10 Questions with…Al Laufer

Sportsman Champion, 1975
Slinger Speedway Wall of Fame, Class of 2019

How did you get into racing?
When I was a junior in high school, Terry Helmbrecht was a senior. He brought an Amateur racecar to Auto Mechanics. I grew up in Hartford in a family of 11, five miles from the Slinger Speedway but had never heard of it. My dad was all baseball, golf. Terry brought that car to Auto Mechanics and right then and there I knew I was going to be a racecar driver. So, my senior year, me and a couple of friends built our own Amateur car. {Do you remember your first race?] I remember all my races. But, in the Amateurs they lined you up by numbers, you didn’t time. I remember I was like in the third row inside and he just throws the green flag and we go…from a total stop. I remember my foot was shaking on the clutch so bad, but we got going and we got to the first corner and somebody hit me and I thought, “I can do that too.

That was in 1971. In ‘72 we built another Sportsman car and ran the ‘72 and ‘73 Pro Star Milwaukee Modified circuit. The first year we finished seventh in points there out of about 115 cars. Then Slinger went to pavement in 1974 and I was the first one to drive on that racetrack with a racecar. When I pulled out of the pits and went down that banking, I thought I was going to tip over. In 1976 I won the Sportsman Championship, I believe I won 12 of the 15 races. In 1977 we built a new Sportsman car and had three clean sweeps in a row. The track didn’t have many Late Models, so Tony Strupp gave me a set of used tires to bolt on and told me I should run with the Late Models. I finished fourth in the first Late Model feature. At the end of that year I quit until 1982 because I started a trucking company.

Then we got what would be a Super Late Model today and went back in 1982 in a Super Late because I loved racing and I wanted to go back when I had the money to do it right. I’m a firm believer when you master one division you have to go to the next because time will run you over. We dibbled around in that running 30-40 times a year, we went everywhere, from ‘82 through ‘93. I stopped because I had kids that were in sports and I couldn’t do three things at one time. In racing, I was always the most proud of every time I got in the car, with the guys that helped me, we always had a shot to win. With kids and everything else pulling on me, I couldn’t give 100% to it, so it was time to walk away. Then I moved Reiser down south and helped him on the Busch team and Kenseth came along…did that until the end of 2003 and now here we are. Now I just like sitting in the stands.

Who do you need to thank from your racing days?
Crew: Pat McIntee, Greg Hefter, Mike Daniels, Dave Hahn, Steve “Smoke” Opetz, Mike Indermuehle. There were a lot of them, but these were the big players from day one.
Sponsors: Badgerland Car Wash Equipment was with me for a long time. Coachwork Auto Body was another one. Laufer trucking was everything else – Al Laufer sponsored it.
Anyone else: My wife for letting me do it. Fay Hendricks for doing the most famous race write-ups. She’s been there every week for 50 years. Fay’s husband Jim was a great driver; I had a lot of fun hanging out with him. He was a Sportsman superstar.

What is your favorite racing memory at Slinger?
There were a lot of them. I won two of the three TV races. I would have won all three, but I was nice. I almost won the Nationals twice, but didn’t close the deal. Racing was the best 25 years of my life. I learned one thing: if you can win at racing, you can win at anything if you put your mind to it and work at it. The more people tell you you can’t do it, the harder you work at it. There are no free handouts.

How did you get your car numbers?
Number 216 was the first one on the dirt; then we finished seventh at Hales Corners so that’s where that one came from. I always liked Larry Detjens and the way he had his 25’s on his cars, so I put his number on. We painted it on the same way he did; he was a hell of a racer. Then Scott Wimmer called and asked if I minded if he took the 25, and I said, “It’s yours” and gave it back to him.

What was your first street car?
A red ‘65 Plymouth Fury four door. [What happened to it?] It was my dad’s; he traded it in.
My first engine for my Sportsman car came out of my ’66 Barracuda that I wrecked.

According to our records, you have 16 wins and 16 fast times at Slinger, including wins in Sportsman, Hobby Stock, Super Late Models, and Pickup Trucks! Which division was your favorite?
Super Lates. Everybody always asks, “Why don’t you get a Vette or get something fast?” Because after running the Supers, there’s nothing else like it. You can take all your new corvettes and this and that, but it’s not the same as running an inch apart and going whatever the speed was…there’s nothing else like it. Getting an inch ahead every lap, every lap, every lap, and not messing up. Billy Johnson and Fuzzy Fassbender said always put the car back on the trailer the same way you took it off and you’ll make money. There’s no money in wrecking.

So, about those pickup truck races at Slinger…?
I won them all but one. Andy Wendt beat me in the last one, but after I got done with him his back bumper was somewhere close to his rear end. I couldn’t pass him, but I sure could hit him. When you got done racing Late Models, you unhooked the trailer and ran the pickup races with it. That paid more money than the other races did; then we sucked it all up at the Timber Inn.

Your first win in a Super Late Model was the Pat Schauer Memorial. Was that meaningful to you?
Oh yeah, that was the first year after he died. He was winning everything. Pat’s kids were there with me in Victory Lane that night.

You and your brother Joel both raced at the same time, what was that dynamic like?
Competitive.. We had the same shop awhile, in the Sportsman days, but after that we were on our own. I started with the Amateur car and then I got a job at Chrysler in Hartford, which was second shift. Joel asked if he could borrow my car to go to Beaver Dam, and then he got hooked. So he started after me, but not by a lot.

Which Slinger driver (past or present) do you respect the most?
I’d probably go with Rob and John Reiser, the reason being I blew an engine up on a Sunday night before the Nationals and they were gracious enough to borrow me one. I had fast time and almost won the shit on their engine. Also Al Schill because he was the Kyle Larson of his era. He could drive anything and win in it. He never got mad and he was probably out there doing it for 40 years. He still shows up with a beer in his pocket. But I would say there isn’t a one of them I don’t …they were all good.