garage
sign, number 79. It was a backup car. It has Larry Curry’s name on
it but I didn’t see Greg Staab’s name on there.
GS: Well, Greg Staab was just a parts washer at the time. But
yeah, I was with those guys for a couple of years at the Speedway.
I learned a lot just by doing that too.
KO: Your move to Indianapolis was
a big deal for you but certainly a long time coming. I’m sure a lot
of people pleaded with you to move up here since you drove up here
so much. How long had you considered such a move and what finally
pushed you over the edge to get it done?
GS: Probably since I was 20 years old I wanted to live up here but
I had jobs in Cincinnati. I had my parents in the Cincinnati area.
And I had to stick with them. There was no way I could move up here
then. Steve Stapp gives me the devil to this day because I didn’t
move up here years ago. But that’s just the way it is and I’m here
now and I’m a happy dog about it. I like it!
New Beginning – After hanging up his driving gear, Greg teamed
with Joey Kerr for a USAC sprint assault in 1997. Joey is seen in
action at Winchester, with The Legendary Lawrenceburg Speedway
proudly advertised on the hood. (Keith Wendel photo)
KO: Shortly after the Stewart
deal, you started working for USAC. I don’t know if it was the end
of ’05 or the beginning of ’06, basically after Jason Smith
announced he was leaving. Was that in ’05?
KO: When you first started that
job, did you feel like you were in heaven? I remember you said that
it was your dream deal.
GS: It initially started out with the Laredo-Go, which is a
Mercedes world record run, that Rollie needed some help with because
nobody could go down there and stay 30 days in Laredo, Texas for
this Mercedes-Benz diesel run. It was really good and I got along
with all the guys good. Rollie saw an opportunity for me to go to
work with USAC and utilize what I did know. Jason was still there
but it was my dream job, yes it was.
KO: It seems like you said that
was something you dreamed of doing once you retired from racing,
either as a driver or a car owner. Was that true?
GS: When Gary Sokola was sitting in his seat in 1990, I said, “I
want to sit in that seat some day. I want that job.” And I got
KO: So could life have possibly
gotten any better for you?
GS: Um, it was difficult there. There were some difficult items.
It’s a hard job. You catch more grief there then you do as a track
owner. And you’re constantly having to answer to people there.
It’s a pretty tough job but I liked it. I loved it. And I’m better
KO: You worked very hard at
getting your schedules out early. You also developed sprint and
midget schedules that really appealed to USAC’s hardcore fans while
also working to take the series to new places where they hadn’t been
in a long time, Pennsylvania in particular. With the midgets, you
developed relationships with other sanctioning bodies to bolster the
schedule, especially on dirt. What were your goals in creating your
GS: Originally I wanted to go to 50 races with the sprint car
division. I was told I shouldn’t do that. That was way too many
races. The USAC thing, there was such a constant controversy with
the midget groups, back and forth. I wanted to try to mend that,
try to fix that. Let’s get this taken care of. We’re all grown men
here. Let’s make this work somehow. I tried hard to make the POWRi
thing work. I tried with the Badger bunch. It just was very, very
difficult. There were so many obstacles thrown at me that every
time you had a goal or a plan, you’d have an obstacle thrown at
you. It was kind of strange. So it turned out that a lot of it
worked and a lot of it didn’t, but the Pennsylvania thing started
out at three races and now it’s gone to five last year. It could be
more if somebody wanted to pursue it. I’m no longer there to do
that, so that’s entirely up to them.
KO: What places did you want to
take USAC to that you weren’t able to get done?
GS: We came up short on the pavement a lot and I couldn’t
understand why. I worked hard to get a third show into Winchester,
which we got done.
KO: I remembered you said you
wanted to go to a place like Mobile or Pensacola.
GS: I went to Mobile in person. I went to Pensacola and Mobile in
person, and had it within a few dollars, we’ll say, of bringing in a
sponsor, and having both of those places locked in. They both
wanted us and they both were enthusiastic about having us but they
wanted a sponsor brought along to help defer their expenses. Both
of those places are fantastic paved racetracks. Incredible places.
And I went down in person and visited both tracks and it looked like
it was going to be a done deal and it didn’t quite work out.
KO: You seem to be the type of guy
to not sit still, continuously working to improve whatever it is
that you’re involved with. Maybe it’s that German heritage again.
Can you share with me your vision for the USAC sprint car and midget
divisions? I know you said 50 races, but was there a thought that
maybe if a big enough sponsor could be obtained that this could be a
full-time traveling series, where these guys could make a living off
of it? Or did you just want to focus on providing good racing?
GS: The thought of a full-time traveling thing is kind of off-beat
because you have to have a sponsor to cover some of that, which we
didn’t have. I believe that fifty races is not out of the
question. This year’s schedule has 42 on it. If you could get to
Pensacola and a few more like that, bang, you’re at 50. So it’s not
out of the question to have 50. I was told that we were cutting the
races back and I didn’t know they were going to pursue this as heavy
as they did. This schedule is a very impressive schedule.
KO: This could be controversial,
but were you concerned about your position with USAC when Kevin
Miller was hired as President?
GS: Any time you see a new leader come in, there’s always a ray of
worry. There’s an element of worry. When he started chopping heads
at first, of course the worry increased. I thought I was pretty
stable with it and I thought I had done a good job with it. I still
feel very confident that I was doing the right thing. I just didn’t
fit into the program that he has. And that’s fully understandable.
I accept that. It’s not a bad bit of light on either party. But I
wish I could have stayed there to help out. It didn’t happen that
way and we’ll move right on.
KO: How much did the culture
change from when Rollie was running things to when Kevin came in? Of
course headcount was reduced, but was it a completely different
culture? Rollie had been a long-time car owner with USAC. He knew
the way things were run there before and he represented a
continuation of the way things were done. Did the culture change
that much with Kevin?
GS: It did. It did in fact change. The education part of it for
Kevin was to learn exactly what everyone did, and to learn how this
whole game worked. I respect that Kevin has a major job to do and I
respect him for his insight on the way he wanted to go about it.
It’s just two different paths and two different ways of going about
it. He brought in Jason Smith and Jason McCord. Jason Smith knows
what to do. He knows how to go about it. He’s very, very good at
it. Jason McCord has picked it up and he’s done very well too.
KO: Did you miss working with
GS: Rollie and I are great friends – have been great friends for
years and I see him all the time. Yeah, it was different.
KO: It seems like he might have
given you more leeway. He knows that you’ve been around the sport
and you know what you’re doing. You’ve worked as a promoter. Maybe
you were given more room to work under Rollie’s leadership?
GS: He gave me the sprint division when Jason left and said, “Here,
run this like it’s your business.” That’s exactly what we did and
it worked. It was working out pretty well I thought.
KO: I enjoyed those years. I’ll
say that as a fan. To me, I don’t know how it could have gotten any
better as a fan from Indiana.
GS: Thank you! That’s quite a compliment.
KO: But that’s just my perspective
as a fan, not to be blowing smoke up your ass. This is my passion.
This is what I enjoy most from life. I know I was enjoying it
immensely when you were in charge of it.
So going back to the beginning of
2008, when did you find out that your job was in jeopardy?
GS: In May I believe it was, Kevin had reviews and my name was last
on the list of reviews. I knew right away there was something up
because when you’re last on the list, that means everyone’s gone out
of the building and it’s time to get serious.
KO: So that’s how you found out
then – knowing it was a closed door meeting?
KO: What reason were you given?
Can you even discuss that?
GS: He cited a lack of passion for the sport and I had to question
that one a little bit. And my work ethic, he said I didn’t do
anything back there in the office all day.
In The Office – Back in the day when he was employed by the
Speedway, Indiana sanctioning body, Greg is pictured in his USAC
office, tending to sprint car and midget series duties. (Keith
KO: Wow! We just talked about
that and it leads into my next question. Kevin Miller claimed that
you didn’t have enough passion for USAC. But given your history
with the organization that dates back to the early ‘70s, traveling
with them all over the country, supporting them through thick and
thin, especially when they didn’t have a ton of cars, and being a
staunch USAC supporter, how badly did that anger and frustrate you?
GS: It was just a big question mark. Where would this come from?
How could this be? It was just a tough pill to swallow. And then
they kept me around for a little while, having a few things here and
there to do. It was bitter disappointment when you base your life
around something and then something like this comes in and changes.
But I’ll move on and I’ll do just fine. I’m very happy doing what
I’m doing right now. VERY happy with it! I’ve got a great bunch of
people to work with and it’s just a great time.
KO: Given Mr. Miller’s future
plans for USAC, other than a few more pavement shows, the 2009
schedule looks a lot like the one you built despite the notion of
them wishing to cut back on the number of races. It looks a lot
like the ones from 2006 to 2008. But what’s your opinion on the
current state of affairs for USAC? Are they in trouble?
GS: I really don’t know Kevin. I don’t know. One thing you hear
is the economic situation but apparently the Calistoga promotion
went really well as I understand it. They did a nice job on that
out there. So those are the things they need to do if there’s an
economic problem. You need to do more of those.
KO: Do you ever see a day in the
near future when there might not be a USAC?
GS: I guess at this point, anything is possible. With the
economics the way they are and rumors of the building being knocked
down and the street change down there, that would be the perfect
time for something drastic to happen. I don’t know. It’s hard to
KO: If you were in charge, what
changes would you enact immediately or over a period of time to help
save USAC from extinction?
GS: (Ponders for a bit) A little bit more user-friendly approach to
the history of USAC. It’s being pushed aside now due to the
computer age and they’re appealing to the younger people. There are
still A LOT of old USAC fans out there. Not because I’m older…
KO: Well, I’m becoming an old USAC
fan and I’m 37.
GS: Exactly. The computer age is being pushed onto the scene
heavily right now. This is a good thing, but I wouldn’t short
change the older people, 37 and older, who still enjoy a good USAC
race at Winchester. They don’t all have computers. They don’t all
live by the computer age. And this seems to be bypassed right now
and I feel for those people.
KO: You’re working for a Silver
Crown team right now. Of course three years ago they went to the
new style cars for the pavement but now that the older cars are back
the car owners aren’t coming out to support it like in the past.
What’s causing that? What’s wrong with the Silver Crown series?
Not that there is anything particularly wrong, but why aren’t the
owners coming out to support it? Maybe you don’t have the answer?
GS: I don’t have a true answer, but I have a feeling. I may be
wrong, but this is my opinion and I’m allowed to have this opinion.
I feel that for years and years, Silver Crown teams and cars,
families, people, they had these cars and they went to the races.
It became a way of life. Well the other change came in with the new
cars and those cars, the older cars, were yanked away by the new
car. Now these people have found a way to fill that void on a
weekend of Springfield, on a weekend of DuQuoin, on a weekend of the
Hoosier Hundred. They have now got a cottage on the lake. They’ve
got a trailer on the lake some place, ball games to go to or they’ve
got another way to fill that void. And I think that void is being
filled by other items now in the entertainment area. They may go to
King’s Island. They may go to the Gulf Shores. They may go to the
gambling boat or the casino. Who knows! But I’ve got a theory that
the people who have gone away have gotten their feelings hurt by the
elimination of their racecars they had a passion for and they found
other ways to fill that void for the weekends.
KO: That very well could be. It
reminds me of baseball. In ’94 when they had the strike, I was a
hardcore Reds fan. I haven’t really followed it since then. That’s
when I started hitting the racing hard. I found other ways to spend
my time and here I am. I haven’t gone back.
GS: My point exactly! I’m sure that’s happened to several. I
can’t name a team. I can’t tell you exactly who would be involved
in a change like that, but I bet you that has happened. That would
be my opinion.
KO: Next question – kind of a
different area - if another wingless sprint car organization,
doesn’t matter who it is, came into the Midwest, paid a larger purse
and didn’t demand entry fees from its car owners, you think it could
it overpower USAC?
GS: USAC is a very, very strong name. USAC has the numero uno, on
the pedestal name. That’s going to be very hard to overpower. You
may become very popular. And you may produce a fast and efficient
show that pays more and is more user-friendly to the racers and the
fans, but you still have that USAC emblem.
KO: So you’re confident that the
name still has some clout?
GS: Unless they anger more people, they’re going to be the number
KO: So throughout the mess of 2008
and losing your full-time status with USAC, you still jumped in to
help the sanctioning body whenever possible. Did you have any other
job offers after the USAC deal that you can divulge? Who were some
of the people who contacted you about your services?
GS: Yeah, there was a call that came from down in the southwest
from Tommie Estes to call Emmett Hahn to branch out and bring the
TNT Tour up to the Midwest which still hasn’t really been dropped
completely. I went to 80-something races and 70-something races and
then 77-something races, three years in a row. I’m kind of
recovering from all the USAC races right now. So I don’t know if I
really want to work that hard and go back to doing a big deal but
it’s not out of the question. I’m supposed to see Emmett, but I
never did get to talk to him out west. Eventually we’ll talk.
KO: Any other people? Any other
interesting names that called you?
GS: No, not really. Or none that I can talk about anyway.
KO: That’s fair! We want to keep
this on the up and up and not burn any bridges because I know you
have so many years left in the sport. This piece is to promote you
and not slam anybody else.
Now you are working for the big man
at Jet Star Trucking, Darryl Guiducci, who is also the big man at 6R
Racing. What is your current position with the team and how did you
decide that it was the place for you?
GS: They were short on help and it’s really not a paying position.
They take care of you in going to the races and they take care of
your expenses and so forth but I’m the crew chief on the 19 car that
Mike Murgoitio and Kody Swanson drive. I maintain it. I work out
of the shop up there and I help them. It’s not a paid position by
any means but they’re good people. Darryl is an extremely outgoing
ambassador for the sport. He’s one of the best people the sport
could possibly have. It’s just really neat to work with Darryl and
Chuck Castor and Bernie Hallisky. We’ve got a pretty good team
going there. I’m very meticulous with my work. I like to have cars
finish races. They say I’m too slow and they laugh about it being
slow. Well, I’m slow because I want this to work. I don’t want
something falling off of it, you know!
KO: One thing that stands out when
I think of Greg Staab is his positive outlook on life. With very
few exceptions, you never seem to have a bad word for anybody,
always taking the high road. Where did this come from?
GS: If anybody out there is listening and knew my father, my father
could go to a tree and get a conversation out of it. He was pretty
much like that all of the time. He was 90 percent in a good mood
all of the time. I’ve watched him. I’ve watched other people I’ve
been around in my life that are similar to that. I’ve had some
pretty good role models. I’ve had the work ethic role model with
Pete Rose, watching him work. My father was a very hard worker. I
had some other bosses who were very good workers. Tom Soudrette,
who started helping me out in my beginning racing years, his
grandson Jason is running at Lawrenceburg now, he taught me a lot.
Claude “Buster” Lowther, who ran with Jimmy Davies in the USAC
midgets for years, he was hard on me too but he also taught me a lot
about life. I’ve had several people who have been influential in
casting my personality – mainly my father. My mother was a great
mother, but she didn’t have quite the outgoing approach to things.
I’ve got a lot of people to thank for that.
KO: From a personal standpoint, I
don’t ever recall a marriage being associated with your life. Have
you ever been married?
GS: No sir. No marriages for me.
KO: Married to racing?
GS: I am what I am and that’s what I am. I don’t see any reason
for that (marriage) right now.
KO: The nickname of “The Dog” –
I’m curious how you got that because I started seeing it on your
cars in the early ‘90s. Was that given to you by one of your female
acquaintances by chance?
GS: Steve Stapp! Steve Stapp started calling me The Dog because I’d
crawl up anywhere and go to sleep. I was just like an old dog and
he threw the dog thing on me.
KO: And then you started lettering
your racecars that way.
GS: Well, if you’re going to call me a dog, I’ll put it on the
racecar! But it was funny. It was fun to play with. Steve Stapp
started that shit.
KO: But it stuck!
GS: Yeah! And I’m ok with that! In most circles of socialization,
dog means you can go around and hump anything and anybody. Well, I
don’t think that’s really where the nickname was going, but there
may be a little bit of that in there.
KO: In the sprint car fraternity,
I don’t know of anyone else who has been more religious when it
comes to exercise and pumping iron than you. No matter how late of
a night it was after the races, no matter if you’re away on business
in California, you’re always at that gym pumping iron early in the
morning. Has it always been that way?
GS: In 1985, my friend A.J. Esterkamp bought me a membership to the
health club in Cincinnati called Covedale Sports Center. I
immediately saw a difference in ’85 that I was not falling out of
the racecar anymore. I was stronger than people. I was doing
better in longer races. Sitting straight up for thirty laps, it was
making a difference. I did it all my life anyway. And from ’85 and
on I really, really worked at it. I’ve backed off lately because
I’ve been sick. You know for a fact that I’ve been after it and I
KO: So what’s your routine?
Weights only or cardio too? What do you like to do there?
GS: It’s off and on. I’ll start cardio here in about a month –
heavy – before racing season starts. I’ve backed off of it now
because of my knees, hips, and feet. But normally just weights…free
weights – pretty extensive. I do pretty well for a sixty year old
guy. You won’t see too many people lifting like that.
KO: I just ran into an eighty year
old guy at the gym today. He was still pumping iron and he told me
it makes him feel young.
GS: It feels good! It’s kind of an adrenaline rush I guess.
KO: You may have already answered
this but I just want to be sure to get this down - what’s the most
entertaining racing story that you can tell without getting anyone
in serious trouble? You’re a guy that’s been around racing for a
long time and we both know racing people know how to have a good
time, laughing and joking. I don’t know if there’s one racing story
that stands out and involves you…
GS: Actually the car falling off the trailer coming from Paragon
that night was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever done. It
scared the hell out of me at the time, but that made it to UPI,
United Press International. It made it all over the country – about
me losing a racecar and it ended up in a cornfield at four o’clock
in the morning. It was spooky at the time because there’s my life,
my money, my cylinder heads, my engine! Everything I owned – GONE!
Those Southern Indiana boys don’t play. They’ll take that shit and
hide it and you’ll never find it.
KO: So how fast did you know that
it was off the trailer?
GS: I drove all the way to Shelbyville – pulled into the Bigfoot
Station to get fuel and noticed that the racecar wasn’t on the
trailer when I got out to put fuel in the truck. I told the girl I
was with – “Hey, the racecar’s not back there!” She said, “Oh quit
joking around!” I said, “I’m telling you now! The racecar’s not
We backtracked. I went straight to the Martinsville police
station. A Martinsville cop came out, turned on his alley lights,
driving up route 44. There were my four-by-fours laying there that
I shoved under the car to keep the car from bouncing. I said,
“Those are my four-by-fours. That thing’s around here somewhere.”
He said, “How do you know those are your four-by-fours?”
“It’s because I put them together. I nailed them together and this
is my stuff.”
He said, “Ok. If you say so.”
So he turned the alley lights on and started shining them out in the
field. As we crest the top of the hill, you could see the corn
stalks mowed down and there’s our racecar sitting out there in the
middle of the field.
Waiting at Winchester – Awaiting asphalt assignment, Greg is
raring to go in Winchester’s push-off lane in July of 1994. (Keith
KO: That was kind of a crazy
night. It seems like down there at Paragon, there was a fire or
something like that.
GS: And a storm. There was a helluva storm. That’s why the thing
didn’t get tied down. I was trying to keep from getting soaking wet
and I didn’t tie it down properly.
KO: There WAS a storm coming! It
was simply a strange night. They even had an Australian pursuit
race that night. About every weird thing that could happen took
Moving on, can you tell me what one
thing is the best thing that’s happened to you because of racing?
Is it the friends, the respect – what’s the best thing? And you can
take all the time you need to think about that.
GS: Two things. I set goals. I accomplished a lot of goals. Even
though they were small goals for some people, I accomplished those
goals. Championships at Lawrenceburg. USAC sprint car driver –
didn’t win a championship, but I came close. National TV win – that
was beyond any goal. That was beyond what I thought I could ever
make. I’ve overachieved by a mile from what I thought I could ever
The other one is the respect factor all across the United States.
If I was in Atlantic City right now, I could walk into the Atlantic
City trade show right now and there’d be 50 to 100 people who would
know who I was.
KO: Go out to Phoenix and it would
be the same way?
GS: Skagit, Washington. Southern California. And that’s a really,
really good feeling to know that many people respect what you’ve
done, even though it’s not world-beating and it’s not a Formula One
championship, it’s a respect level. I hadn’t seen Doug Wolfgang in
years and he had that terrible head injury…he actually remembered me
at Atlantic City last year when he was with Dave Argabright. I
hadn’t seen him in 15 or 18 years. So that’s kind of neat.
KO: So did you ever own an
enclosed trailer for your racecar?
GS: I have never owned one. Mr. Stenger owned several enclosed
trailers. And we had ‘em in the ‘80s. But I have never owned one
myself – no.
KO: It’s just a question I had. I
remember seeing your open trailer at Williams Grove…even in ’96 it
was rare for people not to have an enclosed trailer. I would guess
the last time you towed out to Manzy, which might have been 2002
with Matt Westfall, did you borrow one for that trip?
GS: I borrowed Tom Burkey’s trailer to go out there.
KO: It’s always good to have that
when you’re making the long tow and having to stay in a motel.
So if you had an all-time favorite
venue, could it possibly be Lawrenceburg Speedway?
GS: My favorite racetrack?
GS: I’ve done so many of them Kevin, it’s hard to say.
KO: Maybe there’s not just one…a
GS: A top three. Berlin. Winchester. Ascot Park.
GS: Ascot Park! Maybe not in that order, but I had to come up with
a dirt track out of the deal.
KO: So Ascot just had everything?
GS: Including Leslie Bremer!
KO: Exactly! It was definitely
the place to be. It was always a place I wanted to go to but I
never had the chance. It still bothers me to this day. When I was
on my honeymoon out in California, I found where Ascot was and I got
some of the dirt that was still there. Nothing had been built on
it. I brought it home in a baggy. I still have it.
GS: I got to see the Spruce Goose. I got to see the Queen Mary. I
got to see Mount Saint Helens. Mount Rainier. I got to be on top
of Pikes Peak. There’s just so much shit I’ve done, just all from
KO: Is there a favorite win? The
TV deal at IRP has to be at the top because it was so special. You
know, maybe there were some other wins at The Burg or Florida…
GS: The Volusia County win was good. That state championship thing
was fantastic. The Road Runner 50 at Putnamville in 1983 or ’84
where I beat everybody. They were all there and I won that. That
was good because I went with no crew. I ran a winged show at
Chillicothe, got back from Chillicothe and nobody wanted to go.
They were all worn out – too tired. Got back too late…yadda yadda.
I stayed at the garage all night, set the car up, called Rickie
Hodgkiss, my friend, and said, “You want to go to Putnamville with
He said, “Hell yeah I’ll go. Who’s all going?”
said, “Nobody. I don’t have any help.” He and I went and we KICKED
THEIR ASS! It was NEAT! Including Vogler. Including Larry Rice.
I think Ron Shuman was there. They were all there. It was an
afternoon show. I started on the front row. I muscled my way into
the lead and I didn’t give it up for nothing.
Those are good ones. The TV race was of course a good one.
KO: Hell, maybe some races you
didn’t win were also memorable?
GS: The Toledo race. Sprint cars. 1990 or ’91. Jeff Bloom, me,
and Gary Fedewa exchanged spots.
KO: Hey, how are you doing? (As
Greg’s cat hops up onto the table directly in front me.)
GS: That’s Ralph.
KO: Hey Ralph!
GS: Ralph’s the diabetic cat. He gets a shot of insulin every
morning at 7.
The three of us exchanged third, fourth, and fifth spot and we never
touched, thirty laps, never touched! Swapped, traded, passed,
passed, boom, pass – never touched!
KO: That’s kind of hard to do at
Toledo because it’s kind of narrow.
GS: The three of us just grabbed each other in one huge, three-way
hug afterwards. It was one of the neatest races I’ve ever done.
KO: Anything else you can think
of? I can’t think of anything because I wasn’t around to see a lot
of the stuff in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.
GS: As petty as it may sound, a heat race win at Ascot one night –
I won a heat race out there and beat Shuman and all those guys one
night too. That stands out. Even though it was only eight laps, I
KO: That HAD to be a highlight
when that’s one of your favorite places, you’re a long way from home
and you’re out there racing against some studs.
What about this question…is there
one person in racing you respect the most? Maybe there’s not just
one but several?
KO: A guy like Tom Stenger was a
guy that you admired. A.J. Watson? You mentioned him. Maybe the
guy from Don’s Crankshaft, Don Kemper?
GS: There’s ten names. You couldn’t single one out. It would be
unfair to the rest of them. I don’t know. Tom Stenger would be
one. A.J. Watson would be another. Ronnie Shuman would be
another. You got that one on there too, the best driver you raced
KO: Oh…we’re getting there. I
think I skipped that question, or at least the question of favorite
guy to race against.
GS: Not favorite – BEST! I say Ronnie Shuman is the best
non-winged race driver.
KO: He was a money racer. He
would finish and finish up front.
GS: He was the best. That’s my opinion.
KO: That falls into the respect
GS: Yep. Yep. How many Turkey Night wins?
KO: Eight? I think…he’s done it
all. Raced with the World of Outlaws and had some success there.
So he’s the best guy you raced against. How about your favorite guy
to race against? It could be anyone from the midget days like Steve
Lotshaw. Sprint cars – down at The Burg…
GS: Leon Thickstun or Kerry Norris or Danny Milburn. Geez, that’s
KO: A lot of guys hated racing
against Jack Hewitt because he was so hard to beat. Tray House
talked about that.
GS: WOW! That’s hard. That’s another hard question.
KO: Maybe it’s too broad of a
question because there were so many?
GS: Yeah. It encompasses so many.
KO: So we talked about your
favorite win, your favorite guy to race against, the person you
respected the most in racing…so we can leave it at that. You’ve had
a career that’s spanned many decades so it’s hard to nail down just
Moving on, is there one thing that
pains you the most about the current state of affairs of short track
GS: Economics have not been addressed properly to get things in
order to help corral the expenses so more people can do it, if that
makes any sense.
KO: It does. Back in the day, you
could still make up the difference with smarter setups and driver
skills. There’s a lot more access to equal stuff now whereas maybe
there wasn’t before. It’s just come down to credit card racing.
GS: Our sport’s always been a money sport but it’s far more
prevalent now than it ever was before. It took me four years of
racing sprint cars to get my first set of Carrillo connecting rods.
And I slept with them. I put them in my bed with me. It took me,
phew, everybody else already had aluminum blocks and it took me an
extra three years to get an aluminum block. And we had to take one
of C.K. Spurlock’s broken ones, bring it back home to get it fixed,
to get our first one. And then they outlawed it!
KO: So the money situation and not
really addressing it is your beef.
GS: Mmm-hmm. The DT-3 tire thing, in the Midwest area, I thought
was going to help a lot. And I think it did, but then it created a
situation for a lawsuit where Hoosier and McCreary were suing each
KO: You mentioned the deal out at
Ascot when Stan Atherton flew out of the park and landed on some
cars, but was that the wildest thing you’ve seen happen at a
GS: Pretty much stands out. If anyone asks me, that’s the one that
KO: I just wondered if anything
else stands out as being semi-crazy. Dickie Gaines almost flipping
up into the stands at Bloomington. That’s going up and I don’t know
how that happened.
GS: There was a time in 1987, maybe, that we started running a west
coast race at Ascot. We came down for the green and ran into the
corner and everybody’s pulling tear-offs because it was gooey and
tacky and nasty. I saw something fly up and thought it was a
tear-off, no big deal. I came off the corner and when we got to the
backstretch, it’s red. Everybody slowed down and parked at the end
of front stretch, up by four. Here’s Richard Griffin. He’s stuck
up in the fence, higher than Dickie Gaines ever thought he was going
to be, in turn one, hanging like this (gesturing) out of the car,
knocked out cold. He flipped from the flag stand, all the way down,
and got snagged in a cable where the front axle caught it and hung
it in the cable.
So I walked down there. They’ve got a bucket loader coming in and
they’re going to pull him out. It’s going to take forever to get
this mess cleaned up. I walk down and I’m standing there next to
Jimmy Oskie. And he’s standing there like this with a drink in his
hand and a ham sandwich. He looked at me and said, “Staab, if I
knew it was going to take this damned long to clean up, I’d have
brought two ham sandwiches! I would have brought you one!”
Just crazy. Crazy!
KO: Has there ever been a time
that you’ve been burned out on racing?
GS: At the end of every season everybody gets burned out on
racing. Everybody gets wore down and everybody gets burned out and
it’s only a short time burnout. The difference I had was with
Cincinnati. Up here, everybody keeps racing and keeps on racing.
Back in Cincinnati, I was the only one that did that, so I kept on
racing. I had a goal to get one car done, rebuilt and ready to go
by Turkey Night. By Christmas, I’d have the other one done.
Rebuilt, blasted, painted, everything done. I pretty much met those
goals every time I did it. I never stopped.
KO: You were setting those goals,
even when it wasn’t racing season.
GS: Christmas day I’d catch hell because I would work on the
racecars in the morning for a couple of hours.
KO: Do you think you’ll ever get
tired of racing?
GS: I don’t think so.
KO: It hasn’t happened yet, even
with the burnout factor every year.
GS: The injuries. The job differences. The race track going away
at Lawrenceburg. This is my life. It’s what I do.
KO: I saw a video on You Tube of
you driving a replica vintage Shaw Sprinter at the Hoffman fish
fry. How cool was that thing?
GS: It was very cool! And if I had belts on, I would have pushed
the throttle and got ‘er sideways, but I didn’t have belts on at the
KO: Was there an Offy in that?
GS: That was a flathead V-8 Ford.
KO: Even though that thing wasn’t
“real”, I wonder if you’d driven a car like that anywhere before.
GS: No. The closest thing to that was that Offy midget that Tom
Dickinson had – that Kurtis Kraft Offy midget.
KO: So how did that car feel? I
don’t know that you were able to get it up to speed.
GS: It felt good! It spun the wheels and it did a little
jiggy-jaggy. In fact, they were supposed to let me run it around
Winchester at the Old Timer’s Weekend this fall. But it’s got wire
wheels on it so I have to be real careful with it.
KO: So you just drove it around
their parking lot?
GS: It’s a pretty big area. They’ve got a big area, a big spread.
I took it around a little bit.
KO: So speaking of the Hoffmans,
they’re from Cincinnati and you’re from Cincinnati. How come you
two never hooked up?
GS: I was on their radar screen a couple of times to drive for
them. The way they do their drivers is that they put them up on a
board and they list their plusses and minuses. And I fell down in
flat places like Terre Haute and Granite City and I stood out in
short tracks and Eldora. And there were highs and lows and I didn’t
meet their standards.
KO: That’s an interesting way of
charting potential drivers. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of that
but I guess if you have to pick somebody, there have to be pros and
GS: Sure. It’s just like it took them two years to put Jerry Coons
in their pavement car.
KO: Yeah. He did alright in the
midgets on pavement.
GS: Yeah! He won at Salem. He could win.
KO: So of course with a career
that has spanned so many years, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask if
there are any regrets for things that you didn’t accomplish that you
wanted to. Is this even the case? You’ve been pretty thankful for
what you could accomplish and you have mentioned that you never
dreamed you would have gotten this far. Still, were there any
regrets for things you didn’t get done yet?
GS: I wanted the national championship for the sprint cars. When I
realized it was within grasp, I wanted number one. I couldn’t get
it. I got number two. Pete Rose gave me hell about that in Vegas
when I showed him my number two ring. He said, “What’s this?
Number TWO ring? Take that and get it out of here!” He was on my
ass about it.
To me, that’s a great accomplishment. Not to Dave Darland. He has
a lot of rings. But he’s been a full-time racer for 12 to 15
years. I was a worker and living in Cincinnati. It’s very
difficult to do a sport that you’re on your own with in a town where
there is no racing. So I’m very thankful and as far as regrets,
there’s one or two years I shouldn’t have chose the routes on cars I
was driving and so forth but it’s the way it is and I made a
do want to win a Silver Crown event as a mechanic. That’s THE goal
in my mind, right now, burning, BURNING.
KO: So you pretty much answered my
next question and we must be on the same page – about the things
that you still want to do in racing.
GS: At sixty years old do I still have goals? Am I goal oriented?
KO: So how is life in
GS: I love it! I wouldn’t have it any other way.
KO: What was your main reason for
getting out of Cincinnati? I know we’ve partially covered this, but
was it all the riots, crime, and crazy stuff going on there or was
it just that you wanted to be around racing people?
GS: Poorly run town. Poorly, poorly run place. It’s poor on its
maintenance of its streets. It’s poor on its city government. The
attitude of its people is negative - 95 percent of the people are
negative and down-trodden at all times. And it’s just such a very,
very negative, not such a good place at all. And a lot of crime. A
lot of crime.
KO: Racing has always been on the
brain for you but as far as anything outside of racing, do you
follow baseball, football, or anything like that? Bengals? Reds?
GS: I wanted to see the Bengals have a good season but it isn’t
going to happen anytime in the near future with Mike Brown running
KO: They are not spending the
money like they should be?
GS: They won’t spend the money. They let three really good players
go this year. And they’re all playing on other teams. Tomorrow
I’ll be glued to both playoff games. You won’t be able to drag me
away with a tractor, but yeah, I’m a football guy. Always have
been. I played football for years.
KO: So you like their stadium down
there? I’ve been to it a couple of times.
GS: I haven’t gotten to go to the new one yet. I’m waiting on Rico
from Fatheadz who told me he was going to take me to a Colts game
KO: I just wondered about the
GS: Oh! I haven’t been to that one yet. I’ve been to Riverfront
many times when it was there. I haven’t been to the new Paul Brown
yet either. I don’t care about it.
KO: So are you a Colts fan now
that you’re in Indy?
GS: Pretty much! Pretty much! I really like Tony Dungy but now
he’s gone so that leaves the new guy Caldwell…
KO: There’s only one Tony Dungy.
GS: Personality – he had a great personality. He’s a good person.
KO: People like working for him.
It’s kind of hard to replace that. But I just wondered what other
stuff you liked to do. Racing has been a big focus but of course
there’s always some other outside interests that get you going. I
have an interest in railroads, different things like that. You
mentioned your dad worked for a railroad, so I didn’t know if you
liked that too?
GS: I did. I used to have the model trains – the Lionel train sets
and all that stuff. Racing just became the focus. I had to give up
baseball for racing. I had to give up football for racing. I had
to give up hockey for racing. I played hockey for awhile –
goaltender obviously – what else would I have been? I played center
and guard in a 165 pound semi-pro football team for three years and
I’d knock you down! I enjoyed knocking people down. That was
KO: Anything I missed that you
wanted to discuss? My last question is people to thank in racing,
which I am sure you have some that we may not have touched on. But
is there anything I missed on your career that we didn’t talk about
that you want to discuss?
GS: Probably the go-kart years – they were kind of bypassed in our
KO: I wondered about the success
there because there aren’t records of that out there for public
consumption, but we can talk about that.
GS: It’s hard to say but there was a group that raced in Harrison,
Ohio. They had a paved track.
KO: I saw some pictures in your
scrapbook of Harrison.
GS: One night, a USAC midget show at Richmond got cancelled. Some
of the USAC midget cars came down to the go-kart track, pulled out
in the parking lot and there were three of them, on open trailers –
just BEAUTIFUL racecars! And that was another thing that got me
wound up – was to drive one of them someday.
But the go-kart track was good. It taught me a lot of stuff and they
took time to teach you. It was pretty cool.
That’s really it. We’ve covered pretty much everything. You’ve
done a helluva job.
KO: I’ve just tried to pick things
out of my memory and then I read through the results on Kevin
Eckert’s site. I clicked on the results to see more details and was
able to figure out more questions to ask.
But what about people to thank? I
know you had your guys Noppert, Schwarm, and Martini. Tom
Dickinson. Tom Stenger. Don Kemper.
GS: But the problem is most of ‘em are dead! Tom Soudrette of
course. My father Stan Staab of course was instrumental in guiding
me the right way.
KO: It seems like Don Lambert from
Kokomo…he was hanging around you for many years.
GS: He was another great help of mine! A.J. Esterkamp was another
great help. Don Wilbur and Marvin Goins from Dayton flipped over
backwards to help me out. There’s a group in Dayton who really bent
over backwards to help me out because they met me through Tom and
they liked the way I went about things. They liked the way I
raced. Don Wilbur was exceptionally good to me.
KO: It seems like you know a lot
of people in the Phoenix area and I don’t know if you stayed at a
lot of people’s houses out there.
GS: Bob DeYoung, he lives in L.A. right now. He’s from Phoenix.
He’s one of the great helps. He helped me a ton. Tom Klein, he
helped me out years ago with the engine thing out there. Ron Shaver
helped us with the engines. Earl Gaerte helped me with the engine
thing. There’s been a lot of people who have contributed to that.
C.K. Spurlock at Gambler Chassis many years ago…I don’t know where
he’s at now or what’s he’s doing, but he was Kenny Rogers’ business
manager and he helped us out a ton down there. Floyd Bailey at
Gambler helped us a bunch. Kenny Woodruff helped me a ton. There’s
just hundreds of them! Hundreds of people – I can’t name them all.
But A.J. Esterkamp was another significant name. Vernon Krull, a
fellow who helped me the final few years – he helped me a bunch. I
can keep on going. Tom Burkey, John Heydenreich’s friend and my
friend, helped me a ton in my racing career. He’s just a great
person and a great asset to the sport. There’s just a bunch of ‘em
KO: Is it time to mention Tom
Dickinson’s name again with the midget and the champ car?
KO: I didn’t mention about those
early years in your champ car career when you drove his number 99.
GS: Charlie Ledford was responsible for those few victories I had
with him. John Klausing in Tampa, Florida was another great person
who was responsible for helping me. (Thinking….) Now I’m starting
to get burned out!
KO: It was a big test! You’ve
held up well. The last time I did this with Eric Gordon, it wore me
out and I think I was sick for a few days after that, some of it
from just talking so much. I think I had more questions for you but
I really appreciate the time because this has been one I’ve wanted
to do for awhile and I just had to get around to it.
GS: Well, I’m glad I made time. I knew this was going to be a long
deal and I made time to do it. You let me get my shit done this
KO: Ok, so I’m continuing to look
through this scrapbook and I can’t get away from it. I see the USAC
midget schedule from years ago. Being out in San Bernardino
recently, I see that you ran at Orange Show Speedway, sometime in
GS: ’75. ’74 or ’75. Orange Show Speedway. Ran Chula Vista. Ran
Ascot. Ran Manzanita and I was starting to run out of money and we
had to get home. I had to make $96 at Orange Show Speedway to have
enough money to get home on. We’d been to Disneyland earlier in the
week and went through the Small, Small World ride and that song gets
in your head really bad.
I’m driving down the freeway one day and the radio’s on and I’m
still catching myself going, “Na-na-na-NEE-na…nee-na-na-na-na.”
(It’s a Small World song.) We pull up in a traffic jam, the radio’s
on, you’re sitting there and you’re going,
“Na-na-na-NEE-na…nee-na-na-na-na.” I can’t get it out of my head!
So we go to Orange Show Speedway. Volkswagen heaven. We’ve got a
Sesco. Ain’t too likely we’re going to make the race but we’re
going to try it. We qualify and then we start from the front row of
a heat race. We hold ‘em off and made fourth in the heat – made the
feature – a 100 lapper at Orange Show.
I’ve got to make 96 bucks. I’ve got to finish at least fourteenth
to make a hundred bucks.
KO: (Tape change) So you’re
starting in the back and you’ve got to finish at least fourteenth.
GS: I started in the back and boom – there’s a crash. There’s two
out. They only started twenty cars. I’m up to 18th.
Running along, I pass one car. It breaks something and oils the
track down. I pass another one. I’m up to 15th. BAM!
Roger Mears and Larry Patton take each other out – against the
wall. Two VWs against the wall. I’m up to 14th. Visor
is up...I’m cruising around watching them pick the racecars up and
I’m going, “Na-na-na-NEE-na…nee-na-na-na-na!”
I’m like, “What are you doing? You’re CRAZY!” So I’m singing the
Small, Small World song that’s stuck in my head when I got up to 14th
spot, which made a hundred bucks. I ended up getting two more spots
out of it and made $150 that night to get home on and we were good.
We got to come home. I was going to have to wire home for money or
something to get home because I didn’t have any more money.
So there’s your Small, Small World, Orange Show Speedway 100 lapper
story! Not to mention the two final spots I passed, the guys’ heads
were hanging out like this and they were all out of the cockpit and
I went on by them.
KO: That was a tiny little paved track, kind of like a 1/5 mile
at the Speedrome.
GS: Yeah. Like a Speedrome. Yeah.
KO: They still have shows out
there occasionally I think.
GS: They run those Lucas Oil modifieds out there.
KO: I’m still admiring this
GS: Brutal, wasn’t it?
KO: Yeah. It was brutal.
When I first came into your house,
I noticed the wall of awards. You’ve got quite a few. Any of them
that stand out for you?
GS: Any of the HARF awards (1991 Sportsman of the Year) mean a lot
to me because a lot of them were from my contributions to the
sport. They’ve been so good over the years about honoring the
Obviously the DARF driver of the year award.
GS: It’s a great big one.
KO: How about the Emma Ray Award
for Courage? 1996.
GS: That meant a whole lot from Joie Ray because I had enough
courage to quit the sport, so he said, before I got hurt again. He
thought that was a brilliant move on my part and I respect that.
The Gene Bundy Memorial award in 2001 was given to me because of how
hard I worked to keep the Lawrenceburg Speedway running and not
allowing it to go away.
The Outstanding Accomplishment in 1988 from the Buckeye Auto Racefan
Club – same thing again for second place in USAC points from Buckeye
Auto Racefan Club – all mean a lot to little old me.
Indy Night Life – Greg is enjoying the Indy racing scene with
lifelong buddy Dave Rose while Dru Laycock looks on after a Monday
night Racin’ with D.O. radio show at Kelly’s Pub Too in Speedway,
Indiana. (Dan Laycock photo)
KO: Kneeling down…let’s see…
GS: Another big one – Tom Stenger award – outstanding contributions
to the betterment of Midwest auto racing. It means a lot.
KO: Interesting. Oh let’s see,
you got an award from IRP of all places.
GS: That was from when I retired. John Capels presented that to me
on the front stretch when I left the sport as a driver.
KO: A lot of HARF awards. Of
course 25 years of service, 2004, City of Cincinnati. You were
probably glad to get that one!
KO: And how about these
Certificates of Appreciation from USAC? Down there in the corner,
it looks like Dick Jordan gave those.
GS: I have to see which ones they are. I’ve lost some of them.
KO: It says, “For his
contributions to the United States Auto Club through generous
cooperation with the USAC news bureau in regards to pre-race
publicity.” There’s one from USAC – ’91 through ’96. So what about
GS: Those are both track related. When I had the Lawrenceburg
Speedway, I cooperated with them on various items there that they
are speaking about.
And I’ve got trophies down below but I don’t have a place to put
them. The one I’d like to put up there is that big, old Volusia
County one. It’s that (motioning) tall.
KO: That’s cool.
GS: Ledford had one made for me.
don’t know if you saw the helmets or not – there’s every helmet but
two that I ever had. I’m sorry – three! One’s in the Knoxville
Hall of Fame. Two of them Bell kept because they were broken too
KO: So who painted your helmets?
GS: Dale Burton did the first couple. And he did another one too.
Chip, up in Dayton, did some of them too.
KO: Another thing I forgot to
mention was that your home base for racing was Sayler Park, Ohio.
In speaking with you, Dave Rose, and your friend Jackie Litchfield,
I had no idea of the amount of racers that called that area home.
Much like Indy’s west side contains the vast majority of racers in
this state, the same could be said for Cincinnati’s Sayler Park.
Can you mention some of the names that pop out in your head as
members of the Sayler Park racing community?
GS: Oh gosh! Sayler Park…the last little ville west of Cincinnati
on River Road, which is U.S. 50. I think there’s a list of about 35
names that I know of that came from Sayler Park. There was Ross
Smith, who ran ARCA and USAC stock cars – and sprint cars too.
There was Jim Bob Luebbert. Denny Martini.
lot of Lawrenceburg promoters were from Sayler Park. Charles
“Shotgun” Noppert, Joe Noppert, and Roy Mattlin, who were all three
promoters at the same time, came from the area. Craig Stevens,
father of current sprint car driver Brad, was also a Lawrenceburg
promoter from Sayler Park.
Let’s see who else I can remember…of course I already mentioned Roy
Mattlin, but there was also Donnie Mattlin, Tommy Mattlin, and
Scotty Mattlin, who now races modifieds. Tom Soudrette and Jason
Soudrette. Jason now runs sprint cars at The Burg. Dwayne Spille.
Larry Beck. Bruce Stevens. Timmy Martini. One of my old
crewmembers Mike “Lunch Meat” Litchfield. Nick Litchfield. Brian
and Jeff Litchfield. Ollie Zimmerman. Don Woodworth. Pat
Every one of those names had involvement in racing. And every one
of them had ties to Sayler Park.
KO: Wow! I never knew so many
people could come from one area. And I thought Cincinnati wasn’t a
racing town! That’s very impressive.
Well, that’s all the questions I
have. I guess that’s a wrap! I’m officially worn out. Let’s shut
this baby off.
GS: Sounds good! Thank you.
As I usually state after every lengthy Q&A piece from the Bullring
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