He was born into a modest family, raised on farm chores amid a simple Ohio life. And then came the events that would make Brad Doty one of the most respected and beloved figures in American motorsports.
This series is about legends I have known, and I suspect Brad would immediately quash any description of him that includes the word “legend.”
I disagree; I have seen the effect he has on others, and his ability to inspire.
At any rate there can be no disputing the fact that Brad has provided all of us with a glimpse of how one finds the strength – and grace – to deal with the unthinkable.
They’re having a race in his honor on July 11 when the World of Outlaws sprint cars visit Attica Raceway Park for the 29th annual Ohio Logistics Brad Doty Classic. Brad is one of the promoters of the event, and I know he wouldn’t mind if we give the race a plug or two.
Brad burst upon the Sprint Car scene in 1981, when he earned Rookie-of-the-Year honors with the All Stars Circuit of Champions. The following season he joined the World of Outlaws, where he also won Rookie honors. Over the next few years he became one of the most popular drivers on the tour, known for his easy smile and warm interactions with fans across the country.
But his racing career came to a shattering end on July 23, 1988 when he was caught up in a violent crash at Eldora Speedway. He suffered a spinal injury that left him a paraplegic, and at age 31 he was forced to adapt to a new life, a new world, a new reality.
Brad soon returned to the sport in a new role: television analyst. Over the past 25 years he has brought considerable stature and respect to racing broadcasts on TNN, Speed TV, The Outdoor Channel, MAV TV, and other networks. When you came upon a broadcast featuring Brad’s commentary, there was – and is – a sense that this is an important race.
Life dealt Brad a cruel hand, stealing his ability to walk. Don’t think for one moment that he accepted his fate cheerfully; he struggled with a range of emotions as he adapted to life in a wheelchair. He managed to push through the haze of anger and bitterness to embrace life and all it has to offer, in whatever form.
The bottom line is that Brad Doty didn’t allow a bad thing to define him, and steal his joy. That easy, happy smile has never gone away, not for very long.
The most inspiring element of Brad’s story is how he rose up to go beyond the natural limitations of his injury. The wheelchair might have limited his mobility, but it could not limit his life and his living. He figured out how to use hand controls in an automobile, and he uses an electric cart that enables him to mow his grass.
He’s as much of a shop rat as he’s always been, crawling under a car to fix something or welding all sorts of different projects.
At the time of his accident, I did not know Brad well. I had watched him race quite a bit, and had interviewed him briefly a time or two. But our destinies were intertwined much more than we could have realized in those early years.
In 1998 I made the decision to leave the corporate world to focus full-time on motorsports writing. I figured I should write a book, because that’s what writers do, right?
I thought about various topics, and Brad’s story crossed my mind. I gave him a call and presented him with the idea of writing a book together, and after some reluctance he finally agreed to proceed.
“Nobody is going to be interested in reading about me,” he insisted.
I believed otherwise, and I’m delighted to say this: I was right.
Our finished project – Still Wide Open, published in November 1999 – proved to be a rousing success. People were fascinated with Brad’s story, in which he offered considerable candor and insight into his life.
Brad’s book was a very important episode in my life. It was my first book, and had it flopped I probably would have abandoned my dream of a full-time career and returned to the corporate world.
Still Wide Open began my association with Brad Doty, the legend. Yes, the legend.
Writing the book called for us to spend a great many hours together, and in the post-production phase we traveled together and did many book signings and appearances. I was amazed at the way people loved Brad; they lit up when they came face-to-face with him, eagerly sharing their respect and affection. Brad’s gentle personality and easy smile has allowed people to be immediately comfortable, and they always seem eager to shake his hand and exchange a greeting.
I figured out this much right away: everybody loves Brad Doty. Well, I suppose everybody might be an exaggeration, because – in today’s world of nasty voices – he has surely encountered a few haters. But I think you could fit all of them in a Toyota Prius and still have enough room for a case of beer.
In the years since Still Wide Open was published I have been fortunate to have a steady association with Brad. We worked together on many racing broadcasts, and we updated the book with a second publishing in 2011. Most of all, we have enjoyed an enduring friendship. I have had the privilege of meeting Brad’s family and many of his friends, and he likewise has come to know my family. Our visits and phone calls always include rumors and shop talk and differing opinions – he’s usually wrong and I’m right, but I can’t always get him to see that – and every time we finish our visit I’m feeling upbeat and more positive about life in general.
The funny thing is that, despite his long and productive role in the media, Brad still doesn’t realize that he has affected and inspired a significant number of people. His work on television and his columns in SprintCar and Midget Magazine continue to reach a significant audience, and his voice remains respected and relevant. But when someone tells him how much they admire his work, he seems surprised, even amazed. His humility is genuine and he is absolutely as grounded and down-to-earth as ever.
In a private moment Brad will admit that he wishes he could throw that damned wheelchair in the recycle heap. After nearly 30 years he still has to deal with an extra layer of work and preparation each day that the rest of us cannot fully appreciate.
Don’t kid yourself; if he could press rewind and make things turn out differently, he would. He has lived through many moments of sadness and resentment and bitterness. He’s human. However, he doesn’t dwell on shoulda-woulda-coulda, and he rolls on through life with a great attitude and a warm sense of humor.
Brad Doty, a legend? You bet he is. And then some.
Because no matter how you define the term, few people in motorsports have made such a significant impact on those around them. I’m saying this from a personal perspective: Brad has inspired me with his courage and humility and toughness and determination. Our travels together have proven that his influence goes well beyond his private circle of family and friends.
If you’re in the area, visit Attica Raceway Park on July 11 and say hello to my friend, Brad. Tell him I think he’s a legend. And don’t let him argue about it.