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Thad Dosher in Tampa in 1974. - BEETLE BAILEY PHOTO

Remembering Thad Dosher: The Topeka Charger

Mays began to dig deeper, and it became clear that the years between Thad’s sterling 1961 season and 1967 were marked with some struggle. No wonder he wasn’t on young Bob’s radar. Then, because Joe Saldana essentially left the area to cast his lot with USAC, Mays gravitated to Dosher. “First he had gotten the ride in the Cunningham car,” Mays says, “which was a very good car. Then there was the name Thad, which was unusual, and to this day I don’t know anyone else with the surname Dosher. It was just very intriguing. I just got interested and started following him.

“Then he came to the fair in Lincoln. They always had a supermodified race on Thursday and he was there in the Cunningham car. He had the best posture of any racer I had ever seen. He kept his back straight, his head was always up and his arms were relaxed. He just fit that car perfectly. He just looked good in it. And then you would go up and talk to him after the races and he was very nice, almost shy. He was just such a regular guy. My dad was a blue collar guy all the way and that’s what Thad was. He was a sheet metal worker. He didn’t wear a suit to work, he went out there and got his hands dirty and reminded me of some of my uncles who were farmers. Thad really got his career back on track after that Nationals win. Later he would come to Eagle Raceway and just fly around that place.”

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Thad (40) battles James McElreath (14), Ed Leavitt (1), and Earl Wagner (5) at Tampa in 1974. – ARMIN KRUEGER PHOTO

The following year Dosher purchased the Bill Hoback Chevrolet sprint car, painted it a distinctive lavender and white, and continued racing up front. Ironically, this was the same Willie Davis-built car that had inspired Luther Brewer. The car had originally been owned by Californian Clem Tebow, who had sold it to Weld.

Hoback enjoyed success with the car as well, notching a Big Car Racing Association (BCRA) win at the Kansas State Fair at Hutchinson with Gordon Wooley at the controls. And in 1967 Kansas City’s Jon Backlund carried it to a 10th-place finish in IMCA points. It was a good car and Thad put it to good use.

Significantly, Dosher shared the championship at Topeka with future Hall of Fame driver Dick Sutcliffe, and now, armed with a sprint car, he was free to compete with both the IMCA and the BCRA.

Two years later he would be reunited with an old friend. In 1968 Kansas City’s Bob Williams began driving Jack Cunningham’s car and laid the groundwork for one of the greatest years in open-wheel racing history. 1969 would prove to be a year of triumph and tragedy for Williams. In June his brother Ken was killed at Topeka and, because of that, Bob was absent from the track for a time. It makes what he eventually accomplished all the more remarkable.

In 1969 he would win 46 times and take the track championships at Knoxville, Topeka, and Olympic Stadium. Yes, Luther Brewer’s car still had plenty of zip, and that alone led owner Gary Hanna to purchase the piece. As for a driver, Hanna selected Dosher.

Thad didn’t miss a beat. In 1970 he scored his second Jayhawk Nationals and also nailed down the Topeka title once more. With two Jayhawk Nationals wins and a victory in the Knoxville Nationals as well, Dosher remembers that some thought he shined brightest in the biggest events. Thinking back to that time Dosher said, “A lot of people accused me of that. Maybe I tried harder then, or maybe we had the car set up better. You could tell when you were going to have a good night.”

Perhaps that reputation, alone, is what led to Dosher’s penchant for finding his way to top rides, but one thing was for certain, it is clear that many of the most successful owners in the game could find a place for the transplanted Kansan on their team. The always-tough Dick Sutcliffe had enjoyed great success in the R&H Farms sprint car, a team owned by Iowa Farmers John Ricke and brother’s Stan and Tom Hill. The group towed a fine Roger Beck-built car to the track, but an unquestioned ingredient in their success was engine builder and mechanic Wayne House.

Like Dosher, House served in the Air Force during the Korean War, but once back quickly gained notoriety as an outstanding mechanic. Paired with owner Larry Swanson and Hall of Fame driver Lloyd Beckman, the team won back-to-back Nebraska Modified Association titles at Eagle Raceway. But by 1971 House had joined the R&H Farms squad. In 1972, Dosher had experienced success with Gary Hanna at Eagle, but he jumped at a chance to join forces with, as he always put it, “the farmers.”

With House twisting wrenches, Dosher and the team showed promise during the IMCA season. In September, Dosher beat Dick Sutcliffe and Gene Gennetten to the line at the Nebraska State Fair and also landed on the podium at Topeka, Oklahoma City, and Sedalia, Missouri.

The September 2nd win at Lincoln was a memorable day. Performing at the Nebraska State Fair was popular country and western singer Jimmy Dean. It turns out that Dean and Dosher had previously met in 1962 at Hutchinson, Kansas and had struck up a friendship. When interviewed by IMCA announcer Bob Lundberg, Dean worked the crowd into a frenzy by suggesting that he bet his house, wife, and even his dog that Dosher would win. During this race Thad made even more fans. While racing for position he bumped 1966 Knoxville Nationals winner Jay Woodside, sending his rival into the marbles. Thad quickly slowed and motioned for Jay to go around him. Then a few laps later Dosher made the pass cleanly and went on to victory.

When the 1972 IMCA season had come to an end, Dosher’s friend Ray Lee Goodwin had won the title, while Thad finished a respectable fifth-place in the final standings and captured the Most Improved Driver award.

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