Jac Haudenschild making the announcement that he will retire from racing at the end of this season certainly stirs up a lot of thoughts and emotions for me.
Some of what I’ll end up writing in this column, those who’ve read my book – Still Wide Open – have already read about. But I will try not to repeat myself too much, and with limited space in this column I can’t elaborate as much about our escapades as I did in the book.
I’ve known Jac and his older brother Ed ever since we were babies. Their dad and my dad both drove semi trucks and were friends and our moms were friends too, before the three of us were even born.
We only lived about a mile away from each other, and John also had a truck garage where he worked on semi trucks, so when my dad would go to their dad John’s garage, I would tag along and get to hang out with the Haudenschilds for a few hours.
Jac and Ed have three sisters, so there was always a lot of activity at their house.
John was also a successful and very well-known local racer who ran mostly at Hilltop Speedway and Lakeville Speedway, so almost every weekend in the summer we were at the race track to watch John race. Like a lot of little kids at the race track, I remember Ed, Jac and I playing in the dirt by the grandstands with our little race cars.
When I was about nine or 10 years old, we moved to a farm about 20 miles away. As a kid, that was really far away. We didn’t see as much of each other for a couple of years, but got reconnected as teenagers.
Ed started racing a modified when he was 16 years old. The type of modified that Ed drove wasn’t like an IMCA modified or a big block modified, it was basically a roughly built open-wheel car – a poor man’s sprint car.
They were popular in the 1960’s and ‘70s at local tracks in our area.
At that time, it was unheard of for a 16-year-old “kid” to be racing a modified! Most of the drivers were “old,” probably in their 30’s. Ed was extremely talented behind the wheel and he was equally as talented with the wrenches, even at such a young age. Ed is a about a year older than me and I am almost a year older than Jac.
Watching Ed race gave me the urge and got me to thinking that somehow, someday maybe I could race too.
When Ed was able to move up to a sprint car, I sold my dirt bike and bought Ed’s modified, and ran my first race right before my 16th birthday.
Jac started racing the next season in a sprint car his dad purchased and rebuilt for him.
I met Kenny Jacobs in high school. He is about two years older than me, but we really didn’t get to know each other until we started racing together. Kenny’s dad, Ken, ran modifieds and late models and was a big winner in both, mostly at Wayne County Speedway.
The four of us raced at Lakeville Speedway every weekend for a few years before we were able to branch out and make names for ourselves outside our area.
Ed was probably better than any of us, and he certainly was the best driver/mechanic of the four of us, but he decided that he didn’t want to make racing his fulltime profession. He raced regionally for several years, with a lot of success, and took time off from racing several times before officially retiring from sprint car racing in 2001.
Kenny and Jac were the first to really get national attention. Jac finished second to Rick Ferkel at the Eldora Nationals in 1978, with Steve Kinser finishing third, when almost no one outside of Lakeville had ever heard of him. That one race got people all over the U.S. trying to figure out how to pronounce “Haudenschild” correctly.
It was also in 1978 when Kenny had gotten a ride with Harold “Flake” Kemenah in the well-known 3X car and made the trip out west at the end of the season to run the Western World at Manzanita Speedway and the Pacific Coast Nationals at Ascot.
Both were crown jewels at that time, and just being there got you noticed. I tagged along for my first trip to the West Coast and the memories will last forever.
I moved to Kittanning, Pa., at the end of 1980, after winning the track championships at Lernerville Speedway and Tri City Speedway. Racing and winning in western Pennsylvania is what got the attention of Sam Bowers, owner of Bowers Coal, who put me on the road with the All Stars, and then the World of Outlaws.
During my early years on the road with the Outlaws, Jac and Kenny were winning races all over the Midwest. I’m not sure what year Jac first started running the Outlaw tour, but we were able to race and travel together in our motorhomes during the entire 1987 season.
Kenny was the first driver in the All Star Circuit of Champions history to win four consecutive point titles (1998-2001) and he held the record for total All Star wins at 98 before Dale Blaney elevated the record to 137.
Kenny also ran the Outlaw tour from 1992 through ’94, and has won a lot of big races in his career, including the Williams Grove National Open and the $100,000-to-win Historical Big One at Eldora Speedway.
With my career-ending injury in 1988, and Kenny and Ed being retired for several years now, Jac is the last of us four to hang up his helmet. The four of us sure had some great times together, and some tough times too!
A lot of our stories are more detailed in my book, but some stories were never told!
There was a period when Jac raced anywhere at any time and he’s won in both winged and non-winged sprint cars. At only 21 years old, he won his first Grand Annual Classic, Australia’s Knoxville Nationals, and then backed it up by winning the following year to become an international star when the other three of us were just trying to win races here at home.
Jac has several major wins on his resume, and his second-place finish at Eldora in 1978 put his name on the map. But it was his three Kings Royal wins, the $200,000-to-win non-winged Mopar Million victory and one Historical Big One win that elevated him to legendary status.
“The Wild Child” was one of the best, and one of the bravest, to ever strap into a sprint car.
Congratulations old friend on a highly successful, and very exciting, career!