The Frontstretch: Driven To The Past: Rick Mast by Vito Pugliese -- Thursday March 15, 2007

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Driven To The Past: Rick Mast

Vito Pugliese · Thursday March 15, 2007

 

Hometown: Rockridge Baths, Virginia

Career:
Starts: 364
Wins: 0
Top 5s: 7
Top 10s: 36
Poles: 4
Earnings: $9,229,892

Cow: Black Angus

Rick Mast was born March 4, 1957 (Happy Belated Birthday, Rick!), in Rockridge Baths, Virginia. Although he never won a Winston Cup (Nextel Cup) race, he is probably best known for two specific events in his career: trading a cow for his first racecar, and pushing Harry Gant to the win during the last lap of the 1991 Winston 500 at Talledega. Rick was also the unfortunate victim of a silent, invisible killer and helped bring attention to the problem of carbon monoxide poisoning that had been plaguing racing for years.

Rick began racing at age 16 at Natural Bridge Speedway and Eastside Speedway, after he traded a $575 cow for his first racecar, a 1957 Chevrolet. He won in his 6th race in that car, and used the money he won to pay off a speeding ticket. Rick enjoyed early success thanks to his benevolent bovine buddy, running well in the lower classes for several years. He made his Busch Grand National series debut in 1982, collecting four Top 10 finishes. His first Busch wins came in tandem, when he won his first race in 1987 at Dover, and again seven days later in his home state, at Martinsville. He narrowly missed a Top 10 finish in series points that season, ending up one spot out in 11th. In 1988 he would end the season 8th in Busch Series points, while also making his Winston Cup debut, driving for the legendary Buddy Baker in two races.

Rick started his 1989 season off in unbelievable fashion, with a 6th place finish in the Daytona 500, driving for car owner and famed stuntman Hal Needam. What the box score will not show however is that Rick Mast, in only his 3rd career start, nearly won one of the biggest races in the world. He led 9 laps and pitted for fuel late in the race (a pit stop that for all intents and purposes was unnecessary), clearing the way for a win by Darrell Waltrip. In 1990, he ran 20 races, the majority for owner DK Ulrich in the No. 2 and No. 22 Pontiacs, ending the season with Travis Carter. In 1991, his first full season in the Winston Cup Series, Mast signed to drive the No. 1 Skoal Oldsmobile (back when tobacco sponsors were allowed and encouraged to sponsor racecars) for Richard Jackson, as teammate to Harry Gant and the famous No. 33 Skoal Bandit. He started the year off well with a 4th place finish in the Daytona 500, one of four Oldsmobiles in the Top 10 (try that in a Toyota Camry). His next Top 10 would be at the Winston 500 in May. Running tenth, the last car on the lead lap after a mid race wreck decimated 2/3 of the field, Mast pushed teammate Harry Gant to victory on the last lap in a controversial finish. It was one of the first times in NASCAR that team cars were actually seen working together, not feuding with each other. Although assisting another car on the last lap is not legal, the win stood and Mast was not punished for his actions.

In 1992, Rick won the pole for the final race of the season. It was the 1992 Hooters 500 in Atlanta, GA, and six drivers entered the race with a shot at the championship. It was a watershed moment in auto racing as this marked the final start of The King, Richard Petty, and the first start of a driver from Pittsboro, Indiana named Jeff Gordon. Unfortunately, shortly after a squadron of AH-64 Apaches flew over the racetrack for pre-race festivities, Rick Mast went into turn one with Dale Earnhardt on the outside. This caused Mast to get loose and spin in front of the field, almost collecting three of the championship contenders.

His best and most memorable year was 1994, with ten Top 10 finishes, including three third place finishes at Rockingham, Michigan, and North Wilkesboro, and a second place finish at the next to last race at Rockingham. The highlight of the season though was his lap of 172.414mph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning the pole for the inaugural Brickyard 400. 1995 would be the final year for Skoal to sponsor Rick Mast, as Hooters, former sponsor for Alan Kulwicki and the race sponsor of his first pole would come on board for 1996.

If the ATF were to look for a driver, they might have sponsored Rick Mast. Remington Arms would be the next to sponsor Mast and the No. 75 RahMoc Enterprises entry in 1997. Things got off to a rocky start, as the team failed to qualify for the season opening Daytona 500, leading to rumors that Mast wouldn't be at Rockingham either. It just goes to show that even a decade ago, major teams were still missing races, including the biggest race of the year. 1998 started off better as Mast, driving the newly designed-for-downforce Ford Taurus won the pole at the second race of the season at Rockingham. That's about as good as it was going to get sadly, and Mast would exit the team at the end of the year.

Mast would stay in the Ford camp, joining forces with another NASCAR legend, Cale Yarborough, for the 1999 season. Rick did as well as could be expected in a car that was without a major sponsor the majority of the season. He started the year off strong yet again, with another Top 10 effort in the Daytona 500, posting a tenth place finish. Midway through the season, the team got sponsorship from Universal Studios and recorded two Top 10s. While he did not win a race, he did win a moral victory of sorts, becoming the first driver since Cale Yarborough to go the whole season without failing to finish a race. However, Universal Studios opted not to return for 2000 after many questions were left unanswered regarding the future of the team.

After starting the 2000 season with Larry Hedrick, Mast would once again find himself driving for another driver synonymous with auto racing, wheeling the No. 14 Conseco Pontiacs for A.J. Foyt. The team would show flashes of potential, netting top ten finishes at Dover and Pocono. Mast would not return again for 2001.

Throughout 2001 and 2002, Mast would not run complete seasons. Sponsorship woes left him standing on the sidelines towards the end of 2001, and in early 2002 he encountered more serious issues. Rick began feeling very ill. He was constantly nauseous, dizzy, disoriented, describing it as "the worst hangover you've ever had". He began losing weight and had to be hospitalized. After batteries of tests were performed at the Mayo Clinic and other hospitals, it was revealed that he had suffered acute and chronic carbon monoxide poisoning. This led NASCAR to devise and implement a carbon monoxide filter into the fresh air systems of the drivers’ helmets. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas, which is produced as a remnant of unburned hydrocarbons in fossil fuels. It took years for him to get back to a normal life, although he still has trouble doing simple things such as mowing his lawn or sitting in rush hour traffic.

Rick currently resides in his hometown of Rockridge Baths, Virginia. He is the owner and operator of RKM EnviroClean, Inc., specializing in environmental clean-up, underground utilities, and demolition. He also can be heard on Rowdy Racing News. Rick is also involved in his charitable organization, the Rick Mast Foundation. He founded it in 1994, as a way to give back to the community which helped him live his dream. The Rick Mast Foundation assists uninsured members of the Rockridge Baths, VA area with free medical care. He has established an annual two-day event that consists of a golf classic and a concert. To date he has helped raise over $3.5 million dollars for his community. All thanks to the efforts of one selfless Black Angus cow.

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©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Terry Mcdonald
03/16/2007 07:39 AM
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Rick Mast, A classy guy who set a good example of what a race car driver is.

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