A hall of fame career finally received that deserved distinction when Terry Richards Sr. was recognized on Oct. 12 as one of the newest members of the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
The native of Butler County spent four decades in the sport as a driver, engine builder, car designer and track founder, manager and owner. From the early 1960s until 2004, there was hardly a car, track or driver in Nebraska who didn't have Richards' fingerprints all over in some way or another.
Those who knew him, competed against him and watched him from the grandstands would likely say it was his No. 18 yellow Ford Mustang that was almost inseparable from his identity. Yet, Richards was a champion of all divisions, winning titles and enjoying success in Jalopies, Hobby Stocks, Street Stocks, Drag Cars, Modifieds, Late Models and Nostalgia Cars.
Richards ran on 61 different tracks in nine different states and helped build and promote Ymada Speedway in David City in the 1980s and Thunder Lake Speedway in the 1990s.
He stepped away from racing permanently in 2004 and has been a candidate for the hall several times, falling one agonizing point short last year. Friends and family began his campaign in 2009 but had to wait until this past August when, after a more focused approach, Richards was finally recognized as one of the true legends of Nebraska racing.
If you saw his first race, there was no indication big things were ahead. His old jalopy and another car became entangled and required the wrecker for separation. Seven years later, he had his first track championship.
He can't remember exactly what his finish was that first time out, but he was hooked, in more ways than one.
"It got better from there," Richards remembered during an interview last week prior to his enshrinement. "I thought it was fun right off the bat. We’ll get better as we go along, and we did. We got a lot better."
Richards, now 77, found a love for the dirt while watching the races with his father in the stands. He vowed that he would buy a race car once he was old enough to drive. A shallow bank account at age 16 prevented that dream from becoming reality until he turned 21 in 1963.
He purchased a 1950 6-cylinder Ford on a Sunday morning from a "bone yard" in Rising City, convinced the owner to sell him the vehicle on credit and had it on Skylark Raceway in Columbus later that evening.
After the sale he took it to his father's farm, kicked out the windows, installed a cage and quickly had it ready for competition. Skylark Raceway had started an entry-level Jalopy Class, and Richards wanted to be a part of it.
He was done being a fan. Time had come to discover his own potential.
Though his inaugural run ended almost before it started, he manged to win one feature race that season. And winning was more than just enjoyable, it was necessary.
"The feature paid $15, $10 and $5," Richards remembered on the paperwork that was submitted for his hall of fame consideration. "If I didn't run at least third, I didn't have gas money to go to work on Monday morning."
His first season title came at David City in 1970. He was also running at Columbus and leading the points when he was asked to drive the 18 car for Swanson Body Shop in Ceresco.
Richards took the 18 to the front that night in the heat and feature race at Midwest Speedway in Lincoln. The 18 also made appearances in Albion, Norfolk, Audubon, Iowa; and Harlan, Iowa; later that season.
Two years after, the famous yellow Mustang was born.
Pony Cars were beginning to make appearances in racing, and that's where Richards turned.
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He found a stripped down 1970 Mustang and turned it into his next ride. Richards and the yellow Mustang won at Midwest, Eagle Raceway and Beatrice. He took the points championship at Midwest in 1973 and 1974 then, on the advice of crew chief Darrel Swanson, pioneered a racing wing on top that made quite the impression.
"They didn’t pay any attention to us. Everybody thought it was funny. ‘That ain’t going to work,’ they said. They weren’t scared of it at all. We thought it would make it go a little faster," Richards remembered. "First night out, we started up front and we won the feature. Second night, we came back, started in the middle and won the feature again. The third night, we started in last and won the feature again. Everyone thought the wing might have something to do with it after all."
The years that followed included helping set up a race track in York in 1972, partnering with nine others to build the Ymada go cart track in David City in 1978, building one of the first IMCA Modifieds in Nebraska in 1985 then promoting it all the way down in Florida, building and racing in the Nostalgia Class starting in 1993, organizing the building of Thunder Lake Speedway in Rising City in 1997 then finally stepping away for good following a heart attack in 2004.
Richards always built his own cars and engines and always drove his own work.
He had a loyalty to the number 18, to Ford motor company and to his family.
When Chuck Swanson, who helped put him in the 18 was killed in a motorcycle accident later that year, Richards stayed with the number 18 on all of his successive cars whether it was go carts, Modifieds or Late Models.
Other than the Studebaker early on, everything he drove was a Ford.
When his children became old enough to join in, Richards adjusted and became a go cart driver - the inspiration behind Ymada Speedway.
"Terry, it's people like you that enable us here in Dearborn to wave the Ford flag proudly," said a letter addressed to Richards from Mark Rushbrook, the Global Director for Ford Performance Motorsports.
The letter and a Certificate of Appreciation from Ford Motor Compnay were waiting for Richards at Saturday's ceremony, the cherry on top of the whole weekend. In 22 years of the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame, no inductee had ever received a Certificate of Appreciation from any motor company let alone Ford.
Neither Richards nor any of his friends or family members knew the letter or certificate were coming.
"Your enthusiasm, dedication and decades-long success(es) is the core of the foundation upon which Ford Performance is based," the letter went on to state.
Richards was enshrined in a class of six new members: driver/mentor Wayne Huntley of Hastings, driver Ray Lipsey of Lincoln, driver/journalist Bob Mays of Lincoln, driver Kenny McCarty of North Platte, car owner Ed Smith of Lincoln and drag racer Don Stephenson of Omaha.
The ceremony was held at Lincoln's Courtside Banquet Hall.
Richards, now a resident of Warsaw, Missouri, took to the track a final time in 2004 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, at the Hillbilly Nationals in the Nostalgia Class.
"I haven't counted them lately, but I've probably got 40 or 50 trophies out here in the shed. There's probably 30 or 40 more in the house," he said.
"I think people would remember me for probably just being a nice guy. I always tried to race everyone clean and make things good. I think everybody else would tell you that.
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at DVDsports@lee.net.