Affectionately known as “Coach”, Les Richter’s name is synonymous with motor racing in Southern California . For 19 years, he guided the Riverside International Raceway to national prominence. No other landmark, except the Mission Inn, has brought such prominence and recognition to Riverside .
Les was born in Fresno , California in 1930. In high school he was an outstanding athlete starring in baseball, basketball and football as well as class president and an honor student. After high school Richter’s football services were sought after by a host of colleges and universities. He chose the University of California at Berkeley , where he became an All-American guard, majored in business and speech and graduated with honors. Les played in three Rose Bowls for Cal Berkley. He was a consensus Football All American in 1950 and 1951. In 1952 he was the No. 1 pro football draft pick, which began an episode in professional sports – a record that will probably never be repeated.
Richter was drafted by the New York football Yankees, which shortly became the Dallas Texans. He was unable to come to contract terms with the Texans, so the Los Angeles Rams then agreed to the biggest trade in sports history. To get Richter they sent 11 veteran players to the Texans! He played nine seasons for the Rams (1954-1962) and was a 9-time Pro Bowl selection (1954-1961). He was selected All-Pro eight times and throughout his playing career was considered one of the best defensive linebackers in pro ball. His association with the Rams, strangely led to his career in the racing business.
In 1959, he became the executive director of Riverside International Raceway (RIR). Two years later, he became the president and general manager of RIR, a position that he held until 1983. He is credited with making RIR consistently profitable through his nationally known innovations and creativity, including the creation and promotion of the NASCAR Motor Trend 500 in 1963, and the planning and execution of the raceway’s $3.6 million improvement plan in 1969. Mr. Richter’s 11-year association with the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) began in 1983, and in 1986, he became NASCAR’s executive vice president of competition. In 1992, Mr. Richter was named senior vice president of operations for NASCAR.
Les Richter is the current vice-president of special projects for International Speedway Corporation. He is based at California Speedway, a two-mile, state-of-the-art super speedway near Fontana , California . Mr. Richter was instrumental in the development of California Speedway, overseeing the project for Roger Penske from the demolition of the historic Kaiser Steel Mill, to its transformation into a first-class racing facility. The opening of the speedway marked the return of professional oval track auto racing to the Southern California region. On June 22, 1997 , he served as the first Grand Marshal for the California 500 Presented by NAPA .
Mr. Richter is also the chairman of the board for International Race of Champions (IROC). Known to many as auto racing’s “All-Star Event”, IROC is open only to the world’s twelve best drivers, who are selected and invited to participate in one of motor racing’s most unique competitions.
He was honored in 2004 as the recipient of the Eagle One-Shav Glick Award for distinguished achievement in motor racing by a Californian.
During his tenure with RIR and beyond, Les has always found time to be deeply involved in the community. He was Chairman of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce and President of the Monday Morning Group as well as other boards and committees too numerous to mention. Les and his wife of nearly 50 years, Marilyn, have lived in Riverside since 1963. They have two adult children, Jon and Anne and three grandchildren, Lexi, Hanna and Megan. Les spends nearly every day in his office at the California Speedway.