For the last 15 years, he has had the best view at every NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event. Standing alongside two 7,000-horsepower racing machines and every kind of drag racing vehicle between since 1996, NHRA Chief Starter Rick Stewart will hang up his iconic hat at the conclusion of this weekend's Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Nov. 10-13.
Stewart has been there for every record-breaking, body-shaking moment since taking over the reins for NHRA's first chief starter, the late Buster Couch, after serving as the backup starter for a decade. Stewart, who turned 70 in July, caught the eye of Couch in the 1980s, remembering him from his days as a driver. During his NHRA career, the Bakersfield native, who now resides in Dallas, competed in the Top Fuel category from 1962 to 1971. He started his racing career when he was 22 in a street Corvette.
“Rick has been a staple of NHRA Drag Racing and a familiar fixture at the starting line at NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events for the past 15 years,” said Graham Light, senior vice president, racing operations for the world's largest motorsports sanctioning body. “The contribution he has made to the sport is immeasurable, and we wish him the best in retirement.”
In the beginning, Stewart worked between 12 and 13 national events a year. When he wasn't at a track, he was a director of radiology at a hospital in Bakersfield. For a time, Stewart served as the full-time starter in Division 7.
Despite never winning a national event in Top Fuel, Stewart will always be able to boast about seeing more national-event-winning runs than anyone in NHRA history. His replacement, who will be named later, will have big shoes to fill and will represent only the third official chief starter in NHRA history.