The green flag for Sunday’s Daytona 500 will feature a feel-good story or two for the 200-lap Super Bowl of Racing.
Among the most intriguing and old-school stories of them all is Robert Richardson, Jr. who – in a two-week span – went from farming hay in Texas to strapping back into a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series machine at the year’s most prestigious event.
Richardson’s national NASCAR career began in 2005 when he made his Camping World Truck Series debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Following a full-time effort the following year, Richardson flipped to the XFINITY Series side, roughly racing half-schedules from 2007 to ’13.
Two years ago, his family-owned effort, R3 Motorsports was sold and his racing career appeared to be in the past. The 33-year-old got married, welcomed his first child and got back into the farming world more than recent years have allowed.
Suddenly, though it appears Richardson is not done yet. Putting a deal together with Stalk-It for the 2016 Daytona 500, he put the No. 26 BK Racing Toyota into the field. On Friday, Richardson talked with our own Zach Catanzareti about such an impressive comeback from “retirement.”
Zach Catanzareti, Frontstretch.com: Have you ever really seen anything quite like Daytona Rising?
Robert Richardson, Jr.: No. Daytona has done a phenomenal job on all the renovations and construction they’ve done here at the speedway. I know they put a lot of time and effort funding everything into this race track to make it more accommodating to fans.
It proved Thursday night [Can-Am Duels] there was a lot of people in the stands just for the Duel alone. And the 500 is also sold out from what I understand as well. So a pat on the back for Daytona on all the hard work. It seems that it has paid off.
Catanzareti: Do you really notice things like crowds when you’re racing? Do you feel the energy from the crowd in the stands?
Richardson: Oh yeah. Especially during driver introductions. It’s cool to see all the different faces in the stands, some people you know, and a lot of people are just happy to be here and be able to watch these cars go around the race track.
And for me personally, it’s just a blessing in itself to be back here at Daytona. This is my one, and only, opportunity to race this season. We’re definitely making the most of that. I’m very, very proud of this BK Racing team and everybody that’s on the Stalk-It Toyota Camry crew.
Thursday night was a dream come true to make it into the Daytona 500. Hopefully we put on a good show for the fans on Sunday.
Catanzareti: This whole thing with BK, how did this come about, who’s idea was this?
Richardson: It’s an interesting story on how all this came about. I was actually out on my hay pasture mowing with my tractor two weeks ago and got a phone call from [company founder] Lane Segerstrom with Stalk It. He’d been communicating with a couple different race teams about potentially running the Daytona 500. We ended up closing a deal here with BK Racing and Ron Devine.
Everyone here has been very, very accommodating. Just an awesome group of guys to be with. Mike Ford is crew chiefing our deal. He’s done a phenomenal job setting up this race car and rallying all the guys that he’s got working over there to get this car into the show. They’ve done a fantastic job on putting this car together in a matter of two weeks.
Catanzareti: You talked about your schedule and that this is a one-time thing. Does making the 500 have any final effect on that? Or does that maybe open up another opportunity for 2016?
Richardson: The opportunities are endless in this sport but untimely it is up to the sponsor’s decision on what they want to do. If Stalk-It and Cornboard want to come back on board to do more races, whether it be in the Truck Series, XFINITY Series or here in the Cup Series, it will ultimately be up to them.
But making it into the Daytona 500 Thursday night definitely opens up a lot of different doors that I’ve never been able to open before.
Catanzareti: What did Stalk-It see in you? Why did they want to do this Daytona 500?
Richardson: What do you think? The Daytona 500 is the Super Bowl of our sport. This is where all the celebrities show up to, this is where all the lights, cameras… the majority of the money in this sport is spent at this race. Just to try to have an opportunity to run up front in this event is huge.
You’ve seen what it’s done for a lot of people’s careers; Trevor Bayne, Derrike Cope and the list goes on and on how it’s helped their careers. Why not me? You have a one in 40 chance at winning the Daytona 500 and that’s pretty good odds in my book.
Catanzareti: You haven’t been in a stock car in a while. You didn’t do any XFINITY last year. Being back here in Daytona, does this ease the pressure or has it maybe advanced the pressure being back in the car for the first time?
Richardson: When we sold R3 Motorsports in 2014, I had almost all but given up hope that I would ever get back in a race car again.
My wife and I just got married, we welcomed a baby boy into this world the first part of December. It’s been a lot slower pace of life for me back home in Texas. I’ve been a hay farmer for the past couple years. I’m just really enjoying life right now.
Like I said, when I got the phone call that we’re trying to put this deal together, it was a complete shock to me. But at the same time, it’s also something that we’ve been praying about and hoping that would eventually come about, to hopefully one day get back in a race car.
It came a lot sooner than anticipated.
Catanzareti: One year ago today, what was your mindset when it came to racing in NASCAR?
Richardson: I’ve definitely missed it ever since we shut the doors with our organization. I’ve just been sitting at home watching it on TV, especially at tracks like here and Talladega, Bristol, Richmond, Texas; a lot of my favorite racetracks.
Seeing all my buddies out here racing, wondering what’s going on in their lives and along with a lot of the crew members that I’m friends with out here. Those are the things I really miss the most. Not being able to approach my friends here in the garage area and see how their families are doing, see how their children are. Just keeping that brotherhood up because that is what NASCAR is really all about. It’s similar to any professional sports team.
Even in the military, you can literally call this a brotherhood in this garage. Everybody knows everybody and you create a lot of personal relationships with a lot of people over the years. That’s what I really miss the most.
Catanzareti: You have a heck of a lineup of teammates for this with all four of you getting into the race. Michael Waltrip, Matt DiBenedetto, David Ragan. Have you been talking to them, getting advice – especially from Mikey since he’s been doing this for so long?
Richardson: Mike’s been so busy this weekend in between doing all the TV and radio personnel stuff. I briefly got to talk with him but primarily I’ve been talking with David Ragan and Matt DiBenedetto. Obviously, we had a really, really good qualifying lap. I give all the credit to my crew and my crew chief Mike Ford and all those guys over here on the Stalk-It Camry.
Without that lap, it would not have put us in position to even make the Daytona 500. With Matt finishing where he did Thursday night to guarantee us in the show helped us out a ton, too. Matt is going to be on the Christmas list this year for sure.
Catanzareti: What is it about plate racing that gets you on track? All of your Cup starts have been in Daytona and Talladega so what is it about plate racing that gets you on the track?
Richardson: From a driver’s perspective, the superspeedways are where the drivers can really show up and be a lot more relaxed then they can when you go to, say, Bristol or any other intermediate racetrack. Daytona, all drivers pretty much do is mash the gas and hold a smooth steering wheel and try and be as smooth and consistent as possible. Where you’re completely relying on the car itself and the setup underneath it, the drivers can only do so much.
It’s kind of like a chess game. You got to plan out each move you make, who you want to run with, try to strategize as the race goes on. And hopefully you’re there within the last five or ten laps to have a crack at winning the race.
Catanzareti: On Sunday, you got to take a pretty classic picture next to your car. Did it feel cool taking that classic-type of photo?
Richardson: [Laughter] It really did. Especially after our qualifying effort. I was already all smiles as it was. You look back on those old nostalgic pictures of drivers posing next to the Daytona International Speedway in the background right there at the start-finish line.
I always wanted a picture like that, now I got one so it’s pretty cool.
Catanzareti: Is that your background photo on your laptop?
Richardson: [Laughter] No not yet, but it’s on my Facebook page.
Catanzareti: You’re a proud Texan obviously. Do you have any friends or family coming down for this race?
Richardson: Yes, I do. My wife and little boy are here, my mother, my father, my mother-in-law. It’s kind of nice to have the in-laws at the racetrack, too [laughter]. I’ve got a lot of people coming from our church back home. I got a lot of support from all my friends back at Midway Baptist Church in Texas there in Pilot Point coming up here. It’s pretty neat to have people praying for you and hoping for the best and it seems the prayer works.