By RICHIE MURRAY
Dave Steele, a two-time USAC Silver Crown champion and one of the United States Auto Club’s most accomplished drivers during the 1990s and 2000s, died Saturday night, March 25 after a crash on the opening lap of a Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series-sanctioned event at Bradenton, Florida’s Desoto Speedway. He was 42 years old.
Steele ranks 14th on USAC’s national win list with 60 victories between 1996 and 2007. The Tampa, Florida native was dominant on the pavement tracks, which accounted for all 60 of his USAC National wins. Despite only competing in half the races, or less, on the schedule throughout most of his career, Steele’s win totals rank in the top echelon of USAC’s record book. His 16 Silver Crown wins are the third most all-time while his 26 Sprint Car victories rank 15th and his 18 Midget wins put him 35th on the list.
“It’s hard to put the loss of Dave Steele into words,” USAC series director Levi Jones stated. “He was a once-in-a-lifetime talent on the track, but even more impressive was the man, the dad and husband he was. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
In both 2004 and 2005, Steele ran the full USAC Silver Crown schedule and would reach the pinnacle of the sport by capturing back-to-back series titles. Steele was victorious in three consecutive Silver Crown races during the summer of 2005 at Virginia’s Richmond International Raceway, Colorado’s Pikes Peak International Raceway and the Milwaukee Mile in Wisconsin. To this day, he is the last driver to accomplish that feat in a single season.
Steele burst onto the national scene when he relocated to the Midwest prior to the start of the 1996 season where he became an instant success. His first USAC National Sprint Car start at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas resulted in a complete sweep of the night’s program after posting the fastest qualifying time, winning his heat and leading the final 14 laps to take his first career USAC victory.
From that point forward, Steele gained a reputation as the man to beat on the pavement. He won a staggering 12 USAC features at Indianapolis Raceway Park (1 Silver Crown, 6 Sprint, 4 Midget and 1 Midget special event) during his career. His first USAC National Midget win came during the “Night Before the 500” at the .686-mile oval in 1998. In 2002, Steele put on one of the most memorable performances in USAC history when he won two National Midget features in one night at IRP. After winning the first feature, Steele started the second event from the 22nd position. Quickly cutting his way through the field, Steele took the lead by lap 12 and, by the end of the 25-lap feature, was $50,000 richer. He remains the most recent driver to win two USAC National Midget points races in a single day.
Steele stands behind only Jack Hewitt and Brian Tyler on the USAC Silver Crown career win list. Yet, no driver has led more laps or owns more pavement wins (16) in the series than does Steele. The first of which came in the grand opening at the Memphis (Tenn.) Motorsports Park in 1998, but it was the tricky one-mile Phoenix International Raceway that became Steele’s personal ATM. Miraculously, he captured the Silver Crown portion of the “Copper World Classic” five consecutive years from 2002 to 2006! In addition, Steele scored a “Copper World” Midget feature victory in 2002, 2006 and 2007.
The accolades for Steele within USAC are nearly endless. He was a two-time winner of the “Turkey Night Grand Prix” at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway in 2001 and 2003. He was a force on the Indiana high banks, winning eight Sprint features at Winchester Speedway and three times at Salem Speedway. He captured three Silver Crown races at Richmond, Va. in a four-year span between 2002 and 2005.
Steele won at least one race in all three of USAC’s national divisions in the same season on six occasions (1998, 2001-2005), the most in club history. His last USAC-sanctioned victory came in the 2009 “Little 500” Sprint Car race at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway, a grueling 500-lap event that he also won in 1996. Additionally, he was a five-time pole sitter for the race and finished in the runner-up spot in the two most recent editions in 2015 and 2016. The 2014 “Little 500” Hall of Fame inductee finished in the top-five in 10 of his 16 starts and led a total of 1,589 laps (third all-time).
Steele was a three-time Tampa Bay Area Racing Association Sprint Car champ in 2005, 2009 and 2013. He also made his way into other racing avenues with the Indy Racing League, where he made three starts in 1998, as well as NASCAR’s Busch Grand National Series (now Xfinity Series) in which he made a pair of starts during the 2000 season.
USAC extends its heartfelt condolences to Dave Steele’s family and friends.
Information on funeral services and where you can make contributions to the Steele family will be announced soon.