When Brad Noffsinger was a teen-ager growing up in Cypress, he and his brothers pestered their father to let them drive his sprint car. Their father, Ace, a one-time U.S. Racing Club Rookie of the Year, told them that it was too dangerous. He wanted them to stick to racing midget cars.
"I told him if I couldn't drive his sprint car, I'd get someone else to give me a ride," Brad recalled. "So he finally relented."
Father was right.
On Memorial Day weekend in 1983, Brad's younger brother, Todd, was killed in a sprint car race at Ascot Park. Todd was 19.
"I was on the back straight that night, signaling for Todd, when it happened," Brad said. "I quit right then. I said I'd never race again. But the more I thought about it, I realized I could get hurt doing anything, riding a motorcycle, water skiing, just about anything. I thought about it for a week, and two weeks later I was back in the car."
Four months later, on Oct. 2, which would have been Todd's 20th birthday, Brad set fast time in qualifying for a California Racing Assn. sprint car race and a week later became the first driver in history to better 19 seconds around Ascot Park's half-mile of clay.
"I wished I could have done it on Todd's birthday," Brad said at the time, "But I am dedicating this run to him."
Noffsinger's time was 18.864 seconds and only three other drivers--Dean Thompson, Eddie Wirth and Jeff Heywood--have since broken the 19-second mark.
The middle Noffsinger brother, Bart, also drove sprint cars for several years before he retired after two serious accidents.
Brad Noffsinger, now 25, is the leading driver in the CRA, and if he finishes on top he will be the youngest champion since Jimmy Oskie won in 1969 at 24.
"If I can keep finishing races, I'm pretty sure I can win," said Noffsinger, who is 216 points ahead of Mike Sweeney, with defending champion Wirth another five behind Sweeney. "If I fall out of four (of 14 remaining) races, I could be caught."
Noffsinger, who will be driving Jack Gardner's No. 96 in Saturday night's main event at Ascot Park, has won seven CRA races this season, more than any other driver. Former champion Bubby Jones won his sixth last Saturday night and Lealand McSpadden, the Arizona vagabond, has won five.
Showing his versatility, Noffsinger has also won two of four United States Auto Club western regional midget races he has driven for car owner Larry Howard.
"I'd like to run more of them if they didn't conflict with the CRA dates," said Noffsinger, who raced to his first victory in a midget. He was 18 then, driving for his dad at Cajon Speedway in El Cajon.
"The night before, I was at the Orange Show (in San Bernardino) and my car broke. I was standing there when this guy comes up and says, 'Why don't you get busy and fix it?'
"It was A.J. Foyt. He was out here for the 500 the next day at Ontario. When I told him I didn't have the equipment, he said to use his, and before we were through, A.J. was in there working on it himself. The next night was my first win."
Noffsinger would like to emulate Foyt and become a winner in both Indy cars and NASCAR stock cars. Next season he hopes to drive a limited Indy car schedule with Mike Curb, his sprint car sponsor, and also pursue the NASCAR West Coast stock car championship with the Gardners.
"I've learned more about racing from Jack Gardner than anyone I've ever been associated with," Noffsinger said. Gardner, who won the CRA championship in 1954, owns a garage in Torrance where his sons built and maintain sprint cars for Noffsinger and rookie Clark Drake. Jimmie Gardner, one of the sons, is Noffsinger's crew chief.
Noffsinger lives in Huntington Beach with his wife, Robin, and their two daughters. When he isn't racing, he runs a yacht charter service out of Huntington Harbor.
STOCK CARS--Mike Kirby of Gardena has eight Figure 8 wins and two bomber oval wins this year at Ascot Park, but has never been able to win both on the same program. He will try again for the double on Sunday night. Also on the Ascot card will be pro stocks of the NASCAR Winston Racing Series and a chain race in which 10 pairs of demolition derby cars are linked by 20 feet of chain for each two-car team and then race in a mud bog. . . . Bob Lyon of Newhall, after becoming the first driver to win two modified main events at Saugus Speedway last week, will try for No. 3 Saturday night. On Aug. 2 at Saugus, the Kodak 100 will spotlight NASCAR sportsmen cars.