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Steve Stapp (John Mahoney photo)

Remembering The Bopper, Steve Stapp

It was a special time for many, including Dobbins, who was often charged with the simple task of taking care of Carter’s sunglasses.

There were so many unforgettable moments and glorious times. There was the night that Stapp and Dobbins headed out on treacherous snow-packed roads to find medicine for his little daughter Susannah, and Steve was relegated to the bed of the truck to provide needed ballast.

There was the night in the shop before a race at the Syracuse Mile, when it was discovered that plugs could not be placed in the angled cylinder heads because the frame rails were in the way.

Then there was a moment that would be recalled for years.

“We were over at Williams Grove and it rained out,” Dobbins said. “And we were waiting to get out of the back gate, but we got stuck inside the race track. So, Steve and I and John Conger got out of the truck and headed toward the back gate to see who could help us get out. Steve lost his footing and I was standing right next to him, and he reared back with both arms. And that was when Steve was real sizable. He just hauled off and hit me across my mouth and nose and I thought I was going to pass out.

“I was seeing stars. I don’t think Muhammad Ali could have hit me any harder. He would always bring that up and say, ‘You don’t want to mess with me. You have seen what I could do.’”

Still laughing, Dobbins added, “It was an adrenaline rush for me to go to a race and win with Steve and Pancho, and it had to have been three times an adrenaline rush for them. As far as I am concerned, I had the greatest narcotic in the world watching Pancho Carter taking the checkered flag. What a feeling!”

Stapp walked away from the ownership ranks for a time and worked to develop a trucking and parts business. He would return with his son, but when Andy left the cockpit and started a career working for various NASCAR teams, Steve had already taken the bait once again.

Successful racer Kenneth Nichols drove for Steve, and for years worked alongside him on restorations, street-legal sprint cars, and two seaters. Nichols claimed that his day involved one-third actual work and two-thirds stories.

One memorable day, Kenneth’s wife joined her husband, Stapp, and Dobbins for lunch. On the way back, still in disbelief, Sandy Nichols expressed the feeling that there was no way the stories she just heard were true.

Assured by her husband that they were, she could only ask out loud how it was possible that they were all still alive.

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Steve’s 50th USAC sprint car win, with driver Mark Cassella, at Lawrenceburg Speedway on Aug. 31, 1996. (John Mahoney photo)

Nichols was there in that period where Stapp was trying to juggle his businesses and still race. It caused a few issues.

On the plus side, Kenneth recalled, “There was no pressure at all. The problem was that he had his trucking company and that meant we showed up late. He didn’t have time to do anything but put on tires. You would be there too late to practice, so your heat race was your practice, and then it was chaos. ‘Stapp time’ is a real thing.”

Nonetheless, Nichols revered Stapp and the entire family.

“They are great people and he knew what he was doing. I feel honored and very blessed to have worked with him.”

It turns out that Stapp still had one more act to play out, and it came with Weirton, W.Va., native Mark Cassella. Casella, whose brother Billy had captured the 1976 Silver Crown championship, was dubbed “The Stray Bullet” by USAC sprint supervisor Gary Sokola.

Cassella was bold, fast, and fearless. Cassella not only drove for Stapp, he also helped out in the shop and trucking business. His memories of his time with Stapp are priceless. He loved the stories too but, like Kenneth Nichols, best of all he felt no pressure from his owner.

“He was always a happy-go-lucky guy,” Cassella said. “Always joking. And I loved driving for him because he knew to go fast you had to wreck sometimes. That makes it a little easier than having an owner who says go out there and win, but don’t wreck my car.

“One night at Terre Haute I was flying. I started 17th and I was running fourth at the Hulman Classic. There was a red flag and I thought, ‘I’m going to win this race.’ So, I was feeling a little too confident and I hauled it into three and caught a rut. Bopper said as soon as he saw me haul it in there he was headed for the trailer.”

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