This is the 3rd in a series of articles leading up to the June 20th "Tim Richmond Memorial ARCA RE/MAX 200" at Mansfield (Ohio) Motorsports Park
DOORS OPENED FOR RICHMOND AT POCONO; ULRICH PROVIDED THE SEAT
MANSFIELD, Ohio (April 19th, 2009) - Jim Yates, now 72, of Sarasota, Fla., served the fledgling CART IndyCar Series as assistant starter in 1980. He was a witness to the adoration Tim Richmond received from fans and the media during the "Month of May" at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when the 27-year-old Richmond finished ninth and was named the race's Rookie of the Year. Richmond's spectacular 1980 Indy performance and his transition to NASCAR racing and all accomplishments will be celebrated with the inaugural Tim Richmond Memorial ARCA RE/MAX 200 at Mansfield (Ohio) Motorsports Park June 20.
It was Yates, who in the months following the Indianapolis race, introduced Richmond to Pocono (Pa). International Raceway General Manager Joe Mattioli, III, son of the track owners, Doctors Joe and Rose Mattioli.
"Tim didn't get the best rides," Yates said of the equipment the Richmond team could afford. "They were running an Offenhauser when everyone for the most part had Ford engines. But Tim hung in there and got the most out of whatever he had to drive."
Racing talent wasn't the only thing Yates noticed about the young driver.
"Tim was a social guy. He was nice to everyone. And he was a real character," Yates said. Young Mattioli, a promoter at heart, knew getting Richmond in a NASCAR stock car would help him sell tickets for Pocono's upcoming NASCAR race. He put Richmond and his sponsor UNO, a card game, together with Creasers Pocono Resorts, a local sponsor and a car owner, and Richmond had his first NASCAR ride.
The owner was veteran D.K. Ulrich, who by the time he sold his operation of Jasper/Penske Racing in 1996, had made 274 starts as an owner/driver, and was owner for 274 starts made by a large number of other drivers. His experience and equipment was a good match for the rookie Richmond.
"I had seen Tim at Indy and thought he was a good prospect. We had a lot of conversations at Pocono. He was outgoing, educated, and could generate sponsorship. He had the talent to make he transition to NASCAR." Ulrich said. "Tim was a good learner. He was all over it. He wanted to race in NASCAR. You could see it in his face. He was quick to learn and always fast. We had an upper level independent team. With Tim, he brought the talent and the sponsorship that let us step up our performance as a whole," Ulrich said.
He also noted that the team had his team had five cars at the most: a superspeedway car, one for intermediate track, one for short tracks, one for road courses, and maybe one backup car. Today's engineering and geometry was non-existent.
"We'd practice for a full day, feeling out the car and tuning it. With sponsorship, we could buy the new tires and the parts we needed. Tim had the talent and with the sponsorship money, we could give him what he needed to go fast."
Richmond qualified 23rd and finished 12th in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Pocono, and posted two more 12th place finishes in four more 1980 starts.
Richmond and Ulrich re-teamed for a full-season campaign in 1981. Their deal called for Richmond to miss the May races at Dover and Charlotte so he could enter and compete in the Indianapolis 500. Despite top- 10 finishes at Bristol (10th) and Talladega (sixth), their relationship work wise was to come to a pre-mature end.
While Richmond was qualifying at Indianapolis in May, Ulrich drove the UNO NASCAR stock car at Dover and posted his career best finish of fourth, outshining his hired driver. According to Ulrich, Richmond was incensed that the team picked up its performance without him. Richmond returned to the Ulrich car for two more races that produced a seventh-place finish at Texas World Speedway, and a 33rd at Riverside, Calif., before splitting permanently. Later, when Richmond scored his first NASCAR win a year later at Riverside, Ulrich was among the first to congratulate Richmond, and the two renewed a friendship that did not end again.
Richmond finished the 1981 season driving for Kenny Childers and then Bob Rogers. He didn't return to the series until the fifth race of 1982. Still, it would be a season that saw him score his first two career NASCAR wins, and his first pole award.
Reserved Seat Tickets for the Inaugural Tim Richmond Memorial ARCA RE/MAX 200 are now available online at www.mansfieldmotorsportsonline.com or by calling 419-525-RACE (419-525-7223).
Tickets purchased in advance are priced at only $20 per person and include ARCA Garage Area Access and free weekend camping for self-contained RVs