Ron Hedger

HEDGER: Storytime With Richie Tobias

THE VILLAGES, Fla. — In a recent feature article on Richie Tobias, the longtime racer, fabricator and now Action Track USA co-promoter talked about the challenges of his next major project, an electric SlingShot racer. 

Designed to attract computer and game savvy “techies,” the affordable mini-modifieds would seem to be an ideal vehicle to convert to battery power, with the motors programmable by computer or cellphone.

In line with “real world” concerns, Tobias has been questioned about safety issues related to the three small Tesla battery cells the cars will use, but he feels the engineers working on the project have those concerns covered.

“Working with those guys is like watching the Big Bang Theory on TV,” declared Tobias. “One of the software engineers even raced with my dad at Reading years ago. He thinks the cars will also be perfect for indoor racing, where ventilation is a problem. Right now, we’re working hard on the price point. They will be more initially than a gas-powered Slingshot but there will be no engine rebuilds or parts to pay for. And I expect to finance cars to get guys started.”

When Tobias was on a panel looking back at 50 Years of Super DIRT Week at the Saratoga Automobile Museum along with Kenny Tremont Jr, Rob Yetman and Rocky Warner, he referred often to other challenges he’s had to face in racing. That’s why we asked him to comment on the biggest racing challenge he’s overcome. 

Surprisingly, it didn’t involve Super DIRT Week on the treacherous Syracuse mile.

“We were at the USAC Silver Crown race at Springfield and I was running fifth but thought I was fast enough to win,” recalled Tobias with a knowing smirk. “Near the end, they had a restart and I went low but a car moved over and I went up on his tail tank and started flipping. They cut the cage off while I was still unconscious and got me out, but the car was destroyed.

“We went home and my guys started working on a sprinter I built for the Mopar Million at Eldora. It had bolt on front and rear clips so it could be lengthened to a Silver Crown car and they did that and installed the engine and other parts off the wrecked car. Meanwhile, I ran our asphalt car at Nazareth, then we finished the dirt car and took off for DuQuoin but it rained out and we had to go back the next week for the first night race there.

“In hot laps, the power steering-pump drive broke off, then in time trials the input shaft on the transmission sheared off, both as a result of the crash. I was just coming across the track with the transmission from the asphalt car when they called the last chance race. We got it in with a couple of loose bolts holding it and got out on pit road just as they went green.

“Luckily for us, they had a big crash on the start and we had time to tighten everything up,” Tobias continued. “Normally USAC doesn’t let you start a race if you don’t make the original green, but they knew how hard we’d worked and waved us out. I tagged the field and passed enough cars to get the last qualifying spot. I started the feature dead last and had an awesome race. I passed Donnie Beechler and then Yeley near the end and won it.

“I was pretty proud of that, as they’d both run the Indianapolis 500 that year and I was just a guy from Pennsylvania in a thrown-together car.

“To this day, people tell me I’m the only one to ever win a Silver Crown race without qualifying,” he added. “Technically, I guess that’s true, as they probably should have told us we couldn’t tag the field after missing the initial start of the last chance race. But they can’t say we didn’t pass the entire field to win it.”

Tobias has already committed to returning to Saratoga Springs for the auto museum’s motorsports Saturday program in late November, along with a group of SlingShot racers and their cars. 

By then, we should know if he is a visionary like Elon Musk.

Either way, he is a winner with fascinating tales to tell!