Prior to a May 1, 2007 Tech and Tune session at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Fayetteville, Ga.'s John Richardson had not sat in a drag car for nearly forty years.
It was a warm summer evening in 2006 when Richardson visited the second drag event ever at AMS as a spectator and re-caught the drag racing fever.
"I had never seen so many spectators at a drag race in my life," the 64-year-old Vietnam Veteran said. "I decided right then that I was going to get out of that grandstand, build me a car and go down there and race those boys. I wanted to be down there in it."
Now in the thick of the drag racing action, Richardson is easy to spot from the stands he once sat in. Driving arguably the most unique vehicle on the drag strip, Richardson said his current creation, a 1941 Willys, was built from items he had laying around his shop. A friend saw the car on a flyer hanging at a Super Chevy Show and knew that Richardson collected the rare automobiles.
"I bought it and it sat in my back yard for at least 15 years," Richardson remembered. "If I didn't do something with it, it was going to rust away, so I pulled it out and started turning it into a drag car."
Richardson, a retired diesel mechanic, built the car himself, including the big block Chevrolet power plant and the patriotic red, white and blue paint.
"I have built a least 20 cars for other people and I own about 6 Willys' myself," Richardson said. "With the drag Willys I have, I fabricated a roll cage and a frame, then I just welded the steel Willys body on and went racing."
Richardson drag raced as a teenager, starting in 1959 and raced until he joined the Army in 1964. He built one more drag car, a 1957 Chevrolet after he was discharged in 1966, but lost interest once his kids came along.
Fast forward nearly 40 years and Richardson said he just recently realized he is considered the old man at the track, but the young racers are still hesitant to line up against him and his Willys.
"The last time I was out there, I heard some people saying ‘I don't want to line up against that old man in that Willys,' and I couldn't help but laugh," he said. "I finally realized I am the old man out there, but I sure don't feel like it when I'm in that car."
Like all speed-freaks, Richardson does have plans to go faster and might make some off-season changes for next year.
"I want to go faster, just like everybody else," Richardson said laughing. "I might get a fiberglass body instead of the steel one I run now and I might work on the engine a little bit. I don't want to use nitrous to go fast though, I want to go fast and do it old school... just like we used to. I can't tell all my secrets though."
Despite the ground shaking, chest pounding noise his Willys makes, Richardson views drag racing as a form of relaxation, much like some people view fishing.
"I love piddling with these cars and drag racing them," Richardson said. "Some people hook their boat up and go fishing whenever they want to relax. I just go out to my shop and play with these cars. I do what I want to, when I want to."
For more information about Castrol GTX Friday Night Drags and the Show N' Shine car show, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211.