Story by Will Silk
Perhaps no single man had more involvement in the development of West Coast racing in the United States than Les Richter. Les was born October 26, 1930 in Fresno, California. He attended high school in Fresno before moving onto the University of Berkeley where Les became an All-American Line Backer and later inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame.
After college, Les served in the Army, where he continued to be active with football by becoming a coach at the base he was serving at in Washington. Once his service was completed, Les continued with football on a professional level, playing for the Los Angeles Rams for nine years. Edwin Pauly, the Rams owner in 1959, asked Richter to take a look at a relatively new track that had been constructed in Southern California. Pauly was interested in buying the track known as Riverside Raceway. Les did as requested and reported favorably on what he found. Pauly and the group that requested Les take a look at the track wound up asking him to be the executive director once the deal was complete. This was followed in 1961 to a promotion of president and general manager of the historic track. Les held the top spot in the track’s management team until 1983. During that time, Les turned Riverside Raceway into an internationally known and recognized facility. He was responsible for bringing all types of racing to the facility, from sports cars to Formula One; Riverside was the track to race at on the west coast.
One of Les’s biggest accomplishments was when he approached Bill France, Sr. in 1963 about bringing NASCAR to Riverside. France, Sr. agreed and NASCAR began building its empire on the West Coast at that point. The friendship between France, Sr. and Richter flourished, and in 1983 Richter was asked to come to work for NASCAR as a vice president. By 1986 Les was the vice president of competition, and in 1992 he became the senior vice president of operations. Les was still active in racing right up to the time of his passing as vice president of special projects for the International Speedway Corporation.
Though Les never drove or worked on a race car, he played a paramount role in the creation of California’s racing infrastructure that the State enjoys today. He also played a large part in the construction of the NASCAR Racing Empire that saw record growth during the time that Richter was involved with the company. Richter’s passion and understanding of racing, and its participants, will truly be missed.
[Source: Will Silk; photo: Wikipedia]