There’s been a noticeable name missing from super late model races at New Smyrna Speedway this season. For the first time since 1973, former champion David Rogers is unable to race.
Rogers, who won the NASCAR weekly series national championship in 1994, was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and has been unable to not only race, but even go to the track while undergoing chemotherapy.
Rogers has been a staple in the racing world, not just in Florida, but across the country. New Smyrna, a half-mile oval just south of the “World Center of Racing,” Daytona International Speedway, has been his home for much of his storied career, a career in which he’s won somewhere between 600 and 700 feature races, New Smyrna track championships, and regional championships in more than 40 years on the track.
“We’ve won way more championships that I can talk about or that I can count,” Rogers said. “We’ve won lots and lots of races.”
Rogers recalls one season in which he and his team traveled to compete in 106 races, often times leaving out of Orlando on a Friday afternoon and traveling to Savannah, Georgia on a Friday night, competing somewhere like Myrtle Beach on Saturday night, and then making the trip west to either Kingsport or Nashville, Tennessee for a Sunday show. All while making sure they were back in time to go to work on Monday morning.
“We used to do some pretty crazy stuff, as all racers back in those days did,” he said. “We raced a lot.”
The 1994 season still stands out to Rogers as his most memorable. That season he went a perfect 22-for-22 in wins. His biggest competition for the national championships, Jack Sprague, had 21 wins, and needed Rogers to lose on the final race of the season to lock up the championship.
“We had a pair of rainouts so we were running double races on Saturday night, and then Sunday we run a race to make up for the 22 races and Jack brought his car,” Rogers said. “He couldn’t better his points, but if he beat me that would put me with a loss just like he was. In the Saturday night deal he didn’t win, he couldn’t beat me, and so that Sunday he flew Freddie Query down, and Freddie drove Jack’s car to see if he could beat us and he couldn’t beat us. So we won 22 out of 22, ended up winning the region and then we ended up wining the national championship because of that.
“If things would have worked out a little different, if I had lost a race, then Jack Sprague would have won the national championship instead of me. But as it came out we ended up wining the national championship. It was a big deal. It was super neat for me and all the guys who help me because all the guys that work on my stuff always have just been volunteers. A couple times over the years we’ve had some kind of full time employees but never a so-to-speak crew chief team that we had to pay to keep the cars going. It’s always been more of a hobby and volunteer type deal. So that was pretty special to us.”
All of those racing memories make this season away from the track that much harder for Rogers. He joked that is wife has him on “house arrest,” though he has been able to get out and go to the race shop a few times.
“It’s really, really bothering me that I can’t,” Rogers said. “That’s been as much of a stress point of anything that’s going on is not being able to be around and going to races.”
Rogers won the Late Model – now Super Late Model – portion of the World Series of Asphalt Racing at New Smyrna in 1987 and again in 1999 and 2001. This year, as his illness forced him to step away, Rogers’ No. 11 was on the track with Bubba Pollard behind the wheel. Pollard, who like Rogers has found considerable success on the short tracks, piloted the car to the week-long championship.
Racing has always been a hobby for Rogers, albeit a very important one. During the day he runs a small used car business that has been family owned in Orlando since 1955.
Rogers started racing at a young age, during a time when he was just out of high school and most of his competition was in their 30s, 40s, or 50s.
The sport has always been important to him.
“When I got bit by the racing bug, it bit me hard, and I guess I have a racing tapeworm that I’ll never get rid of,” he said.
Working on his own race car, building friendships within the sport, and being around the people and fans has been a big part of what Rogers enjoyed most about the sport. He’s also been a big proponent of helping out the younger generations.
One of the things Rogers has found since his diagnosis was that the racing community has been a big source of support as he goes through treatments. He said well-wishes have come from across the country, and hearing from fans and those within the sport has given him a lot of strength in his fight.
“It’s been really amazing. We’ve been stock car racing and been around stock cars and race tracks basically Friday and Saturday nights all my life so to speak,” he said. “To find out all the people that knew God and prayed and all that is kind of a special deal because there’s been so many people reaching out and touching me and being part of my situation.
“I’ve heard tons and tons of stories that I enjoy hearing. Some sad and some not so sad, but that part of it has been amazing to me. How big the community is and how widespread it is.”
And while Rogers may be away from the track right now, he’s already making plans to get behind the wheel soon, maybe even once or twice before the end of the season.
After more than 40 years and hundreds of races, there’s not much that can keep the legend away from the track for long.
“The first thing obviously is to get well and heal up and get to where I have a quality of life again, and when that time comes, then yea I plan on trying to come back racing,” he said. “I don’t see any reason that I can’t.
“I really need something to help me push and dig out of the holes sometimes that I get in both mentally and physically to try to get through this chemotherapy stuff, because it’s really tough. It’s a tough deal, but that’s one of my many goals. First thing is health and family, and then I plan on racing because racing is my life.”