30 Years: Remembering Rich Vogler

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Rich Vogler behind the wheel in 1978. (Bob Gates Photo Collection)
Rich Vogler behind the wheel in 1978. (Bob Gates Photo Collection)

Adored or vilified, and there are many who land on both sides of that sentiment, few can deny the ability, resolve and accomplishments of Rich Vogler.

“Rich was the most determined race driver who ever lived,” insisted Dick Jordan, the late USAC vice president of communications. “And that includes guys like Foyt and Andretti. For him, there was no second place. He was dedicated to winning races.”

Just before his death on July 21, 1990, Vogler mused about what others considered his over-the-top desire to win.

“I really wouldn’t describe it as having a desire to win,” he said, paused and continued. “That’s all I do. I don’t go to the race track to run second. In any race, whether it’s a qualifying race, a heat race, a semi or the feature, I go there to win everything. I don’t chase points and I don’t race for the money. I just race to win.”

A quick glance at his remarkable record verifies that Vogler’s words were more than mere bravado. He won 170 USAC races alone and accumulated in excess of 200 other feature victories. He earned five USAC midget championships and a pair of USAC sprint car titles. He was the first driver to win both championships in the same season.

Vogler was an eight-time winner of the famed Hut Hundred midget race at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track, a four-time winner of the midget portion of the 4-Crown Nationals at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway and a two-time Copper Classic victor at Phoenix Raceway. He also won the first Chili Bowl in 1987.

While tirelessly compiling that astonishing list of accomplishments, Vogler also managed to squeeze in five starts in the Indianapolis 500. Not bad for a guy who never seriously considered driving race cars full time until he was sitting on a roof, laying shingles for a living under a broiling summer sun.

That was 1969 and the 19-year-old wasn’t yet immersed in motorsports. He’d raced quarter midgets around his Glen Ellyn, Ill., home for a few years. When he outgrew the quarter midget, his dad decided to go racing with a midget of his own and recruited his son to help maintain it.

Their relationship was one Vogler considered life-defining. In fact, of all his storied victories, his two most memorable involved his father. The first was a midget race he won at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway with his father finishing second. The other was his 1980 Hut Hundred victory driving a car his dad built and owned.

“Our relationship,” Vogler explained, “was more influential than most father-son relationships. My father not only taught me to race, he taught me how to be self-sufficient, to depend only on myself. With racing, he taught me to drive, but more importantly how to work on a race car. And that’s helped make me as successful as I am.”

Graduating from gofer to driver, Vogler ran his dad’s car for a couple of years. Then in 1971, calling on that learned self-sufficiency, he went to work in Harry Turner’s Chicago race shop while driving Turner’s midgets.

He won the NAMARS championship for Turner, and in 1974 transitioned to USAC midgets. But in Vogler’s words, “I didn’t really do much with them. Maybe won a couple races. That’s it. So I decided to go sprint car racing.

“I went to Eldora without a ride for the first race of ’75,” continued Vogler, “and just stood around showing everybody I wanted to drive race cars.”

While standing around, Vogler noticed one car that was never taken off the trailer.

“I guess that should’ve been an indication about how good of car it was,” laughed Vogler. “But I talked to the owner and convinced him to let me drive it at Winchester the next weekend. They started 18 cars, I qualified 17th. Of course, the car broke right away. But that’s how I started driving sprint cars. I agreed to do something no one else would.”

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