DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Les Richter still maintains his home in Riverside, where he managed Riverside International Raceway for 23 years after a Hall of Fame football career with the Rams. But if you want him, you'd better first look down here at NASCAR headquarters or up in Washington, D.C.
The old Coach, as he's been known since his football days, was promoted last week by NASCAR President Bill France Jr. to vice president in charge of competition development, which means that Richter is stock-car racing's long-range man in expanding the sport's horizons.
One of his biggest concerns is the future of his old stomping grounds. Two of NASCAR's 29 races have been held at Riverside every year since 1970, but the future is bleak.
Fritz Duda, owner of the Riverside racing facility, has announced plans to close the track after this season. At the same time, Duda said that he hoped to find a site for a replacement track.
No site has been found, though, and with the 1987 season less than 18 months away, it may be difficult to maintain existing contractual commitments.
Two of those commitments involve Winston Cup races--one in June and the other the season-finale in November. For the last seven years, the NASCAR championship has been decided in the final event.
"The Riverside ownership is working hard, harder than a lot of people give them credit for, in seeking a new site," Richter said. "NASCAR has set a timetable for its 1987 plans, and we will be reviewing that timetable with the Riverside people in the near future.
"Dan Greenwood (Riverside president) has two sites he hopes could be viable as a race track. We would hope that by the end of Speed Weeks we will know something."
Speed Weeks will end with Sunday's Daytona 500, opening event of the 1986 NASCAR season.
Richter and the stock car hierarchy are already hedging against the possibility of having no Southern California track.
"We at NASCAR need a race track in California because of its market value," he said. "We would prefer a permanent facility, with an oval track, but if the present management at Riverside is unsuccessful, we are committed to looking elsewhere.
"Our options include Laguna Seca, Sears Point, perhaps even Phoenix, or maybe a street course similar to Long Beach."
Toward future use of more road courses, such as Watkins Glen, N.Y., which will have a race this year, NASCAR has had a prototype race car, called the LR, built.
The L and R stand for left and right , and the new car is being designed with the expansion into road and/or street courses in mind. It is smaller, has a shorter wheelbase, is much lighter--2,600 pounds compared to 3,700 pounds for current models--and, as the name implies, will be balanced to turn both directions, not just left.
"Our cars have always been built for ovals, and they relate better to ovals, but to grow, we are going to have to go to other places to run," Richter pointed out. "The LR cars would give us the opportunity to expand our market potential.
"It would allow NASCAR to take its program into places such as the Meadowlands, Tamiami Park in Miami, Long Beach or street facility in new locations."
The LR car, an experimental Chevy built by Richard Childress, is sitting in the garage area at Daytona International Speedway for racers to study. It is scheduled to make its debut as part of the Winston Cup series in August of 1987 at Watkins Glen.
Most NASCAR teams now have three cars--one for superspeedways, such as Daytona; one for short tracks, and one for Riverside, for many years the only road course where the stock cars ran.
"We feel that the LR cars will reduce costs and make it possible for teams to need only two different cars. The LR should be perfectly compatible for short track racing as well as road courses."
Another result of the LR program will be expansion of the 29-race schedule to as many as 36 races, allowing NASCAR to move into more nationally lucrative markets and out of its Southeastern mode. Currently, 20 of its 29 races are in the Southeast.
"One reason for making this (managerial) change is to establish a strong base for our continued growth," France said in announcing Richter's new position. "We feel Les Richter's increased involvement and new responsibilities is a step in the right direction."
Richter will also continue in his role as the National Motorsports Committee's legislative lobbyist in Washington, acting as a watchdog against tax reform plans that would eliminate or reduce sports entertainment as a deductible business expense.
"If the President's proposal for zero deductions were to be adopted, it could seriously affect the American economy," Richter said. "It could ruin the spectator sports and entertainment industries, as we now know them. This includes college sports as well as professional."
Last year Richter was in Washington full time, establishing a coalition among professional and college sports--all sports, not just motor racing--restaurants and theaters.