Les “Coach” Richter, who served as president of Riverside International Raceway and was instrumental in the development of California Speedway (left), overseeing the project for Roger Penske from the demolition of the historic Kaiser Steel Mill, to its transformation into a first-class racing facility, passed away quietly this morning at the age of 79.
Funeral arrangements will be announced at a later date.
"Les Richter will be missed by the entire NASCAR community and always remembered for all he did for the sport on all levels, especially as vice president of competition, his dedication to NASCAR's short track racing program and promoting the sport on the West Coast," said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. "Les, a tireless worker, was one of NASCAR's most respected officials and one of my father's most trusted lieutenants. Our respect and condolences go out to the Richter family."
Richter recently served as vice-president of special projects for International Speedway Corporation, the parent company of Auto Club Speedway, formerly known as California Speedway, near Fontana, Calif. The current trophy for the Auto Club 500 is named the “Richter Trophy” as a lasting tribute to his contributions to Auto Club Speedway and the world of motorsports.
"Coach's name was synonymous with West Coast motorsports, somewhat ironic for a man who became famous in football, but fitting for a man who could charge through any obstacle and was larger than life,” said Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker. “As a colleague, his knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for the industry was beyond compare. As a mentor, he was always there with sage advice and a hug that would knock the wind out of you but would leave no doubt how much he cared. He was a special friend, and we will miss him dearly."
A veteran motorsports executive, Richter became the executive director of Riverside International Raceway in 1959. Two years later, he became the president and general manager of RIR, a position that he held until 1983. He is credited with making RIR consistently profitable through his nationally known innovations and creativity, including the creation and promotion of the NASCAR Motor Trend 500 in 1963, and the planning and execution of the raceway's $3.6 million improvement plan in 1969.
Richter's 11-year association with NASCAR began in 1983, and in 1986, he became NASCAR's executive vice president of competition. In 1992, Richter was named senior vice president of operations for NASCAR.
A native of Fresno, Calif., Richter graduated from Fresno High School, where he served as student body president and captain of the football team. Mr. Richter graduated from the University of California at Berkeley where he was valedictorian of the 1952 graduating class. As an All-American linebacker, Richter's football heroics led to his eventual election to the College Football Hall of Fame. Richter was the first player chosen in the regular draft of the National Football League in 1952. The New York Yankees Professional Football Club, who moved to Texas that year to become the Dallas Texans, selected him. On June 13, 1952, the Los Angeles Rams traded 11 players and draft choices to the Dallas Texans for the rights to Richter -- an NFL record. Richter went on to play for the Rams for nine years, making all-pro as a linebacker for eight years.
Richter served in the United States Army during the Korean War as a 1st Lieutenant of the 44th Infantry Division.
Richter was affectionately known as “Coach” – from his days coaching an army football team while stationed at Fort Lewis Washington. He later was a Player/Coach with the Rams.