:::::: Editorials ::::::

FILLING IN ON THE FLY by Lisa Richards

1-2-07-prettyflycover.jpgI apologize to any Geezer fans out there, but I’m high-jacking his
column!  I’m his daughter, Lisa, and I just returned from spending a
day with him at the Nitro Jam World Finals in Rockingham, NC.  I have
to preface this editorial with a little background about who I am. I’m
a Business Analyst for an e-commerce and logistics company which
basically means I’m half business professional and half geek.  I can
grep XML log files for transaction data and I can use SQL to join
tables to query the database.  I’m the Project Manager for some high
profile projects in our company, but I don’t know SQUAT about drag
racing!  That was the case until this weekend.   

Dad has been after me to attend a race for 2 or 3 years now but various
things have kept me from attending.  I’ve been trying to work with him
all summer to find a day when my schedule agrees with the IHRA
schedule.  Needless to say, he was very excited when it became clear
that I was finally attending a race.  He emailed me and IMed me several
times to tell me he would have 2 tickets waiting for me at the gate. 
Then I got a phone call at work on Friday to remind me again that I had
tickets waiting for me at the gate.  I got up early Saturday morning to
meet my friend, Brian, for the four-hour drive from Greenville, SC to
Rockingham, NC.  Before we even got out of town, I started getting
phone calls from the Geez asking if I was on the road yet.  It turns
out that it was a good thing that he checked in on a regular basis
because he gave us crappy directions.  Great photographer, crappy
cartographer.  Oh yeah…it took us about 3.5 - 4 hours to get there and
not 4.5 – 5 hrs like he said it would.  I figured after all these years
hanging out with race car drivers he would have learned to make good
use of that gas pedal by now.



This column is provided for me to document my travels and
experiences while traversing the country following drag racing. I have gone to
all of the major venues for both NHRA and IHRA events in addition to some of
the more obscure places like George Ray’s Wildcat HotRod drag strip in
Paragould, Arkansas. Although it was raining during my visit to George’s place
and all I got to do was look. I plan to go back and actually see a car go down
the track.

During the majority of my travels, it has been in a Chevy
Astro van that has affectionately become known as Rodney. Of course that is
after the comic Rodney Dangerfield, who always claimed that he got no respect.
Astro vans do not come to mind very often when you are talking about drag
racing; however, Rodney had a loyal fan following within the readership of
Torco's CompetitionPlus.com and this column. Once I started documenting my travels with
Rodney, it is amazing and humorous how many people would ask me how Rodney was


9-13-07densham.jpgI’ve been thinking about
this for some time, so I thought I’d put my musings down on paper.  Will drag racing go the way of other sports
where it’s all about money?  Can loyalty to
friends and teammates win over going with the highest bidder?  Do we still share a passion for what we do,
or has it become just a job?


When we were kids, we took
every chance to get together with our friends to play baseball, football or
basketball at the local park or street corner. 
Not because we thought we could make any money but because we could be
with our friends, doing what we loved to do. 
We played Little League or Pop Warner, not for the pizza or ice cream we
might get after the game, but because we loved what we did. We played high
school sports for the same reason and wore our lettermen’s jackets to show we
were proud of what we did and who our friends were. It was the same if you were
in a car club or a band. Now we hear of professional athletes who are already
making $10 million a year who want out of their contracts, not to be with
friends or even have a better chance of winning, but so they can make another
million dollars a year.  How much is too
much money, and where is the love of the game?

Drag racing began with the
love of cars. We enjoyed being with people with the same interests. When racing
became too expensive, and more work, we formed teams with our friends to
continue doing what we loved.  We knew
everything about our crews because they were our friends. When we went out of
town to race, we slept five in a room and ate hot dogs, but none of that
mattered because we were with our friends and got to do what we loved doing. It
was the way it had to be. Now we have teams that are so big, some owners don’t
know their crew guys names or even what their jobs are. The only thing we
require of a crew guy now is unbelievably long hours of work, leaving their
families for long periods of time, and no mistakes. If they leave or get fired,
oh well. They can be replaced.


9-11-07toronto.jpgNHRA Funny Car racer Jim Head summed it up best when referring to
particular tracks in drag racing, “There are givers and takers and this
one is a taker.”
Head’s comments were in reference to Maple Grove Raceway.
Head no longer runs on the IHRA tour but if he did, he might call the
Toronto Motorsports Park venue a taker. In the opinion of many, this
facility is a motorsports park in name only.
According to the vast majority of racers contacted by Torco’s
CompetitionPlus.com, the place is a dump with no improvements
apparently planned or announced the foreseeable future. That is unless
the IHRA does it for them in the days prior to the event.

The race packs the grandstands routinely, and they did this year, but is this clearly a get all we can get deal until next time? The IHRA packs the house for them. The IHRA stages a great race for the fans. But where does TMP's investment come into existence?
Five years of work in three days just don’t cut it any more. This has been the same song and dance since 2002.
Let’s take inventory.


sm_faithinthefastlane480x240.jpgBe patient; stand firm;
wait. Easily said—not so easily done. Patience is a virtue desired by all. And
yes, we all want it right now! But life doesn’t always operate according to our
time frame or our demands. 

I was very impressed by
John Force’s interview following his (first-for-the-year) Bristol victory—a race that itself had to be
scheduled a second time. John didn’t merely win a race. He learned a huge
lesson regarding patience and attitude. 

Patience is a difficult
issue as it relates to our fast-paced sport of championship drag racing.
Although it is a virtue highly regarded by many, it is still difficult to
relate to patience in our “pedal to the metal” approach to life. “You snooze,
you lose!” Every race fan knows that. 

One of the quotes that
has greatly tempered my anxiousness over the years is a statement by the late
Mahalia Jackson, who once said …"Lord, you may not always come when I call
you, but I know you'll always be on time!" Right on, Miss Mahalia. That quote has always spoken volumes to me
during my moments of impatience. 

Think about a farmer.
Farming requires a tremendous amount of patience. But have you ever noticed how
a farmer learns to wait. Does the farmer sit around doing nothing until it’s
time for harvest? No. Waiting to a farmer means actively tending to business
and constantly maintaining his fields and crops. There is an ongoing
preparation for the coming harvest. To a farmer, waiting with patience is by no
means passive. 


8-19-07asherupfront.jpgSome years ago, when the
NHRA national event schedule was such that the Brainerd race came right before
Indy, Connie Kalitta found himself face-to-face with an ESPN television camera
and reporter.  It was, if memory serves me on this, just prior to the
semifinal round, where Doug Kalitta was slated to face Connie’s son,
Scott.  The reporter wanted to know who was going to win the race.
“Who do ya think’s gonna win it?” Conrad rhetorically asked, rather
incredulously.  “Doug’s going for the championship, and Scott’s just out
here havin’ a good time.”
Okay, stop with the slings and arrows if we didn’t get the quote exactly right,
but those were the gist of Connie’s words.  In effect he was publicly
announcing that Scott was going in the tank, and Doug was going to the next
round.  Connie hadn’t been making light of his son’s efforts, but had
merely been pointing out that Scott had only competed in a few races that
season, and was certainly no factor in the championship chase, while Doug was a
serious player.
Switch the scene to the Gatornationals a few years later, where Connie was
again being asked the same question because team driver David Grubnic was to
face Doug Kalitta in the semifinal round.


tribute_05_edited-1.jpgI miss him so much.

My dad never drag raced -- never tuned a car,

But he held a crucial role in the sport. He
inspired me. But I will get back to him later in this article.

One would have to be totally blind to not see the
impact that fathers make on their children. The drag strip provides the perfect
opportunity for that union.

Proud fathers walk to the starting line to
witness their sons’ and daughters' heroics and vice versa. It’s a union that if I have to
explain it, you just wouldn’t understand it.

FATHER REVISITED by Roger Richards

1-2-07-prettyflycover.jpgThe lights on the Christmas tree seemed to sparkle with a greater luminance
and the gifts were piled higher around it. The bubbling giggles of the great
grandchildren and the glow of the lights were only eclipsed by the laughter of
my Dad and the glint in his 77-year-old eyes.

Samuel J. Richards was having one of the best Christmas celebrations we
could remember in recent years. All of his family rejoiced in his energy and
enthusiasm that surrounded him. The heart condition that had sapped his
strength and vitality for the last several years seemed to have been forgotten
as the presents were opened and the kids exploded into kisses for the grand old
man surrounded by the love from which he drew strength.


sm_faithinthefastlane480x240.jpgThere is an important
axiom in life that goes something like this: “As selfish behavior increases,
individual rights and freedoms diminish.” Allow me to explain.
often hear people reminisce about the “good old days” when you didn’t have to
lock your front door at night and you were never afraid of going for a walk in
the park on a warm summer evening.
The sad reality is that when a
few people become increasingly selfish in their disregard for the law and
personal rights of others, the individual freedoms of the whole are lessened. In
other words, as selfishness increases throughout a society of people, it
eventually affects the freedoms and rights of everybody. Let’s examine a
practical illustration of this principle.
I’m sure racers would
prefer to participate in race events where no fuel checks or engine teardowns
were imposed—where participants were trusted to be honest and to abide by the
rules of the sport. Reality might suggest, however, that I have been sniffing
too much nitro to think that such an occurrence could ever be possible. But the
point still remains.


1-2-07-prettyflycover.jpgI routinely mention that I consider myself as one of the lucky people in the world. One of the things that makes me lucky is that I am able to list Bret Kepner as one of the people I know and consider a friend. I stand in amazement at the depth of his memory of not only drag racing facts but of all things in general.
Recently I celebrated a birthday (57th in case you really care to know) and on one of the message boards, Kepner wished me a “Happy Birthday” from him and Thrush mufflers. I laughed so hard that I embarrassed people around me. Again, the amazing memory was apparent.
Quite some time ago, just after having become friends with Kepner, he and I were standing by the side of a track somewhere. You will have to ask him where and when…. I have no clue. As we stood there a car with a Clay Cams logo on the side came by. The logo is of Woody Woodpecker and I mentioned to Kepner that every time I see that logo I think of Viet Nam.
Kepner’s eyes glazed over for a bit and he just stared at me waiting for an explanation. So for the next several minutes I tried to explain the connection of that logo and Viet Nam.