June 5, 2008
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
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
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