There is a growing body of race fans and competitors who contend that Dave Steele is the most gifted asphalt driver currently plying his trade on the demanding United States Auto Club circuit.
Veteran motorsports columnist Robin Miller, writing on SpeedTV.com, goes a step further, calling the Tampa native “arguably the best pavement racer in USAC’s long history.”
Lofty praise, certainly, but there is plenty of ammunition to support Miller’s point of view. Much of it can be found in USAC’s record book. For starters, as of mid-August of 2005, Steele could claim 14 victories in the sanctioning body’s premier Silver Crown division, 26 in its Sprint Car class, and 13 in its Midget car series.
That gives Steele, the 2004 USAC Silver Crown champion, more victories in that series than contemporaries like J.J. Yeley and Mike Bliss, not to mention legends like Al Unser, Ken Schrader and George Snider. The numbers also show Steele with more Sprint Car victories than Tony Stewart and Parnelli Jones, and more Midget scores than Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne.
In fact, Dave Steele has won more USAC national events on asphalt than Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne… combined!
Clearly, his has been a career for the ages.
Steele is a two-time winner (2001 and ’03) of the “Turkey Night Grand Prix,” a California institution and arguably Midget racing’s most high-profile event. He also earned the richest winner’s purse in the USAC Midget history by sweeping a special “Twin 25” program in 2002 at Indianapolis Raceway Park; a $50,000 bonus for topping both feature events pushed his evening’s haul to more than $62,000. And earlier this season, Steele became the all-time lap leader in USAC Silver Crown competition.
A quick peek outside USAC does little to dim Steele’s star. He is a past winner of the Anderson (IN) Speedway’s prestigious “Little 500,”a grueling contest pitting 33 Sprinters together on a tight quarter-mile bullring, and has piled up dozens of winged Sprint Car victories with the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association, seven of them in 2005 alone.
He is clearly a racer at the top of his form. Steele told Sprint Car & Midget magazine that he enjoys “going into an event thinking, ‘These guys have got to beat me.’ I don’t want to sound cocky or arrogant, but I feel like that’s the case at a lot of places.”
That’s about as close to an outright boast as anyone will ever hear from Dave Steele, a quiet sort of fellow who embodies the old cliché about letting one’s driving do the talking. At the speedway, he’s often seen either staring at the track, monitoring conditions and gauging rivals, or staring at his car, mentally sorting out its behavior. In an Open Wheel magazine article about Steele appropriately entitled “Run Silent, Run Fast,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford summed up the young Florida driver perfectly and succinctly. Pointing to his own head, Rutherford nodded in Steele’s direction and said simply, “He’s a thinker.”
His thinking has taken Steele all the way from quarter-midgets at tiny ovals in the Sunshine State all the way to Victory Lane at venues like the Phoenix International Raceway, where he is a five-time champion of the prestigious “Copper World Classic.” His youthful excursions in equipment fielded by his father, noted Florida Sprint Car owner Mac Steele, has given way to rides with the likes of Tony Stewart, who co-owns (with chassis builder Bob East) the Silver Crown cars which carried Steele to the 2004 USAC title.
Throughout that entire ride, Steele has been much a mechanic as a driver. In his earliest racing days, when he drove for his father and other Florida car owners, that was a necessity, because full-time help was a luxury no local team could afford. In time, he discovered that he had his best success racing with cars he built himself and setups he’d worked out on his own, so even when he changed teams from time to time he never put down his wrenches. Even today, as a USAC National Champion, Steele admits to putting in “more than 40 hours a week” keeping his various rides in tip-top shape.
It’s a grind, he admits. But for Steele, being deeply involved with the preparation of his own machines has always seemed like the surest path toward the winner’s circle. That makes it a burden he bears without complaint, because he is one of those racers to whom the first-place trophy means everything.
Steele points out that simple logic dictates, “a race driver is going to lose more than he’s going to win. The numbers are just against you. You’re in a race with 30 guys, and your chances are one in 30. You can change the odds with your performance, but the numbers are always against you.
“Still,” he adds emphatically, “I don’t like it when I lose.”
Fortunately for Steele, he doesn’t get that sinking feeling as often as his rivals do.
Best ever? Dave Steele would never say that.
But check the record book …
Date of Birth: May 7, 1974
Residence: Indianapolis, IN; Tampa, FL
Hometown: Tampa, FL
Finished 5th in USAC Silver Crown points.
Scored double wins at Iowa Speedway in USAC Silver Crown and Midget.
Set 7 Fast Times.
Won Copper World Classic Silver Crown and Midget features.
Captured 2nd USAC Silver Crown Championship.
TBARA Series Champion
PRI Sprint Champion
Won 12 TBARA events
Broke the All-Time Laps Led record in Silver Crown competition (formerly held by Jimmy Sills).
Won Four-for-Four USAC Silver Crown pavement races.
Little 500 Front row qualifier.
Holds the track record at virtually every USAC sanctioned speedway!
Five-time 'Copper World Classic' Champion.
Out of 9 USAC Midget starts - 3 Feature Wins, 2 Top 5s, 3 Top 10s.
USAC Silver Crown Champion.
Finished 4th in USAC Silver Crown points.
Recorded double USAC wins at Nazareth - sprint & midget.
Won the prestigious Turkey Night Grand Prix in USAC Midget.
Out of 10 USAC Silver Crown starts - 2 Feature Wins, 3 Top 5s, 3 Top 10s.
Finished 2nd in USAC Silver Crown points.
Won the Inaugural Twin 25's at Indianapolis Raceway Park
Swept the Copper World Classic with USAC Silver Crown & Midget wins.
Held fast time 12 times and set 6 new track records.
Won Turkey Night Grand Prix in USAC Midget.
Finished 3rd in USAC Silver Crown points.
1999 - Won 5 USAC Sprint Features.
1998 - Won his 1st USAC Silver Crown and Midget features.
1997 - Won six USAC Sprint Car features and set fast time on five occasions.
1996 - Won the 46th Annual 'Little 500'.
1996 - Set non-wing sprint world record at Phoenix International Raceway.
1995 - TBARA Winged Sprint Car Champion
1992 - Awarded Little 500 'Rookie of the Race'
1990 - Won 24 of 28 TQ Midget feature events
1981 - Racing career begins in Go-Karting at age 7.