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Thad Dosher in Tampa in 1974. - BEETLE BAILEY PHOTO

Remembering Thad Dosher: The Topeka Charger

Even in his last moments in this world, Thad Dosher was willing to spend a few minutes reminiscing. It was a struggle. Near the end it, became increasingly difficult to hear others and then muster the energy to talk. Yet, in spite of the obstacles, and remaining tough to the end, Dosher did his level best to recall some of the most glorious moments in his racing career.

The final accounting reveals that Dosher put eight-and-a-half decades in the books, and during a significant portion of those years he could be found behind the wheel of powerful open-wheel cars. Time was running out, but he was afforded a chance to reflect on a life well-lived. Thad had truly come full circle. He was born to John and Magnolia Amanda Shields Dosher, a North Carolina farm family, at a time when the nation was still in the grips of the Great Depression. By the time he turned 18, he figured there was a reasonable chance to be drafted to serve, so taking matters in his own hands he enlisted in the Air Force. In the blink of an eye, he gathered up his belongings and prepared to make the 1,200-mile journey from Southport, North Carolina to Forbes Field in Topeka, Kansas.

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Dosher in the Duane Vobach supermodified in 1961. – BOB MAYS COLLECTION

His world was about to be turned upside down in more ways than one. When he left the family home he had no intention of becoming a racer. Sure, North Carolina has a rich racing heritage, but it wasn’t something that interested his family. Then, in an odd twist, it was racing that would keep Dosher rooted in the Midwest. Nonetheless, after he had stepped out of the cockpit for good and had retired from his everyday job, it was time to head back home.

There is no mistaking the fact that Thad Dosher knew how to make race cars travel at breakneck speeds, but now the time has come for him to rest eternally back in his Carolina home.

When Dosher headed to Kansas in 1953 one imagines that the original plan was to complete his required hitch and return to home turf. Then things changed. Thad satisfied his obligation to his country, but after his discharge from the service he had decided to marry and remain in place. Now committed to residing in the Sunflower State, he accepted a position with Stevenson Sheet Metal in Topeka. It was a useful trade that would serve him well throughout his adult life.

In the weeks before his passing, Dosher admitted that he couldn’t recall how he had caught the racing bug, but it appears that the roots of his long dance with the sport began almost by chance. Thad and some pals from work saw a 1936 Plymouth coupe resting forlornly in a backyard and, as he recalls, “we just stopped by one afternoon and asked about it.”

The stated price was $12.50, a deal which was too good to pass up. After acquiring the Plymouth, Thad says that he and his gang decided to “put the car together and go racing. We didn’t know what we were doing and we didn’t have any money. All we had was time.”

In 1956 the car was ready and, boldly, Thad signed in at Windy Hill Raceway in Maple Hill, Kansas, a small burg about 25 miles west of Topeka. In a common plot line shared by so many novices, Dosher’s first race ended with the car on its lid. It happened more than once. Yet, he steadily improved, and won a trophy dash fairly quickly, and recalls capturing a feature in his very first year of competition.

With a small taste of success, Dosher began to take racing seriously, and he soon had his eye on the powerful supermodifieds which reigned supreme throughout the plains. His first chance at what he deemed to be a “class A” car proved to be successful, as he scored a win in his maiden voyage. Then, as he related to Minnesota radio host Klane Dushek, his next night out proved to be a bit embarrassing. Heading for a second consecutive victory, Thad got momentarily confused and pulled in after seeing the white flag. After being surrounded by his team, who wondered what had gone wrong, Dosher could only admit his error and lick his wounds. That misstep aside, it was clear that he had skills to build upon.

By 1958 Thad joined forces with owner/mechanic Duane Vobach. It was a move that changed his racing fortunes. Vobach was a remarkable man. Born in McFarland, Kansas, Duane first served his nation during World War II in the U.S. Navy, and then again during the Korean War. Hardly a passive bystander, Vobach was wounded in combat and would receive the Purple Heart and other medals for service. By comparison to what he had experienced, this racing business seemed rather tame.

Vobach is credited in some circles for being the first to use fuel injection in a supermodified, but regardless of the strength of this claim there is no doubt that he fielded a potent race car. Armed with his new mount, Dosher would start competing at the racy quarter-mile Shawnee Speedway (known in later years as Topeka Raceway), Riverside Stadium on Kansas City’s north side, and Missouri’s Savannah Speedway (also known as Legion Speedway).

A track championship at Savannah in 1960 showed that he had arrived, but in 1961 he truly enjoyed a breakout season. With a good car at his disposal, Dosher began racing at some of the toughest supermodified tracks in the land. One of those tracks was Knoxville Raceway, and for Dosher there was a simple reason to make the long tow from Topeka to compete. “That’s where the money was at the time,” he said, “Knoxville was paying like $500 to win and that was a large amount compared to $150 at other places. I was driving a good car then, and it was good enough to win. So, we decided to go.”

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