Pit Pass: Sheldon Haudenschild
Son of “The Wild Child” on his third year chasing the Outlaws and gaining experience
Text + Photos: Saroyan Humphrey
Spotlight | After a rainout last night at Tulare, California’s Thunderbowl Raceway, 26-year-old World of Outlaws sprint car driver Sheldon Haudenschild is anxious to get tonight’s action underway. It’s the second of a two-night stand at the Central California one-third mile high-banked dirt oval. While the track’s surface is undergoing its final stages of prep, the driver is passing time with fellow racer Kasey Kahne, standing in the back of the Stenhouse Jr./Marshall Racing’s well-equipped big-rig trailer parked in the bustling county fairgrounds pit area.
Sheldon is the son of veteran sprint car racer Jac Haudenschild, 60, a driver widely respected by racers and admired by fans. The elder Haudenschild, long nicknamed “The Wild Child” for his daring driving style, has compiled over 300 wins in more than 30 years as a driver. Based in Wooster, Ohio, the extended Haudenschild family has a multi-generation racing pedigree and is considered sprint car racing royalty.
Following in his father’s footsteps, and his 72 career Outlaw wins, Sheldon is in his third year competing with the Outlaws in 2019. Sheldon was the tour’s rookie of the year in ’17 and has picked up five main event wins along the way. Already a seasoned racer when he began driving the family-owned sprint car in Ohio at 16, Sheldon began his racing journey riding dirt bikes at age 4. He’s now working to reach the top of the highly competitive Outlaw series.
* * *
You won at Bakersfield and Skagit here on the West Coast last year…
Haudenschild: Yeah, Bakersfield was a good night, and to win Skagit was good. It’s been a goal of mine to win an Outlaw show here at Tulare. Skagit is another one of my favorite tracks. All of these West Coast tracks kinda fit my style. I like coming out here.
So, is racing in the family’s genes?
Haudenschild: Man, I don’t know. If you look back at it, you’d kinda think so, but I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
I think my driving style is a little bit similar [to my dad’s]. But I’m definitely different in my own way. When I look at my dad, he still impresses me every time he goes out.
He put on a good show at Tulare last year, winning Trophy Cup.
Haudenschild: Yeah, definitely; he kicked ass, for sure.
Are you living the dream out here on the Outlaw tour?
Sheldon Haudenschild: Yeah, definitely. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s how I grew up. It’s been our goal, to go racing with the Outlaws, and now that I’m here, I’m just trying to take advantage of it.
How’s it going with the Stenhouse/Marshall team?
Haudenschild: Anytime that you can come to a team that has all the equipment that you need, the funds that you need, the crew that you need, it makes a big difference. It’s huge. It takes a lot of stress off me, not having to worry about things because I know it’s taken care of. I just have to focus on doing my part.
This is year three for me on the Outlaw tour. You can’t pay for experience, and a lot of these Outlaws have experience at a lot of these different tracks. So you think, going in on your third year, you got it down, but you look, and these guys have been doing it for 20 years.
Tell me about family’s racing heritage. You’re a third generation racer …
Haudenschild: Fourth generation. Everybody was a racer. My mom’s dad, Max Sweeney, you know—the Sweeneys—they were Ascot [Park] racers: non-wing sprint cars, no-cage sprint cars. He ended up getting hurt in a midget [in 1979]. And there was my dad’s dad [John]. My mom’s brother [Mike]. My dad’s brother [Ed]. My dad, obviously. My cousins [Steve Ostling and Verne Sweeney].
Our family is connected in racing. So, my dad’s brother married a Smith, who is related to the Jacobs. We’re a big family of racers.
My dad’s dad just raced a little bit around home and then he had two kids, so he didn’t really race all that much … and then my dad and his brother raced a lot.
I saw my dad race, of course. I grew up watching him. But I never got to see my grandpas race, or Uncle Mike [Sweeney] race. I got to see my Uncle Ed race a modified a little bit around home in his later years, but not a sprint car.
Did you know early that you wanted to be a race car driver?
Haudenschild: We didn’t really make any plans, but when I was 4 years old we bought a dirt bike and I raced dirt bikes pretty much every weekend until I turned 16. My dad built a sprint car and we did a little test session. I liked it and we went racing the next weekend. 2009 was my first year and we raced a full year in the 360s around home. I never got on a dirt bike to race after that.
How did your experience from dirt bikes transfer to driving a sprint car?
Haudenschild: I definitely wouldn’t change it. I think it’s a great way to learn different skills. I think any dirt bike rider could get in a sprint car and do pretty well, pretty quickly, and pick it up.
I think with a dirt bike you gotta have a lot of throttle control and eye-hand coordination and knowing where your vehicle, or bike, is at. Riding a dirt bike is really hard and when you get in a sprint car it’s a different really hard. It’s mental, just figuring it out and trying to get comfortable. That’s the key, I think.
How old were you when you first started going to the races with your family?
Haudenschild: I was in the womb. (laughs) I think there are King’s Royal [at Eldora, Ohio] pictures where my mom is pregnant with me. I’ve been at the races since day one and watching my dad every race. My first memories are playing in the pits, riding my bike, just messing around.
So, growing up, when did you understand that your dad was such a talented driver?
Haudenschild: To me, he was always just dad. Obviously, I knew his accomplishments and everything like that. But once I got in a sprint car and realized how hard it really is and then you look and see all his accomplishments that he’s had, it’s pretty breathtaking. Even now, it’s my 10th year racing a sprint car and I still look back at the things my dad’s done … it makes me appreciate it a lot. Especially being your dad.
I just try and do the best that I can, and dad’s always happy no matter what. It’s been a lot of help with my dad, obviously. But I think, at the end of the day, it comes down to what I’m capable of doing, or not doing.
What sort of racing advice has your dad offered you over the years?
Haudenschild: I don’t know that he’s given me any advice. I think he’s just let me learn on my own, which I think is the best thing you can do. You see a lot of people kinda telling kids what to do. My dad never really told me anything. He just kinda let me learn on my own and gave me little pointers here and there, kinda steer me in the right direction.
I think the best thing was just watching my dad for all those years. That was probably the best learning tool that I had.
You grew up in Ohio, a great place for sprint car racing…
Haudenschild: Yeah, it’s a great place. I think Ohio, Pennsylvania and California are all really similar but in different ways. The local competition is really good with a lot of good tracks and you gotta learn quick when you race with the locals who have been racing at the same track for 10 or 15 years.
What was your home track when you were starting out?
Haudenschild: When I first started, I just kinda raced whereever I could, whenever. One of our goals was to race every Eldora race that we could. We didn’t really stick to a schedule, just showed up. It was Wayne County, Attica, Fremont, Eldora, Sharon, all around Ohio.
And you were driving the family car when you first started?
Haudenschild: Yeah, I raced the family car until 2017, pretty much. I had a couple of rides here and there, on and off. It wasn’t full time. I think I did three years total, not in the family cars. But we always had it ready to go, if I needed it.
I got a ride in 2011 or ’12 in Pennsylvania, which I think was a lot of help. I raced Williams Grove, Lincoln, Port Royal, Grand View, all them places, with obviously, really tough competition. Those guys don’t cut you any slack at Williams Grove. I went over there as a 16-year-old. I think I led some laps and finished third. It was a local night but I was really happy. For 16 … just to go there and get laps, I think it helped me tremendously.
Do you have a way of approaching a track where you don’t have a lot of experience?
Haudenschild: We just try to keep up with it and I keep up with my crew chief [Tyler Swank] and see what the track is doing. Tyler’s been around racing for as long as I’ve been alive. He definitely has a lot of experience and knows what’s going on.
Do you have a favorite part of the country while you’re traveling?
Haudenschild: No, not really. I try to make every night my favorite night. There are so many good tracks all over; it’s hard to have a favorite. We go to a lot of different places and so many have a different style to them and that makes it fun in different ways.