What Makes Outlaw Late Model Racing So Special?

Outlaw Super Late Model racing has made a home in the Midwest – in particular, Northern Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio – over the years with a strong, loyal fanbase. The unique wedge-bodied machines have captivated short track racing fans and drivers alike with breathtaking speeds and a variety of looks unmatched in all of racing.


Many of the top racers across all forms of racing have climbed behind the wheel of an Outlaw Super Late Model in recent years to take on the discipline’s best in races such as the Kalamazoo Klash, Summer Sizzler, and Glass City 200.


Brad Keselowski, Johnny Benson Jr., and David Stremme all got their starts in the Outlaw ranks, while NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, Matt Crafton, Kenny Wallace, Kenny Schrader, Matt Kenseth, and even Dale Earnhardt climbed behind the wheel of one at some point in their careers. Southeast Super Late Model stars Bubba Pollard and Augie Grill, five-time Snowball Derby winner Rich Bickle Jr, Dirt Late Model kingpin Scott Bloomquist, and Tour-Type Modified great Ted Christopher also made starts in one of the three Outlaw Super Late Model crown jewels.


Tyler Roahrig has won nearly everything there is to win in an Outlaw car in the past few years, including four Summer Sizzlers and three straight Kalamazoo Klash wins. A staunch believer in Outlaw racing putting on a better show on-track, the accessibility to big shows and cheaper costs are other reasons that draw him to Outlaw racing.


“For one, where I live it’s the biggest Late Model class around, they race them weekly at a few tracks and there’s a lot of big races compared to if I had a template car. Other than a few CRA shows and Berlin I can’t really race it anywhere within four or five hours. In an Outlaw car, I can go two hours and go to quite a few tracks and quite a few good races,” Roahrig told Speed51.com. “It’s all one-day shows for the most part, I think we have one race where there’s an open practice the day before but other than that, it’s one-day shows. You don’t typically have to buy as many tires as well. It seems to me like they’re cheaper to race as far as weekly expenses, a lot of that is there’s not as much travel distance and one-day shows and some of the different tire selections we have.”


The freedom Outlaw teams have to work with when it comes to bodies and setups stand out from the template Late Model racing world, another factor that Roahrig enjoys.


“It seems in the template world a lot of guys just go out and buy a car and you can just be fast going out and buying a car from one of the three or four big manufacturers. It seems like the Outlaw deal is kind of more of a custom thing where you, I don’t want to say build your stuff but you kid of got to do your own thing, so to speak. I think most of the guys that are a frontrunner in the Outlaw cars that do their own thing don’t have conventional setups or ideas, it’s more of a custom idea just like a Supermodified.


Jeff Ganus is one of the most decorated Outlaw Super Late Model drivers of the century, winning numerous track and series titles and taking wins in the Kalamazoo Klash, Summer Sizzler, Intimidator 100, and the Main Event race. His entire Late Model career has been spent in an Outlaw, and he doesn’t see himself driving anything else full-time.


“You’ve got 25 or 30 Outlaws and I think they’re the baddest machines around,” Ganus said. “Everybody has their own body, they all kind of resemble a little bit but they’re all different. You sit all winter long putting something together that you think will work the best and it’s kind of fun going to the track and seeing the different attitudes of the cars. I like our Outlaw stuff because it’s something we’ve always done. “I don’t know what we’d do if we didn’t have Outlaw cars, the other cars are fun too but Outlaws are a different breed.”


The Constantine, MI driver is a two-time Main Event Racing Series champion and a winner during the only Sweet Manufacturing Outlaw Super Late Model Series season in 2017. As the future of Main Event is uncertain with the 2020 Midwest racing season looming, Ganus discussed what he thinks it will take for a traveling Outlaw Super Late Model series to sustain.


“It’s going to take somebody really good and honest to run a series like that. The last guy, I don’t like to badmouth anybody but I kind of knew that wasn’t going to work over. (Kevin) Jaycox did really good with it for the years he had it, but it just sucks when Main Event got into the wrong hands,” he stated. “I don’t know what we need to do to make something like that work but we need a Donny Klotz (former New Paris Speedway track owner) to run a Main Event, somebody that’s been around racing and Outlaw stuff and is smart about stuff. It would be really awesome to see the right people start up an Outlaw series like that, but it costs a lot of money too.”


“I really liked (the Sweet MFG Outlaw Super Late Model Series), we ran some of those races and that was really cool,” he added. “One of the guys that used to help me on the race team when I started, Joe Metzger, he actually had his hand in that pot. He’s been around racing forever too, it had all the right people to try to make a series like that work. It just sucks it had to go down that bad, you just got to have the right people.”


Michigan driver Brian Campbell started his Late Model career in the early 2000’s in the Outlaw ranks before template-bodied racing made its way to the Wolverine State. Campbell’s father Fred is arguably one of the greatest Outlaw Super Late Model drivers of all-time, with ten track championships between Berlin Raceway and Kalamazoo Speedway, as well as a two-time champion of the old Iceman Super Car Series, a series based around Toledo Speedway that made trips to other racetracks in the region. He also won the Kalamazoo Klash in 2004, a race that saw Brian finish fourth.


The younger Campbell scored a best finish of third in his first Klash attempt in 2002. While the Klash was a race that got away during his time in an Outlaw, Campbell did earn a Glass City 200 triumph in 2007 and the Main Event XIX win at the now-defunct Columbus Motor Speedway the year prior.


For Campbell, marquee Outlaw Super Late Model races were the pinnacle of his career before template racing.


“That’s where I kind of grew up, racing those type of races. That was the epitome of where I was at right there, that’s what I was waiting for in my life, to be able to race the Klash and to be able to race Toledo and all those races in an Outlaw car,” Campbell said. “The Klash and Glass City were my races that I wanted to go win when I was growing up. In my world there was no Snowball Derby, there was no Nashville, there wasn’t anything like that. It took me to be able to get to template racing before I realized those races were out there and had a chance to go win them.”


While he now spends his days competing in CRA with the template bodies, Campbell is itching to get back in an Outlaw. He’s had opportunities to get behind the wheel of one in recent years, most notably at Toledo in 2018.


“It was just a few years ago I tested a couple times for Terry Senneker when he had different drivers coming into his Outlaw stuff. I was in the No.24 car (Lee Vandyk) for the Glass City in 2018 and I broke the motor in practice when I was supposed to run that one,” he said. “I’d get back in one in a heartbeat, they’re way more fun than a template car.”


Two-time Snowball Derby winner Augie Grill hopped into an Outlaw Late Model for the Glass City 200 at Toledo Speedway back in 2011. It started when Canadian driver Jerry Artuso dropped his car off at Grand American Race Cars while competing in the Southeast.


“That was a pretty fun experience. Jerry Artuso was a long-time customer and had one of our cars up there and he’d run it up at Kinross Speedpark (MI). He struggled with it for a while and got sick of it. He was running some races down here with his template Late Model and in passing he brought the thing to me and dropped it off,” Grill said. “He wanted me to go through it and make sure everything was right and this, that, and the other. I did that and while it sat here, he called me and asked if I’d be interested in running that race. I had heard of it forever so I thought it would be a cool deal. We worked it out to where it could happen and went up there.”


Grill put the 31-car field on blast that September night, leading 175 of the 200 laps and taking the winner’s trophy and check back to Alabama with him. It took a few practice sessions to get used to the car, but once the green flag waved it was on from there.


“I think they inverted 16 cars and I wound up starting 13th. I think I was leading in 18 laps, there were a few wrecks up ahead of us and we got through all of that, some of the guys it seemed like moved out of the way and let me go. It was a fun race, Johnny VanDoorn wound up being pretty good and he passed me either right before the halfway break or right after the break, it’s been so long ago. There wasn’t a point in time during the race I felt like I had to run real hard,” he recalled. “He got by me and ran out there about four or five car lengths and I started reeling him back in and before I knew it he blew up going across the start/finish line and I about KO’d him because I was so close behind him. I made it by that and went on to win the thing. It was a real cool experience because I had heard of the race forever and some of the people that had won it and some of the people I knew that had won it, it was just a real cool deal for a guy from the south to go up there in a different kind of car and be able to win a race up there.”


Both 2003 NASCAR Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth and son Ross competed in the Kalamazoo Klash at points in their careers. The younger Kenseth had three total starts in the race, with a best finish of tenth in 2012 to show for it. While talking to him for a “Where Are They Now” story, we asked him about his time competing in the prestigious event.


“It was a lot of fun. It was a little bit different than your typical asphalt Super Late Model cars, they had a lot more downforce and overall grip. I’m not sure if the rules have changed since then but back then there were no spotters and I don’t think they had mirrors either,” said Kenseth. “There was a little bit of a learning curve there trying to drive from the side windows forward and guess if you have someone inside or outside of you. It was a lot of fun because it made it more in the driver’s hands and you’re in a lot more control.”


-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51

What Makes Outlaw Late Model Racing So Special?