69-Year-Old Legend Will Cagle Returns to Racing
While most people believe the complete story of Will Cagle's legendary racing career has already been written, the 69-year-old native of Tampa, Fla., is adding another chapter.
Cagle, who has not driven a race car on a regular basis for over 20 years, is back behind the wheel, competing in the Fractured Prune Legends Car Masters division of the Summer Shootout Series at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
And, with the same drive and determination that carried him into the short-track racing record books, Cagle is on a mission.
"My whole aspiration here is to get a chance in the Busch Series and eventually the Cup Series," Cagle explained. "Give me half a dozen races in the Busch Series with a good car and, if I haven't showcased my talent, then put me on the porch. But if I have proven myself, give me a Cup ride."
Even though he had never raced a Legends Car prior to his Summer Shootout debut, Cagle recorded a pair of top-10 finishes in the first two rounds of the 10-race series.
"It felt decent to run well, but it will feel better when I win-and I will win," he said. Cagle's racing career started near his Tampa home in 1953 at age 15. He's recorded over 900 career victories and claimed more than 30 track and series championships. The majority of his success came while racing modified stock cars in the Northeast, specifically on the rough-and-tumble DIRT circuit.
When he was inducted into the DIRT Hall of Fame in 1992, the plaque honoring Cagle's accomplishments included the phrase: "If Yankee Stadium was the house that Ruth built, then DIRT was the circuit that Will Cagle built."
Partly because of a leg injury suffered during a racing accident in 1985, Cagle has been off the track for 22 years, but he has never been far from it. He spent several years as a driving instructor and, for 11 years, served as general manager of Orange County Fair Speedway, a legendary fairgrounds dirt track in Middletown, N.Y.
Cagle's decision to return to the cockpit came after a friend suggested he purchase a Legends Car.
"After you get to be 60 years old, everybody wants to put you out to pasture because they think you can't drive a race car anymore, and that's bologna," said Cagle. "I'm 69, but I don't smoke, I don't drink and I keep myself in good shape-I'm ready to go."
After driving a few laps last year at Thunder Alley Speedpark, a dirt track in Evans Mills, N.Y., Cagle knew he still has what it takes to be competitive.
"Some guys were there testing and they had been taking the car around for about two and a half hours. One of them came to the office and said, 'We're all done. If you have your suit, why don't you take a ride,'
and he didn't have to tell me twice," Cagle said. "I jumped in the car and the first lap I turned was 81 hundredths faster than they had run all day."
As Cagle returns to racing so do his legendary nicknames, "Wily Will" and the "Tampa Terror." He earned the nicknames many years ago partly because of his ability to play mind games with the competition. Cagle learned early in his career that he could gain an advantage if he made the other drivers think about something other than the race at hand. One of his best tricks was to cover his race car while in the pit area.
"When they saw the cover on the car, they lost half a second because they thought I had something they didn't," Cagle laughed. "But we didn't have anything special." Racing has changed considerably since Cagle took his first green flag, but one thing that hasn't changed is how he feels in the race car.
"I can be dead tired and when I get in that car, I'm not tired any more. The adrenaline starts flowing and I'm focused," Cagle explained. "I know what I've done, I know what I can do and I know how it feels to win.
"I know I'm capable and I have the experience. I can tell you what's going to happen in a race before it happens. I can still race as well as anybody," he concluded.
The 14th annual Summer Shootout, which runs each Tuesday night through Aug. 7 with a special Wednesday night event on July 4, features three classes of Bandolero racing, four divisions of Legends Cars and the Thunder Roadsters.
Admission is just $7 for adults. Children 6-12 are admitted for $3 and kids under 6 are free. Tickets are available in advance at the speedway ticket office and at Gates 4 and 5 the night of the event. Parking is free.
Spectator gates open at 5 p.m. with preliminary action at 5:30 p.m. Feature racing begins at 7:30 p.m. For information, call the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.