Greg Weld, KC’s wheel man, dies at 64
The passing of Greg Weld, a Kansas City-born driver and auto-racing entrepreneur who died of a heart attack Monday at age 64, will make the mood much more somber this week at the famed Knoxville Nationals in Iowa.
That’s according to Bob Baker, executive director of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, whose phone has been constantly ringing and whose office has been besieged during this hectic racing week.
On Monday, Baker said only a few of the callers and visitors wanted to talk racing. The majority wanted to talk about a person.
“They are talking about Greg,” Baker said.
The Knoxville Nationals is a sprint-car racing event, often described as the Super Bowl of sprint-car racing, where more than 100 drivers compete for the top spot. It’s an event Greg Weld won in 1963. Fans and competitors journeying to Knoxville this week will no doubt be talking about Weld because of the major role he played in the sport.
Weld started his career in racing as a driver. He drove sprint cars in the 1960s in the U.S. Auto Club series. Weld won 21 USAC sprint-car races and also was the USAC sprint-car champion in 1967.
He also drove in the Champ Car series, which was sanctioned by USAC at the time, in the 1960s and ’70s. He made one start in the Indianapolis 500, qualifying 28th and finishing 32nd in 1970.
“He was as good as they get,” said Cecil Taylor, longtime Weld friend and former crew member for A.J. Foyt. “Foyt, everybody had the greatest regard for him. He looked like Joe College when you met him, but when he got on the track, he was a driver.”
Weld’s family was involved in racing, and Greg drove at the top Kansas City-area tracks of the day — Olympic, Riverside and Lakeside.
“He was pretty darn good,” said Marc Olson, the current owner of Lakeside Speedway. “The family was good. You could see it (driving talent) ran in the family.”
Baker, also from Kansas City, said when Weld would show up to race in Kansas City that “it was huge.”
It was huge, also, when Weld would head up to the dirt-racing mecca of Knoxville.
“When he came to Knoxville, he was a Kansas City hot shoe who came to take the money out of Knoxville,” Baker said. “And he did that a lot.”
It was during his days as a driver that Weld became a businessman. The company he founded in 1967 with $2,300 in winnings, Weld Wheel Industries, would come to produce racing wheels that became the industry’s gold standard.
According to Baker, Weld got into that business out of necessity.
Weld had to slow his driving career when he couldn’t get wheels for his car. His engineer father told him he should build his own wheels. Weld did just that. Soon, everybody wanted Weld wheels on their cars.
Two-time Sprint Cup series champion Tony Stewart demanded Weld wheels three years ago, when Baker was working for Weld.
Baker said that Stewart broke a wheel during a race. He got out of his car and told crew chief Greg Zipadelli to get better wheels.
“Zipadelli called Taylor (Weld, who was working at the company) an hour later,” Baker said. Not long after that, a couple of trucks loaded with Weld wheels were on their way to Stewart’s Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Baker reports that Stewart could not have been happier.
Shortly thereafter, however, Weld Wheels got out of the business of making wheels for NASCAR.
“Couldn’t make it profitable,” Baker said.
The timing of Weld’s passing was not lost on those who knew him.
Taylor, who used to attend the Knoxville Nationals with Weld and sit in his suite, kind of chuckled about that timing.
“Yeah, kind of ironic, isn’t it?” Taylor said.
Greg Weld was a personal friend of Ryan Pobanz, he will be missed.
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