Richards makes most of advice


For the Potomac News

&Manassas Journal Messenger

During the Old Dominion Speedway banquet at the Kena Temple in Fairfax three weeks ago, Bill Richards received a very pleasant surprise when he was awarded the Most Improved Driver in Legends. Richards, a 48-year-old Brandywine, Md., resident had expected just to hang out with his racing buddies — not to collect an award.

“Honestly, I didn’t know I was getting it,” he said. “I truly had no clue and I was tickled pink.”

Richards truly deserved the award after catapulting to sixth in points in 2002. The year before he finished just outside of the top 15 at ODS.

He credits former Southside Legends champ Mike Gwaltney — as well as having more seat time — with his improvement. After he watched how Brian Curry won races and set track times at ODS after being tutored by Gwaltney, Richards decided to head down to Richmond and undergo a private Legends seminar with Gwaltney for a fee.

“He is the reason I did so well,” said Richards, who retired from the Prince George’s County police force after 25 years and who now flies a helicopter for a contracting service. “Gwaltney was able to take me with my car and show me what I needed to do to get better. I’ve been to two other schools in Virginia and neither of them did what he did.”

Richards decided to take a seminar with Gwaltney after almost quitting after his first year in Legends. Richards was very frustrated with his results. He certainly knew how to drive a street car, but around the oval, the other Legends drivers were lapping him consistently. However, this past season, Richards ran consistently in the top 10 in the division and grabbed a sixth-place finish once.

Richards, whose two sons raced go-karts for 15 years, decided to give Legends a try after his sons quit racing and he became restless. A race fan for many years and a drag racer as a teenager, Richards bought a brand-new Legends car with assorted equipment for $16,000 in the middle of the 2000 season and decided to run only practices until he got a handle on driving the car.

“These cars are hard to drive,” Richards said. “They’re just incredibly fast and they’re quick and they’re jittery. There’s a lot to driving them.”

After racing in three contests at the end of the 2000 season, Richards joined the other Legends drivers at ODS in 2001 and competed for points. He got lapped regularly. But he set goals for himself to improve. The first phase was just to finish a race. And the second phase was to avoid getting lapped, which he accomplished in 2002. Now, he is working on the third phase, which is to win a race or at least make it into the elite top five in Legends.

Richards had one of his better races in the last contest in 2002 at ODS. He got up to sixth and was running in a pack of seven when he was tapped by a lap car and was spun out. He still managed to finish the race but the wreck ended his chances not only for a top finish for the night but for an opportunity to rise to third or fourth in the points race.

“I’m not blaming the guy who hit me, but it was just frustrating that you finally get to the point that you’re in the top pack and you have that happen,” Richards said. “But overall, this has been such a great year that I was like a giddy little kid all season.”

Racing also goes against the grain of Richards’ training as a helicopter pilot. In aviation, he says, you always err on the side of caution. Of course, racing is nothing like that. If you’re too cautious, you’ll wind up last every time.

“You’ve got to stick your nose in there in racing sometimes,” Richards said. “But if you did that on the street, you’d be crazy for doing something like that.”

Richards loves the intensity of the sport. He not only loves competing but meeting fans and race teams from all walks of life. He says that fans in Virginia are great.

“It’s really been a delight to be over there,” he said. “I love the racing environment, the smells. When my kids got older, I really missed it and had to get back to it.”

Richards also knows that it can get hairy on the race track. He was right behind Ed Cove, who barrel rolled in turn one after running up the side of Nick Carlson’s car at the beginning of last season.

“It all happened in slow motion,” Richards remembered. “I saw an oil cooler fly off the car, as well as parts and pieces and tie rods and all of that. And I was trying to get down as low as I could on the race track.”

Richards was particularly happy to see Cove return to the track near the end of the season.

As for 2003, Richards will continue on his quest to win a race or at least crack the top five. And even if he doesn’t, he’s still having a heck of a lot of fun.

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