SPEED SPORT: What’s the hardest part about being a dirt late model team owner?
Richards: At the level we race at, it would probably be the travel. I think sometimes the people don’t understand, fans don’t understand and I think there are times the series don’t understand what it takes to do this. The time away from home, the sacrificing you make and the demand that it puts on you to be on the road 180 to 200 nights a year. That’s basically, I’d say, the hardest thing there is about this, the travel part of it. It’s a necessary evil, and it comes along with it. There’s not much we can do about it.
SPEED SPORT: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in dirt late model racing since you started Rocket Chassis in 1991?
Richards: The technical side of it is leaps and bounds different than it was in 1991. It’s not even close. I guess where we’re at today as far as adjustments to a car compared to what we used to do, once you learn it, it’s way easier. But the problem is getting people to understand this new technology in the car. Obviously, there are cost factors in there, but if you go back and figure out what the cost of everything was in ’91 and the cost of today, obviously the numbers are higher today, but in relationship to the average dollar value, everything has gone up.
It’s just a different time compared to what things were back in the ’20s or ’30s. It was different in the ’50s from what it was in the ’20s and ’30s. Then from the ’50s to the ’90s it was different. From the ’90s to 2020 the cost of everything has changed. So this is part of it. Truthfully, the top level is really in a good place. Late model racing at that level is very professional now. I think the fans get to see a quality show just about every time at that level. Big events are doing well.
SPEED SPORT: Did you ever dream the company would become as established as it is?
Richards: I never dreamed that it would get to this point because I worked a long time and my dad always told me this after he accepted me being in this business before he died in ’92; he would always tell me that you’re not going to be able to make it if you’re going to be welding every day. You’re going to have to run the rest of this business.
For a lot of years, I just worried about the job at hand. What I mean by that is I did whatever needed to be done. I didn’t really know a quitting time. So it’s not like my guys I have now, they go home at five or six o’clock. I understand now that’s how to run a business. In order to have good, quality employees and people that you can count on, you can’t work around the clock because eventually they’re going to be gone. They’re not going to keep up.
I did it because I wanted to make it in this business, because I wanted to build something that my dad told me I couldn’t do. I wanted to prove to him that I could make a living in racing. That was my encouragement. It still is my encouragement at 59 years old that I want to prove that I can still make a living in this sport.
In 1991, I was in debt and had no parts in the building. Today, we have a massive inventory. We built 228 cars in 2019. We’re not going to get to that number this year I can promise you because of this coronavirus, but we were on track to get there again. To have the inventory that we have in stock to supply all the cars that we have in the field … I mean the amount of parts that we ship every week during racing season to keep those cars on this track is staggering to me.
From where this thing started with just Steve Baker and I in the beginning. We started in 1986, hired our first employee in 1988 and now have 21 people running around.