Wally Pankratz, 41, of Yorba Linda went from playing college football to racing open-wheel cars after he graduated from Idaho State in the late 1960s.
Pankratz is fourth in the U.S. Auto Club standings of the Jolly Rancher Candies Western Regional Series, trailing Tommy White of the City of Industry, 418-404.
Rusty Rasmussen of Fresno is second with 570 points, 64 behind Robby Flock, also of the City of Industry.
Pankratz also is fourth in USAC's national supermodified rankings with 142 points, only two points behind Bill Vukovich of Fresno and 10 points behind Dave Fitzgerald of Salt Lake City. Ken Hamilton of Boise, Idaho, leads that series with 190 points.
Pankratz will attempt to move up to second place in this year's last super-modified race--worth 40 points for a perfect performance--Saturday Oct. 11 at Saugus Speedway, and then travel to Ascot Park in Gardena for the 21st of 25 programs Sunday night Oct. 12.
In the supermodified division, Pankratz drives the 430 cubic-inch Chevrolet-powered car owned by Clyde Prickett of Fresno. His midget car is an Edmunds coil-over Cosworth owned by Jim Beauchamp of Visalia.
After graduating from Garden Grove High School, where his team made the Southern Section playoffs, Pankratz played safety at Fullerton College in 1964 and 1965 under Coach Hal Sherbeck, from whom Pankratz says he developed his competitive philosophy.
"If you gave your best effort, Coach Sherbeck would give 100% back," said Pankratz, "and that's what I try to do in a race car--give 100%, do my best. That way, you never have to hang your head. It's the 'never-give-up' attitude."
Sherbeck coached Fullerton to a win over powerful Bakersfield in the Potato Bowl in 1964.
Pankratz transferred to Idaho State, where he played for two season (1966-67), but Pankratz says he was too small and slow--10.0 for 100 yards--to be better than a late draft pick by the San Diego Chargers.
So, Pankratz, like his father, entered motorsports. Bob Pankratz built and worked on cars including Troy Ruttman's sprint car. Ruttman won the 1951 Indianapolis 500 in a J.C. Agajanian car.
The elder Pankratz also drove, but was in a serious accident in 1948 in Ohio, which left him unconscious for three months. He is now a "semi invalid" as a result of the accident.
"You never think that will ever happen to you," said Pankratz about his father's accident. "At first I wanted to race Indy cars, and that's why I started racing rear-engine cars. Everything worked out fine, except I never got the Indy-car ride. If I had a goal now, it would be to be the oldest Indy-car rookie."
Although Pankratz has yet to achieve his Indy-car goal, he has succeeded in each type of car he's raced, having won Ascot's midget championship in 1977, the Super Modified Racing Assn. title in 1981, and Hanford's track championship in the sprint-car division last year.
Pankratz also was the runner-up to Chuck Gurney of Livermore in USAC's national supermodified series in 1985.
Pankratz is a specialist on asphalt. In fact, Pankratz's only midget-car win this season--April 27 at Ascot--came on a quarter-mile dirt oval which had been dried by weather to dry-slick conditions similar to asphalt.