The name on the door of the old mill building in suburban Charlotte says it all: Ascot Race Cars. Chock full of USAC midgets and ASCS sprint cars, the shop is physically in stock car country but has a California heart and soul.
“I started out racing motorcycles but my dad figured I’d get hurt,” recalled Brad Noffsinger. “He had sprint cars and midgets and had just built a midget for a guy who backed out of the deal. I was 16, too young for USAC, so he started me out with the Ascot Super Midgets. We ran both the quarter-mile and the half and they didn’t care if you used a wing or not.”
Two years later, Noffsinger was in the family sprint car and on the way to superstar status at legendary Ascot Park Speedway in Gardena, Calif.
“I drove for my dad for two years, then I got a break with Bill Krug from Arizona,” Noffsinger recalled. “When I found out you could get paid for racing, it opened up a whole new world for me. They had a tough crew chief and no matter what happened, it was the driver’s fault. But he was a serious racer and we won a bunch of races. After we won five or six in a row, we even tried running with the Outlaws. Wolfgang and Kinser were in their prime then and you learned to be tough in a hurry if you wanted to race with them.
“I ran with the California Racing Ass’n, the Arizona Racing Ass’n and NARC, so we were all over the West Coast. Then I turned 21 and could run USAC, so I started running midgets for Larry Howard. We’d do four or five midget shows and 50 to 60 sprint car shows a year. We even got going good with a wing in the early ’80s.”
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But non-winged cars were Noffsinger’s thing and Ascot was his place.
“I was driving for Jack Gardner then and the CRA paid six points extra for quick time,” he said. “That won me the championship. Most nights I’d turn fast time and that would put me outside the fourth row for the feature. I probably started eighth 90 percent of my career out there.
“The only front-row starts I remember was when I won the Pacific Coast Nationals in ’89 and one year at the Western World. They used a points system like Knoxville over a couple days of qualifying.”
That’s not to say Noffsinger was an instant success.
“I remember the first time we went to Manzanita,” he said. “On the start, half a dozen of the Arizona guys passed me before we got through turn three. When I asked what was going on, they just told me I wasn’t in California anymore. But it was a great learning experience. Darrell Dockery was a show all by himself, Ronnie Shuman was probably the smartest racer I’d seen and Lealand McSpadden was in a league of his own. Bubby Jones went out there, too, and he helped me a lot until I finally got so I could beat him.”
When asked who the big dogs were back in California, the names roll off Noffsinger’s tongue non-stop.
“Dean Thompson was a three-time champion, Jimmy Oskie was a five-time champion and had the most fast times ever. I’m third on that list,” he said. “McSpadden was in and out, Bubby moved out there from the Midwest, Jimmy Sills was a great driver from up north and we also saw a lot of Brent Kaeding. Then there was Chuck Gurney, Johnny Anderson, Tim Green … Ascot was like a Hall of Fame for sprint car drivers. And I can’t forget Bob East. He was the qualifying king of his day.
“When I started, Rick Goudy drove the Tamale Wagon for Alex Morales and Mike Sweeney was always a top-three guy. He was a surfer who drove race cars and we still surf together when I’m out there. He was never the champion but he was great and was second to everybody.”