At the age of 46, Porter Ranch, CA driver Keith Spangler has been racing for nearly 40 years, because of his passion and love of the sport. Over the course of his career the third generation driver has developed the reputation as being a tough, but fair competitor, who gets the most possible out of his equipment. As a low budget operation on the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series, the Spangler Racing Team has challenges that other teams do not, but he has become one of the most consistent top ten finishing competitors on “The Tour”. Keith will take his passion and experience, to Tucson Speedway (AZ) for the next stop on the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series, on September 17th.
Spangler began his racing career, in the Quarter Midget Division, when he was seven or eight years old. He raced for a few years. and then took a couple off. He came back to race Go-Karts on the dirt at a track in Indian Dunes (CA), as well as some road course races on the asphalt. When Keith got his driver’s license, at the age of 16, he moved into the Sportsman (now known as Late Model) class at the highly competitive Saugus Speedway (CA). The now defunct Saugus Speedway was a one-third mile, flat paved oval, located in the mountains North of Los Angeles. The track had the reputation of being one of the toughest short tracks on the West Coast, and to win there, you had to be equally tough. NASCAR Southwest Tour Series Champions, who were competitors there, included Ron Hornaday Jr., Dan Press, Roman Calczynski and Lance Hooper Jr.
At Saugus, Spangler began to build his reputation as a strong and tough competitor, with many wins in a Sportsman Division that featured nightly “B” Mains, and roughly 30 cars per event. He narrowly missed the championship several times, and a couple of those were to his close friend and competitor Will Harper.
“When I was 18, I lost the championship in the Sportsman Class on the last night of the season, by one point,” Spangler told Speed 51.com powered by JEGS. “That was a little hard to take, being that close, but that was a good year racing. The guy I was racing for the championship, (Will Harper) we were pretty good friends, so it made it a lot of fun.”
Spangler achieved abundant success, and made a good name for himself at Saugus Speedway, but he wanted to branch out and advance his driving career, with even stiffer competition. In 1992 Keith made two starts in the NASCAR Southwest Tour Series at Saugus, finishing an impressive third in the second of those events. In 1993 he took on “The Tour” full-time, finishing sixth in the final standings after missing the season’s first event. After a limited 1994 season, do to funding, Keith was able to run the entire schedule over the next four seasons.
Spangler recalled, “We had a sponsor, in Card Service International, who supported me in the late nineties, and allowed me to race all the races. It permitted me to run all the Winter Heat (A nationally televised series of races held during the Winter months at Tucson Raceway Park featuring classes such as the NASCAR K & N West Series, Southwest Tour Series, “Super Truck” Exhibition races and Late Models. It was responsible for launching the careers of drivers like Ron Hornaday Jr. and Greg Biffle) races at Tucson and even some of their Sportsman races. It was really nice and I appreciate being able to afford to do that. I had some great memories in those times. To be able to race against guys like (Ron) Hornaday (Jr.), (Rick) Carelli, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and those guys was special. A lot of those guys, whom I have raced against, have gone on and had great racing careers. I used to race right with them, and beat them quite a few times, so it was kind of neat.”
Spangler raced in the NASCAR Southwest Tour Series, off and on, until the series was cancelled after the 2006 season. He would finish with 52 top ten efforts to rank tied for 13th in all-time series history. He also had three finishes, in the top ten of the championship standings. As that series was coming to an end, Keith began to participate in some of the SRL (now SPEARS Southwest Tour Series) Series events, running half the schedule in 2006.
“When ‘The Tour’ shut down, we just continued with the SRL because the rules for the car were the same,” Spangler commented. “Towards the end of the NASCAR series, there were races where the SRL raced at the same track, and at the same time, so we started racing the SRL Series. At the end, the NASCAR Tour wasn’t what it used to be, because NASCAR made some of the rules and the places they raced too expensive. It was probably one of the most popular series going in the nineties, as we had “B” Mains every race and 30, 35 to 40 cars every night. Just to make the main was tough to do.”
Spangler has been a mainstay in the SRL, over the last ten years, compiling 76 starts and 51 top ten efforts. Both are good for second on the all-time list. He has finished in the top ten of the championship standings six times with a best finish of fourth in 2008. Keith has achieved this, despite being on a limited budget throughout the years. As an owner/driver he has learned to save money where he can, while still remaining competitive.
Keith offered these thoughts, “The biggest thing I have to do differently is to not practice as much, and put as many laps on my car as the other teams do. I am not able to buy new tires for practice, like they do most of the time. Some races, someone will step up and I can practice on new tires, but I usually practice on old ones. The biggest thing, is that it can hurt me in my qualifying effort a little bit. Not being able to know how far you can push the car into the turn, on a certain day on a certain track, can be a hindrance. Whereas having the new tires, you can kind of know how far to push it. I have run a lot of races, and have a lot of experience, so it probably doesn’t hurt me as much as somebody who is just starting out. Some of the other drivers were even trying that strategy at Eureka (mounting up old tires), so I think it does help during the race.”
This lack of new practice tires has not stopped Keith from finishing well, however, as he has become a perennial lock for the “Hard Charger Award”. The award is presented to the driver who improves the most positions during a race and Keith, once again, leads those standings, with two to date. He also secured the most awards last season.
Despite being on a limited budget, he is very thankful to those who have helped him, in such an expensive sport.
“I really have to thank my dad (Loren) first and foremost. He has been there since I started. He helps me work on the car, to get it set-up. He has taught me everything I know, in terms of how to work on the car, and getting it ready for the track. I have also had a few long-term sponsors who have supported me for 10 to 17 years such as Maropulos Racing Engines, Ron’s Rear Ends and David Mulchany with Retro Custom Metals. More recently Dave Reeves with Reeves Auto Center has really been a great help for me as well. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to race in the SRL,” Spangler concluded.
Throughout the nearly 40 years Keith has raced, he still has the passion to go out to each and every event, to attempt to break into the winner’s circle for the first time in a major Super Late Model Touring Series. He has been close many times, finishing second on several occasions on both the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour, and NASCAR Southwest Tour Series. It is his love for speed, competition and willingness to work on the race car that keeps him going.
“I like driving a race car fast,” Spangler said with amusement. “It definitely gives you a rush that you don’t get anywhere else. I like working on them, but I don’t like crashing them. But that is part of the game. I enjoy going out to the garage and getting the car ready for each race. It is expensive, but I’m used to doing it and sometimes it’s hard to stop. I know I’m probably getting towards the end of my racing career, because of age, health and money, but I have always found a way to get to the track. Larry and Brian, with the SRL, have always been great to me, and I am thankful to them. It’s just because I love it and it has been in my family for over 50 years. My grandfather (Caleb) raced, my dad raced, and I love doing it. As long as I am still competitive, and have the funds to be able to do it… I’ll do it as long as I can. Hopefully I can continue to find the financial support needed,” Spangler concluded.
Entering the “SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Roasted Rattler 125,” Keith is excited to return to Tucson Speedway. He has had a good deal of success, in the 11 events he has participated in during his tenure with the NASCAR Southwest Tour Series. It includes several Winter Heat events, with national television exposure, and top ten finishes in more than half of his starts. His best memory of the track didn’t start out that way, however.
“At one of the Winter Heat races we blew the transmission on the tow vehicle. They had practice on Friday, and we didn’t get there until Saturday morning. I think I got all of five laps of practice when I qualified, and I ended up making the race,” Spangler recalled. “I ended up with one of my better Winter Heat finishes getting sixth after the 150-lap race.”
Heading to Tucson, Keith doesn’t feel like his experience there nearly 15 years ago will give him any type of advantage. The abrasive surface, on the other hand, may play to his benefit.
Spangler stated, “I think the abrasive surface is an advantage for me. We usually have a car that is not too abusive on tires, and with all my experience behind the wheel, it can only help. I remember the first time we raced there. The pavement was new, but it really tore the tires up because the track had so much grip. I was running back around eighth or ninth, with 20 laps to go, and ended up fourth. Hornaday and those guys were racing up front, and everyone just tore their tires up. I was picking them off left and right at the end, because I still had tires left.”
As the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series heads to Tucson, Keith is hopeful that the fans will get a great race. He hopes they have a great time, seeing the series debut at the three-eighth mile facility. He is also thankful for all the fans that show up to see him race.
“I really enjoy all the fans that come up to me and ask if I am the same guy that used to race at Saugus. I would like to thank all the fans who support the local races, and come out to follow us in the SRL. That is what we race for. I am very appreciative to the people who come out and spend their hard earned money to watch us race. Hopefully when they do come out, they leave the track feeling like they got their money’s worth,” Spangler surmised.
Spangler enters the seventh race, of the 2016 SPEARS Southwest Tour Series, eighth in the championship standings. He is coming off his first top five finish of the season, at Redwood Acres Raceway (CA). It has been a challenging season, so far, for Keith. He has two DNFs and only three top ten efforts thus far. He hopes to continue the momentum he established in the last event, and rebound back into the top five of the SRL standings.
On September 17th, the fans at Tucson Speedway will have the opportunity to see a diverse mixture of drivers anticipated to compete for the $5,000 winner’s prize, in the “Roasted Rattler 125”. Veteran drivers such as Spangler, Craig Raudman, Bob Lyon and Dan Holtz have competed, at the facility, in the former NASCAR Southwest Tour Series. They will also see SPEARS Southwest Tour Series drivers, such as Bobby Hodges and Blaine Rocha, who have competed in the Chilly Willy 100. Joining them will be SRL Series Champions Derek Thorn, Jacob Gomes and Eric Schmidt. SRL Series young guns, expected to compete, include Ryan Cansdale, Christian McGhee, Brandon White, Matthew Meech, Andre Prescott and last weekend’s Tucson winner Trevor Huddleston, to name a few. They will be met by some of the area’s best Super Late Model drivers, for an inaugural event that should be full of excitement. Make sure to stop by the hauler of Campbell Motorsports driver Carlos Vieira and sample a free 51 FIFTY Energy Drink as well. There will be a fan autograph session at 6:45 PM on Friday’s practice night, and 6:15 PM on race day Saturday. Front gates open on Saturday at 5:00 PM, with racing at 7:00 PM. Local classes on hand include Pro Stocks, Hornets and, Mini Stocks.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com Contributor. Photo Credit: Kevin Peters