Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part story. Check back tomorrow for part two of our interview with Mark Richards. Click here to read part one.
Rocket Chassis is one of the most successful dirt late model car builders of all time.
With more than 5,000 cars built since the company was founded by Mark Richards and Steve Baker in 1991 and countless wins and championships among the accolades earned by competitors wheeling Rocket-branded equipment, it’s difficult to find a company that has been more successful on dirt during the last 20 years.
Much of that success has been achieved by Rocket1 Racing, the company’s house car, which has been driven by the likes of Davey Johnson, Tim Hitt, Josh Richards and Brandon Sheppard.
Mark Richards is the reason behind that success, and SPEED SPORT recently caught up with him to find out how he got involved in racing, where the idea to create Rocket Chassis came from and much more.
SPEED SPORT: How has the coronavirus impacted your business?
Richards: Basically, the racing world has stopped. Three weeks ago, our state shut down nonessential businesses. We’re hoping to get back going here before long because we still have cars to build and we’re always backlogged. Right now, we’ve got about eight to 10 weeks worth of work to do to get all the cars out that are still on order that people have deposits on.
People are still calling about getting them, but we’re in a holding pattern here while we’re shut down. I’ve got I think 15 people laid off. We’re hoping that on the first of the month (May 1) we can go back and get those cars built and, hopefully, before too long we can start seeing some racing. It’s gonna be a long summer if we don’t.
SPEED SPORT: You’ve had a lot of success with Brandon Sheppard recently as well as your son, Josh Richards. What makes those two such great race car drivers?
Richards: I think either one of them will agree with me, it’s not just the driver, it’s the team and the driver is part of that team. As long as you accept this as a team and it’s not one person … I always use Bill Belichick’s (New England Patriots coach) analogies. You’ve got to give up a little bit of your individuality to be part of a team and to be successful. I stress that here all the time. Those are the kind of reminders in the bathroom in the Rocket1 shop. I’ve got Bill Belichick quotes up on the wall. I think that if you accept this as a team when you come here and that’s driver, crew chief, tire guy, crew members, and even me as the owner. I’ve got to accept it as a team effort. I think the success that came over the last four years has been incredible. This team’s won since the beginning of 2016 more than $2.5 million dirt racing. I would be surprised if there’s anybody that’s done more than that dirt racing in the last four years.
We have a program that runs like clockwork. What I mean by that is we go racing, we come back in Monday morning. Everybody’s up getting it and by five, six o’clock in the evening, everything’s cleaned. The cars are clean. The trucks and trailers are clean and immaculate. Everything’s put away in the shop. Tuesday morning, they start back at 8:30 or 9 a.m. They basically go through that car, whatever we damage we got for the weekend, gets fixed. The maintenance part of it gets done and that car is rebuilt back to where it was before it left to go to the race track. So that is part of that success.
The other part of it is each guy does his job and it’s not a bunch of different opinions what we’re going to do. I’ve been doing this since 1973, so I was 13 years old when I started. When you do something long enough, you should have a little bit of an idea how it should work. I guess my point is that I’ve been able to do it with a bunch of good drivers over the years. I’ve been around a bunch of good people. I’m able to basically use that experience and point the crew chiefs, the tire guy, the driver in the right direction. It’s allowed me to be better at my job because I’m not doing the work on the car. The crew chief does that and I’m not getting tires ready because I’ve got a guy doing that. The little odd jobs that I used to run around here doing, we’ve got a crew guy that does that. We have a driver that accepts constructive criticism to become better.
That is another challenge, to find somebody who will accept constructive criticism and use it to be better. I think we’ve got the best guy in the country for that. Brandon Shepard is without a doubt the best driver I’ve ever coached. He learns everything you teach him. Whenever we do have our talks that he needs to change some things that he’s doing, it isn’t like he holds a grudge or a vendetta to go out and show me he’s going to do it his way. He does it the way that you ask him to do it.
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