As Don Droud Jr. prepared for the final points race of the USAC Midwest Wingless Series season at Missouri’s Bethany Speedway, he was approached by an interested media member.
The championship hung in the balance, with Droud only 15 points behind leader Wyatt Burks. The questions he would soon field were inevitable.
What would be his approach heading into this deciding round? Additionally, how was he managing his emotions knowing that everything his team had worked for over the course of this crazy season came down to this?
If you probe a bit, veteran scribes will reveal that they feel duty-bound to pursue this line of inquiry.
Pushed further, they will also admit that they expect – with slightly varying degrees of candor – to be offered a predictable set of uninteresting responses.
However, this time it would be different. Looking the reporter in the eye, Droud admitted that he had no idea where he stood in the standings.
Concerned that his off-the-cuff reply may have appeared to be dismissive, he quickly added that he realized the outcome might matter to car owner Mark Burch. Yet, even after offering that concession, Droud made sure that his overall perspective was crystal clear.
“I told the guy that I honestly didn’t care,” Droud said, “because no matter what happened, the sun was going to come up tomorrow.”
That’s Don Droud Jr. in a nutshell.
He wonders why anyone would be interested in his story and, accordingly, he feels little need to recite his resume. It’s consistent with the way he has lived his life.
Droud Jr. has his own drywall business and does small repairs for various management companies. It fits him perfectly.
“My business allows me to go when I want to go,” he said. “I just want to do what I do. Look, I’m never going to be a millionaire, but who cares?”
To travel this path, he has a partner who understands exactly what makes him tick. He met his wife Jane at church and, after a relatively long courtship that started cautiously, he finally reached the point where he felt it was time to put all of his cards on the table.
“I warned her,” he recalled with a laugh, “that my list of priorities were God, racing, and everything else. Jack Yeley told me a story when I drove for him. He said, ‘If you can take a woman to a street stock race and she lasts all night and wants to go again the next night, you have a keeper.’ That’s my wife.”
Like others of his generation, Droud’s start in racing began by just following his father from track to track and, in this case, from two wheels to four.
While Don Droud Sr. can’t pinpoint the exact date, he says he began racing motorcycles at Denton, Neb., in the late 1950s. In time this became more than just a hobby, as he would eventually own a BSA and Yamaha dealership and remain at the helm for years.
Droud Sr.’s racing career began with scrambles, but shortly thereafter he began muscling more powerful bikes around half-mile dirt tracks. As hair-raising as that can be, even that wasn’t enough to slake his thirst for speed.
Droud Sr. would eventually head south to Daytona Int’l Speedway, where he pressed his luck for three successive years. His high water mark came when he carried a 750, three-cylinder BSA to the highest finish among non-factory backed riders.
Today he shakes his head when he thinks about his time on crotch rockets, and it is possible that two events in the Sunshine State hastened a change in direction.
On his second trip, he watched a rider suffer a horrendous spill at the start of the race which he believes was fatal. The other eye-opening moment occurred the day he looked up at a backstretch speed trap indicator that caught him tooling along at 165 mph.
While he was just a youngster, Droud Jr. remembers his father’s motorcycle days and, technically, he can trace his racing journey back to two wheels as well.
There are pictures of Droud Jr. sitting astride his father’s bike shortly after he had learned to walk and, because of this, he can rightfully claim that he has been around racing his entire life.
There was a time when he travelled with his father to York, Neb., and participated in an event with a mini-bike. It was, he says with a chuckle, “my one and only shot.”
His parents divorced when he was in elementary school and, even then, he knew there was one steadfast rule in play.
His mother did not want her boys to race under any circumstance, and Droud Sr. – who had concerns of his own – was willing, at least for the moment, to honor this wish.
Surveying all the options in his area, Droud Sr. decided to make the switch to late models and, while not flush with funds, he proved to be more than just competent.
While Senior strayed here and there, his normal haunts were near his Lincoln, Neb., home and included Doniphan, Beatrice, and Midwest Speedway, which was in his backyard.
In 1978 he captured the late model title at Midwest, and it was about this time that he offered his son a unique 16th birthday present.
Reckoning that he was now at the age where he could make his own decisions about participating in the sport, Droud Jr. suddenly was now the proud owner of a late model sportsman.
Droud Jr.’s maiden voyage came at Midwest Speedway, and his self-assessment of his performance leaves nothing to the imagination.
“I was horrible. I. Was. Horrible. Looking back, I am sure the car wasn’t very good. I think I had it for one year, and the next year I got a car that was a little better. I might have ran second a couple of times, and I think we got to go to Eagle too, but I just wasn’t a very good stock car driver.”
As Droud Sr. began to transition to 360 sprint cars, Droud Jr. got a chance to race his dad’s late model. His chance to take the wheel of the more formidable car came on Friday nights and, while a more careful scrutiny of existing records may tell a different tale, he suggests that little changed.
“My dad would race at Midwest on Sunday, and I would race the late model at Doniphan on Friday. I sucked there too.”
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