The black Speedway Motors 4x sprint car was built in 1974 by Don Maxwell for “Speedy” Bill Smith. Maxwell was very meticulous about details on the cars he built. As a result, this and his other cars tended to be very safe and handle good. His cars had a distinctive look with the shark nose hood, a Maxwell trademark.

This car raced only one time during the 1974 season and was wrecked in that first race by driver Bob Moore. In 1975, Ray Lee Goodwin was hired to pilot the machine and won several features throughout the Midwest before crashing at Knoxville, IA, midway through the year. Goodwin suffered an eye injury which ended his driving career in that crash.

Smith then hired Jan Opperman to take over driving duties and they did very well together. Bill’s biggest win of his career came on May 1, 1976, when “Opp” steered the car to a win over a stellar field of USAC drivers and cars in the nationally televised USAC 30-lap “Tony Hulman Classic” at Terre Haute's half-mile track.

Other drivers who sat in this famous car over the years it raced include: Lloyd Beckman, Bubby Jones, Joe Saldana, Ron Shuman and Doug Wolfgang.

Here are some other interesting facts about the car:
  • This is the original car; it has never been out of “Speedy” Bill's possession. After it was retired from competition, parts were robbed off of it to the point where it was little more than a bare frame at one time. John Gerloff restored it back to original.
  • It ran its first race on August 30, 1974 at the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln, with Bob Moore driving; that day ended in a crash. Its last race was July 8, 1978 at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, KS with Doug Wolfgang driving; Wolfgang won.
  • When Bill took the car to run USAC, he had to renumber it. USAC didn't allow alpha numbers, and only those owners finishing in the top ten could run the numbers 1 through 10 which corresponded with their placing the previous year. The number USAC assigned Bill was “64.” Bill had Jim Schuman cut a small 4x in the back of the tail in order to retain its identity.
  • The ratchet drive suspension adjuster to the left of the driver was something forced by Opperman, which proved to be a problem. Most drivers would overuse the device, then complain that the car wouldn't handle. When Maxwell quit putting the feature on his cars, most of the complaints went away.
  • The 4x sprint car wasn't always black. It was originally painted white with purple and gold trim, and wore that color until Ray Lee Goodwin crashed it at Knoxville in 1975. It was rebodied in plain white with gold numbers for the balance of 1975. In '76, it came out with its signature black and purple livery, than went back to white with purple and gold trim in 1977.
  • Some maintain that, going into the 1976 Hulman Classic race, Jan Opperman was an “outsider”, an “outlaw” in the eyes of the USAC crowd of the day, but that was only “kind of” true. Even though he had the reputation of being an outlaw, he had been a member of USAC since 1974. It was Bill Smith who was the outsider.
"The Race That Changed The World"
(Open Wheel, Oct. 2000)

If you ran sprint cars during the 1970's, you had two ways to find a race track. You could head out on your own to tracks where "outlaw racers" were allowed to compete with locals. Or you could be a member of the United States Auto Club, once the road to the Indy 500. Its structured programs and strictly enforced rules offered "equal" opportunities to all entrants whether the venue was Terre Haute, Eldora or other sanctioned tracks.

However, USAC's domination of the gentlemens side of sprint cars was being repeatedly challenged by new technology and the new faces of the day. Three of those faces were Bill Smith, Don Maxwell and Jan Opperman.

Race car driver and builder, the late Don Maxwell, came to Lincoln Nebraska in 1970 and began a race shop in the Haymarket district. The 4x car was built for Bill Smith by Maxwell late in the 1974 season. Bill recognized the extraordinary talents of the "racing preacher" Jan Opperman and had USAC and other national competition in mind when pairing Jan and the Maxwell car together.

In May of 1976, the Speedway Motors race team challenged the USAC stars at the Tony Hullman Classic in Terre Haute Indiana, an event shown on ABC's Wide World of Sports, "filling in" for the much ballyhooed Kentucky Derby. However the Classic stole the show because Jan led the feature from Lap 1 to the checkered flag and brought home $12,500 of USAC purse money at a time when feature wins typically paid under a grand! History was made that day.

USAC was put on notice that outlaw racing was a force to be reckoned with; a juggernaut that would soon become organized and dominate short dirt track racing. That domination continues today as The World of Outlaws.

Jan Opperman continued to climb the ladder of success but was cut short by several serious accidents. He passed away in 1997. Maxwell built extremely durable cars with cutting edge technology for many more years. Bill Smith ran many more exciting races trying all manner of modifications that would give the team an edge through most of the eighties. All the while keeping the black sprinter a significant element of racing history.
About Jan Opperman:

Jan Opperman, of Beaver Crossing, Nebraska, was one of the "Original Outlaws."

Opperman made history in 1976 by winning the Hulman Classic in Terre Haute, Indiana, which had a $12,000 purse. Televised on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, this was the first sprint car race ever to be shown live to a national audience.

Opperman passed away in 1997. His life’s work went to proving that people shouldn’t be judged by appearance but by deeds and levels of skill.
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1976 No. 4x Outlaw Sprint Car

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  • 1976 No. 4x Outlaw Sprint Car
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Race Car: No. 4x Sprint Car driven by Jan Opperman
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