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Thad Dosher in Tampa in 1974. - BEETLE BAILEY PHOTO

Remembering Thad Dosher: The Topeka Charger

The results show that the team employed sound logic. Thad won the opening race of the 1961 Knoxville season and a total of four on the year. He could also lay claim to being a participant in the very first Knoxville Nationals.

Make no mistake about it, winning at Knoxville was a big deal, but it was one of several major events for supermodifieds that were coveted by top teams in the region. In 1961, under the direction of promoter Ken Kneisler, it was announced that weekly racing would be staged at the Mid-America Fairgrounds in Topeka. In preparation for a standard Friday night program, it was reported that a new lighting system would be installed at the staggering cost of $25,000. Adding to the excitement, it was also revealed that a capstone event known as the Jayhawk Nationals would be staged, and it was estimated that supermodified drivers from at least six states would assemble to vie for the enhanced purse.

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Thad, in the R&H Farms No. 48, duels with Jan Opperman (90) at Terre Haute during an early season USAC race in 1974. – TOM DICK PHOTO

Dosher and Vobach were licking their chops. Thad recalled that there were scores of cars on hand for the first Jayhawk Nationals, including some from California. It didn’t matter, because when the dust settled it was Dosher who was standing in victory lane. He was $1,000 richer and was always quick to remind anyone that, at this point in history, the Jayhawk Nationals was on par with the Knoxville Nationals in the minds of most supermodified drivers and team owners.

Thad continued to race in an era when supermodifieds ruled the Midwest, and with Topeka as his home base he could always compete close to home. He was a fan favorite and was voted the Most Popular Driver at Mid-America on several occasions. He was a solid competitor, but once again his luck was about to change. Over time, Dosher developed a friendship with fellow driver Ray Lee Goodwin. Thinking about those days when they vied for supremacy, Thad recalled, “I don’t remember him ever touching me or me ever touching him.”

One of the keys to Goodwin’s success was his race car. Owner Luther Brewer had whetted his interest in racing by watching midgets rocket around Kansas City, Missouri’s famed Olympic Stadium. After opening a Conoco service station and a drive-in at Drexel, Missouri, he decided to get more serious about racing. He first fielded a car in 1961, but in 1966 he built a car that would prove to be one of the most successful in history.

In 1965 Greg Weld was narrowly edged for the USAC sprint car championship by Johnny Rutherford. Brewer had seen the Willie Davis-constructed car that nearly carried Greg to the title in Weld’s shop, and decided it would behoove him to stop by regularly to begin formulating plans for a new car of his own. Recounting the process that led to his latest creation, Brewer noted that he ventured to “The Yard,” an airplane surplus venture in Wichita, Kansas, to purchase chrome moly tubing. From there, he travelled to Valley Engineering in Tulsa, Oklahoma to have the tubing bent to his specifications. From there, he drew upon his own ingenuity and skill to fashion the finished product.

In 1966 Ray Lee Goodwin would win the track championships in this car at Olympic Stadium and Mid-America. The following year Goodwin would backup his title at Topeka, but Brewer, who wanted to obtain a sprint car for his driver, actually sold the car before the end of the 1967 season. The new owner was Jack Cunningham and, at Goodwin’s suggestion, Thad Dosher was hired to fill the seat.

Another game-changing moment was on the horizon. But, as Dosher reports, it nearly didn’t happen. “Cunningham had just bought that car from Luther Brewer,” Thad recalled. “And he had never been to Knoxville. At the time he was getting paid $200 to go to Jefferson City, so he really didn’t want to go to Knoxville.”

How Dosher finally convinced his new owner to travel north is lost to history, but it is clear he at least agreed to participate in the preliminary night for the Nationals. At the time, the race was contested over three nights beginning on Thursday. When Dosher came out on top on Thursday night Cunningham agreed to stay. Kenny Weld would take Friday night’s show and, given that he scored Nationals victories in 1964 and 1965, he was one of the pre-race favorites.

On championship Saturday, Dosher started in the third position but trailed Joe Saldana, who was piloting one of Don Brown’s mechanical rabbit roadsters, for the first 14 laps. Then a broken wheel sent the Lincoln, Nebraska driver to the pits for repairs. That’s all Thad needed, and from there he moved to the point and sallied forth to take the 1967 Nationals. It was a stunning result.

Future Hall of Fame writer and photographer Bob Mays was 14 years old in 1967 and, as befitted a young racing fan from Lincoln, he was a huge fan of Saldana. Try as he might, he could not talk his father into making the trip to Knoxville for the Nationals, but was thrilled when he learned that his favorite driver would start from the pole for the finale. “Sunday morning I was lying in bed listening for the paper to hit the front step,” Mays remembers. “And as soon as it did, I was out there and opened it up. The headline said ‘Saldana Finishes Seventh.’ Oh my God. That was so horrible. How could he finish seventh?

“Then I read the story and found out his left rear wheel broke and he fought back to seventh-place. Then I read that this guy I have never heard of won the race. I thought, ‘Who the hell is Thad Dosher?’ In my opinion, it is one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Nationals.”

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