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Motorsport Legend Les Richter Helped Grow NASCAR, Specialty Equipment Demand

  Les Richter
  Motorsports executive and former pro football player Les Richter played a key role in NASCAR's westward expansion (photo courtesy National Speed Sport News).

Legendary motorsports executive and former NFL linebacker Les Richter died Saturday after suffering a brain aneurysm. He was 79. After retiring from a pro football career with the Los Angeles Rams, Richter headed up Riverside International Raceway (RIR), which the Rams' owners had recently purchased. He was instrumental in bringing NASCAR to the West Coast, hosting a NASCAR race at RIR in 1963.

Richter would later go on to supervise the construction of California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway) in Fontana, California, site of twice-annual NASCAR events, and play a key role in developing the International Race of Champions Series (IROC).

Richter was as well-known in the motorsports world as he had been in his previous career as a linebacker, lineman and placekicker for the Los Angeles Rams. Drafted by the Dallas Texans expansion team in 1952 after an All-American career with the University of California Berkeley Golden Bears, Richter was quickly traded to the Rams for 11 players, still the largest deal for a single player in NFL history.

He joined the Rams in 1954 after serving two years in the Korean War and became a marquee player for the franchise. Playing nine seasons for the Rams, Richter was named to the Pro Bowl in all but one season and made it to the NFL Championship in 1955 against the Cleveland Browns.

“I was fortunate to work with Les during my eight years at California Speedway,” says Bill Miller, SEMA senior vice president, operations. “From valedictorian at Cal to number-one draft choice with the Rams and businessman, Les will always be remembered for his positive impact on so many people. His efforts to grow motorsports, including NASCAR and its supporting series, especially out west, yielded numerous opportunities for our member companies to expand their performance parts business over the years. He will be missed by many.”