By Andrew Kunas
VANCOUVER, Wash. – When the NorthWest Wingless Tour sprint car series opens its third season of competition, Brad Rhodes will be realizing a dream as he races a sprint car for the first time.
At the age of 40, Rhodes will be one of at least three rookies racing with the NWWT in 2011, joining Doug McVae and Ryan Bothwell. This follows the 2010 season in which no Rookie of the Year honor was awarded. Between the three drivers, only Bothwell has raced in a sprint car – and only once at that – putting them on relatively even ground experience wise.
One thing different about Rhodes, though, is his lack of four-wheel racing experience. While McVae and Bothwell both raced dwarf cars and midgets, Rhodes’ background consists of motorcycle racing, both on and off-road.
“I just needed to get a roll cage around me. I’m getting up there in age…I’m 40 now,” Rhodes, an electrician and also a foster care provider, warmly said.
The driver out of the Oregon town of Aloha grew up watching the races at the old Eugene Speedway and while visiting his family a little further south he often took in events at Cottage Grove Speedway, where the NWWT is scheduled to begin its season this Saturday. He had always wanted to race sprint cars, but doubted he’d ever get to do it, instead focusing on his motorcycle racing.
Last year, Rhodes became more interested in finally getting himself a sprint car. Rhodes went to Grays Harbor Raceway in Washington last September after being invited by Ron Brown, who ironically enough owns both of the cars being driven by McVae and Bothwell this year. When he took in the Big E Non-Wing Challenge event, won by Shawn Rice, Rhodes made his final decision.
“I got hooked on it,” Rhodes said of his experience. “I got a hold of (the seller), made a deal and I picked the car up in December. I’m diving into this sprint car thing with both feet.”
His No. 04 car is an old Gambler chassis, but it does have a fresh Raybourn engine in it. Months after that race at Grays Harbor Raceway, Rhodes ran into reigning NWWT champion Theo McCarty at, of all places, a retail store. After a lengthy conversation, McCarty helped Rhodes put his car together in time for a practice session at Sunset Speedway on Friday. It was Rhodes’ first time ever driving a sprint car.
“It was a blast,” Rhodes said of his experience driving on the super small ¼-mile, red clay oval. “I had some issues with the fuel pickup, but I learned a lot. It was a lot of fun. It’s really cool to have Ron and Theo and all these guys around.”
While Rhodes has seen both Cottage Grove and Grays Harbor and has now taken laps at Sunset Speedway, Rhodes has never been to Skagit Speedway, where the NWWT will be on May 21st, and has not seen Coos Bay Speedway since its asphalt was covered with dirt in 2007. Rhodes expressed his excitement at seeing some new tracks, and said he intends to run the entire NWWT schedule in pursuit of Rookie of the Year honors.
The NWWT Rookie of the Year award is open to all drivers who have not raced more than a few events in full-sized sprint cars of any class prior to the current season, but drivers must declare their intent to run for the Rookie of the Year award, along with racing in at least 80% of the season’s completed events. Paid registration with the NWWT is required in order to receive season points and for the eligibility for performance-based awards.
More information on the NorthWest Wingless Tour sprint car series can be found online at http://www.nwwinglesstour.com.
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NWWT Rookie of the Year
2009: Sammy Wright
2010: Not awarded
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Upcoming NWWT events
April 30 – Cottage Grove Speedway – Cottage Grove, OR
May 14 – Grays Harbor Raceway – Elma, WA
May 21 – Skagit Speedway – Alger, WA