A big part of the 27th annual October Classic, the award winning post season show at Bakersfield's Mesa Marin Raceway, is the Racing West 125 NASCAR Late Model event. This particular part of the Classic is extremely special because it features the richest purse, in excess of $21,000 with $3,000 to win, west coast late model teams has ever seen.
It's also very unique because a driver has to qualify twice just to make the big money show. On Saturday, October 16th, the NASCAR Late Model drivers who have to do the standard two lap qualifying run around Mesa Marin's half mile, high banked, oval. Then, later in the evening, they will drive in twin 40 lap qualifying races to determine the final line up for Sunday's main event: The Racing West 125.
Because of the unique concept to get into this race, combined with the unusually high purse, Mesa Marin Raceway has scheduled an open practice session for Friday, October 15th, that runs from 9 am to 2 pm plus two additional practice sessions set for the following day. All of these practice sessions will allow the NASCAR Late Model teams plenty of time and opportunity to find the fast way around Mesa Marin.
One of the drivers who has already found that fast way around is Bakersfield's own Eric Richardson. The driver of the Green Frog Market-Fast Time Signs-Rich Pak Motorsports Chevrolet is an 18 year old phenom who has garnered a lot of attention over the past two years.
Richardson, and the entire Rich Pak Motorsports team, is extremely pumped up about their chances in the Racing West 125. A very excited Eric Richardson said "we tested for a few days and we're actually looking very good and hopefully we're going to get out there and win the qualifier and the main event. We've been working towards this all year. This event means a lot to me. It's a 100 times more than any regular season race. It's kind of like an all star race"
That level of ehthusiasm about next Sunday's race represents the same level Richardson displayed back in 2002 when he first became a fulltime member of Mesa Marin's NASCAR Late Model racing program. He won the Rookie of the year title, at the age of 16, and then set his sights on the 2003 season where he won his first ever Late Model main event and finished fifth in the final points standings. This year Richardson finished third in the standings with a win, five top five finishes and nine top tens.
The passion he developed for racing stemmed from sitting in the Mesa Marin grandstands watching his cousin, Brian Richardson, race who has had a very successful stint as a NASCAR Late Model driver. "I've loved racing since I was a little kid," Eric said adding "when I turned 16 I had the opportunity to go after it. My dad was willing and he loves the sport just as much as I do and I was very fortunate to have the opportunity and I took it."
Dad is Gary Richardson, the owner of Rich Pak Motorsports, who fields cars for both Eric and Brian as well as a Mesa Marin street stocker for Greg Puskarich and a NASCAR Grand National West Series team. Eric described driving for a team that is owned by his dad as being "totally cool" and appreciates the way he takes care of the business needs of the team while, at the same time, doing his job as a dad by instilling confidence in his son.
There's another very important player in the Rich Pak team line up and that's Gary Collins the Program Director. Collins is extremely well known to west coast racing fans as a very talented driver who won a lot of races in the Late Models, Southwest Series and Winston West Series during his career. He is equally well known as a builder of fine race cars and operates Collins Motorsports the home of Port City Race Cars. It was Collins who built the first ever super truck that convinced NASCAR to create the Craftsman Truck Series.
Commenting on Collins presence in the team Richardson said "he has a lot of ins and connections here and there and he's really really smart about race cars. He knows how I am because he was doing the same thing when he was my age and that really helps. He has a great way of teaching you the things you need."
When he's not behind the wheel or working in the Rich Pak racing shop Richardson is busy with another full time career: college student. After recently graduating from high school, he enrolled at Bakersfield College where he's working towards a major in agriculture business.
There's one thing extremely noticeable about Eric Richarson, both on and off the track, and that's the extremely high level of maturity for a young man his age. On the track he's very patient and picks and chooses his racing moves. But, when it's time to put the pedal down and go, he never seems to be the least bit intimidated by racing with seasoned NASCAR Late Model drivers. That maturity level is also clearly evident off the track as well. You can hear it in his voice when he talks about racing. This is a young man that is clearly focused on what he wants to do with his life.
Rich Pak Motorsports, in a remarkably short ammount of time, has established themselves as a racing force to be reckoned with here in the western states. With the talent and focus of their young driver, combined with the team member's commitment to excellence, they will be one to watch during the running of next Sunday's Racing West 125. Don't be too surprised if Eric Richarson winds up winning the biggest race of his still young career.