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 Jim Naylor asks John Richards about the secrets of life.  (Jon Paquet Photo)

June 5, 2008

JOHN RICHARDS – Boomer Role Model

There are 77 million of us baby boomers. Every day we are battered with sound bites about some recommended exercise, food group, or new blue pill that will keep us forever young and firm.

The most commonly proffered advice about how to deal with our graying is to stay active. Rest not, rust not. And does racing ever offer up some amazing role models. One, of course, is that bionic grand old man of the Alabama Gang, Charlie “Red” Farmer. (See Tearoff of 7-15-07) Another is a Californian named John Richards. He won a sprint car feature at Ventura Raceway in the last weekend of April. He is 76.

Like most extraordinary people, John Richards shrugs off what he does. “I’m nothing special,” he smiles. “It’s really all my wife Sally’s fault.”

Thirty years ago John Richards, a P.E. with a degree from the University of Arizona, was an overworked entrepreneur. He’d had a plane since the fifties and he did his Royal Canadian exercise routine every day, but his life was pretty much office-bound. That’s when Sally piped up. “Get out. Do something. How about running?”

That clicked. By the dawn of the eighties, John had bought some Nikes. Then some more. Within two years he ran his first marathon – at a stunning three hours, one minute. He ran five 50-mile events and six 100-milers, recording his personal best at age 52. By the end of the decade, he had competed in 91 races, winning in his age group 52 times.

Then, in the 1990s, John decided to take Sally along for the ride. He dusted off a BMW motorcycle she had bought for him in 1981, and they made a few little trips. Like from Alaska to the tip of South America, around the former Soviet Republics, and all over the Eastern half of Australia. John smiles again. “Thousands and thousands of miles. She is the perfect passenger.”

By 2000 John still had his bikes, his planes, and his business. Running had subsided, and Sally had signed him up for Pilates. He was ready for the new decade’s adventure.

Jim Naylor, Ventura Raceway’s spark plug, says it all happened when John took a ride at Cory Kruseman’s driving school. At 69 he became the oldest sprint car rookie ever. “John is such a case,” Naylor enthuses. “He is the absent-minded professor type with disheveled hair, but he happens to have a sprint car. And he’s gotten good. He and Sally are the sweetest people. I can’t tell you the benefit they have brought to my race track. John even helped design the Extreme Muffler that has really allowed us to stay in business. But I will tell you this – I am going to stick to just watching him. He asked me if I’d like to go for an upside down ride in one of his open cockpit planes. I don’t think so.”

Typically, John downplays the whole deal. “To give an idea of where I’m coming from, I got the award for the “most improved driver” last season – and it was my seventh year. Also, although the guys I compete with are very serious and some are very, very experienced, remember it is the Senior Sprint Car Division, which is for guys over 45 years old. So let’s not make things bigger than they are.”

Of course, the compelling issue here is what John Richards will do in the next decade. He’s surely not going to back away from his consulting business. “Retire! Are you kidding? When my mother found out she was dying from cancer, she said, ‘I can’t die. I have too many projects.’”

As for the other side of life, after stunt planes, motorcycles, and 100-mile foot races, what can possibly come next?

Whatever it is, Sally better keep some good seat belts around.

© 2008 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

(Jon Paquet Photo)

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.

5/20/08 - The Spirit of a Racer

5/1/08 - Bobby's Blues

4/15/08 - Thinking About Rene Charland

3/26/08 - Carl and Corey

3/4/08 - A Cool Track with Cool Racers

2/14/08 - Doug Wolfgang

1/25/08 - Frankie Schneider

1/7/08 - When Drivers Can't See

12/21/07 - When Starters Couldn't See

12/1/07 - Ride Along with Erica Santos

11/15/07 - Tough Drivers

11/1/07 - Cockpit Safety

10/15/07 - That First Race

10/1/07 - Racing Nicknames

9/15/07 - Too Many Officials

9/1/07 - The Look of a Real Driver

8/15/07 - Being Dale Junior

8/1/07 - Armond Holley

7/15/07  -  Red Farmer