TAMPA, Fla. — If dirt track open wheel racing lost its definition of a badass when Bryan Clauson tragically lost his life last August at the Belleville Midget Nationals in Kansas, then pavement open wheel racing suffered the same loss Saturday night with the passing of Dave Steele in a sprint car crash at Desoto Speedway.
‘The Man of Steele’ was one of the best there’s ever been, and I’d argue one of the best there ever will be.
After all, they didn’t call him ‘Superman’ for nothing.
He wasn’t afraid to race anything, at any time, at any track. No, he embraced that philosophy and made the challenges look easy.
Growing up in Tampa, Fla., Dave started his career in go-karts at the age of six and was in sprint cars and midgets by the time he turned 16.
As a 22-year-old young gun, he took the sprint car world by storm, winning the 1996 Little 500 at Indiana’s Anderson Speedway quarter-mile from the pole after setting a new four-lap track record in qualifications.
Two years later, he added a win in the Night Before the 500 at Indianapolis Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway), scoring his biggest of 18 career USAC National Midget Series triumphs.
From 2000 to 2004, Steele’s driving prowess reached its peak at Anderson, as he topped Little 500 qualifying four times in a five-year span to push his career tally to a race-record five poles, tied with the legendary Frank Riddle for the most in the race’s 68-year history.
That was also the period when Steele began branching out into the USAC Silver Crown ranks, winning that series’ championship honors in both 2004 and 2005 as he racked up 16 career victories, third all-time behind Jack Hewitt and Brian Tyler.
He returned to Little 500 victory lane in 2009 for famed Florida car owner Lenny Puglio, adding to his already-storied legacy that included time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Verizon IndyCar Series, Indy Lights, ASA National Tour and the ARCA Racing Series.
However, it was always in Florida that Steele’s racing talents shone brightest, and he built a legacy that will live forever in the Sunshine State.
Over the course of a quarter-century long career, Steele accrued 100 sprint car victories in the state of Florida, setting a record for the state that may never be challenged again.
He surpassed Wayne Reutimann’s mark of 97 wins with his victory in the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series race at Desoto on Nov. 5 of last year, and added victories at Showtime Speedway on Nov. 19 and at 417 Southern Speedway last month to officially reach the century threshold.
“I mean, that’s a pretty special feat, with me being born and raised in Florida,” Steele told Florida sprint car historian Richard Golardi last fall after tying Reutimann’s record. “You know, a lot of those guys that we passed up on that list were my heroes as a kid. That means a lot to me actually. All those guys (that were ahead of him on the list prior to last year) were my heroes growing up as a kid watching them. It is a feather in our cap to be able to do that.”
“It’s a tribute to my car owners. I’ve always had good stuff to drive. You can’t get it done if you don’t have some good wheels under you.”
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