One of the most accomplished drivers in dirt-track Modified stock-car racing history, Will Cagle (March 24, 1938) was known for his unique ways of getting the mechanical and mental edge on his competition, and for also being a respected racing official.
Cagle began racing in his native Tampa, Florida, in 1953 at the age of 15 and came to the Northeast in 1959 because he heard tales of more racing and increased purses. However, upon arrival in the region he found that his 1936 Chevy coupe was some 350 pounds heavier than the cars that he would be racing against. But once he learned the “ins and outs” of Northeast racing, Cagle and his signature No. 24 Modifieds were usually running at the head of the pack.
The 1960 Sportsman champion at Alcyon Speedway in Pitman, New Jersey, Cagle – who also drove Lucky Jordan’s famed No. 2 Modifieds and the No. 12 1955 Chevrolet Jordan built for Daytona International Speedway in his Riverton, New Jersey, shop – first raced in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Then, in the winters, he went back home and won 1962 Super Modified titles in Georgia and at Golden Gate Speedway in his hometown.
But in 1965 the “Tampa Terror” started racing on the “hard clay” at Orange Country Fair Speedway in Middletown, New York, and between 1966 and 1970 he won five straight OCFS Modified titles and 46 features, including four Eastern States 200s (1966, 1968, 1970 & 1971).
In 1966, Cagle put an asphalt setup under his dirt car and won the Race of Champions on the old one-mile Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway. He then won the dirt-track Modified titles at the old Nazareth (Pa.) Raceway in 1967 and at the old East Windsor (N.J.) Speedway in 1969.
In addition to Modified racing, Cagle competed in two USAC Championship races in Gene White’s No. 12 Chevy-powered entry and was ninth in the 1970 Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. And he was eighth the 1978 USAC Silver Crown Dirt Car Salt City 100 at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse in the No. 55 Pizza Hut entry.
Cagle also raced in three (1960, 1964 & 1965) Modified-Sportsman events on Daytona’s 2.5-mile high-banked oval and was ninth in 1965 in his No. 35 1960 Pontiac.
And he was sixth in the No. 66 AMC Gremlin in the 1975 Permatex 200 Modified race on Daytona’s 3.85-mile infield road course.
Beginning in the early 1970s, Cagle was a regular on New York’s DIRT Modified circuit and won: 53 races and six track titles at Canandaigua; 70 races and five championships at Rolling Wheels in Elbridge; and, 84 races and three track titles at Cayuga County Fair Speedway in Weedsport. In all, Cagle won 26 track championships, three Mr. DIRT titles (1976, 1978 & 1979) and four consecutive (1974-1977) Super DIRT Series titles.
“Wiley Will” was also one of the first drivers to use psychology to his advantage as he would often direct attention away from something new on his No. 24s by covering another portion of the car with a rag or tarpaulin to give the other racers something else to think about.
In one of his more unusual adventures, Cagle gave legendary actor and talented race-driver Paul Newman a private “test session” on June 3, 1976, in his No. 24 Chevy-powered Pinto at the then-named Weedsport (N.Y.) Speedway.
Cagle retired from racing in 1985 with more than 400 victories after suffering a severe leg injury when a driveshaft broke during a Modified race at Cayuga County. He then became the General Manager at Orange County from 1986 through 1997, and also promoted Florida’s East Bay Raceway and USA International Speedway.
Will Cagle then returned to racing in 2007 – with the same intensity but on a more fun-style basis – in a scaled-down Masters Class Legends coupe version of his No. 24.