Dave Richards made some big strides in 2023 with the Paul Richards Racing family-owned Funny Car. The team picked up a major sponsorship with VersaTran and they turned heads with solid qualifying efforts and round wins at several events. The upstart team received an invitation to participate in the inaugural Scag Power Equipment PRO Superstar Shootout presented by Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage, February 8-10, at Bradenton Motorsports Park and the opportunity was too good to pass up for the Florida-based team. Richards is looking forward to competing in the first-time event against the biggest names in the sport for $250,000.
“That is one of the coolest things for me is to be included in this event with the best of the best,” said Richards. “I am thankful we can be a part of the PRO Superstar Shootout. We are looking forward to it and it is going to be a cool deal. This is the first time for a race like this and I hope there are many more after this. Racing at NHRA national events is big, but this just feels like a Super Bowl or World Series atmosphere.”
When fans look at the roster of Funny Car drivers vying for eight slots and see his name on the list many may reflect on the 1992 Olympic Men’s Basketball team. That roster was loaded with NBA Hall of Fame caliber players and one lone collegiate player Christian Laettner of Duke University, arguably the greatest college basketball player of all time, but an unproven NBA player. Richards doesn’t take offense to that analogy but also knows this is his chance to make a big step up in his Funny Car career.
“I feel like we are in this spot because we have been building our program over time and this is our opportunity to make a big jump,” said Richards, who made his debut at the New England Nationals in 2013. “Everyone says things happen for a reason when you do the right things. We have been working hard for years. I am really hoping to go there and surprise some people. I have no idea what is going to happen. I love the idea of just going there and hopefully we make the top eight. Then you go to the chip draw and anything can happen. How cool is that? Yes, we are the underdogs, but we want to go out there and surprise some people. Hurt some feelings and do good.”
Since 2013 Richards has raced a handful of races just about every season with mixed results. The team normally competes in four to six races. During this past season Richards re-evaluated his program and made a more organized and concerted effort to compete with the help and support of his brother, veteran racer and team owner Paul Richards as well as new sponsor VersaTran.
“It’s a struggle to race at this level and to keep the finances right,” said Richards, “It makes you second guess why we keep doing it, but we keep doing because we love this stuff. Our program over the years, has been up and down, but it’s getting back better again. We’ve learned a lot of how to try and run the team and me and my brother, we’re doing better at it and figuring out the smart way to do things. We got hooked up with Randy Gloede and VersaTran and things are looking positive to do more and more in the future. We want to come out here and not just be here to be here. We want to come out here and race and win.”
The VersaTran team and Richards will have a large cheering section when you consider how many family members and friends will be in attendance. The uniqueness of the event plus the convenience of racing in his home state will surely add to his guest list. Open access will also be a plus for Richards who continues to build his own fan following.
“We’ll have a lot of friends and family there for sure,” said Richards. “I wish I could say Bradenton was our home track and that we had a lot of data or experience, but this is a new surface. We usually race at Gainesville or Palm Beach or Moroso. I have never raced there but I was there one time as a kid a long, long time ago.”
The lack of data won’t be a huge deterrent for Richards when you consider almost all the nitro teams will be in the same boat as him, making their first passes on the Bradenton Motorsports Park earlier in the week during the private test session. Richards feels like this could level the playing field and position his team to grab one of the eight spots in the winner-take-all field. The team does have one big hurdle to overcome before they get to the track.
“I have this weird feeling that it kind of levels the playing field for some of us,” said Richards. “We are working on getting a car right now. We are going to have one, I promise. We will be there, hell or high water. There is no way we are missing this race especially with SCAG Power Equipment being involved. They are one of our primary sponsors along with VersaTran. The hard part is most drivers are a lot smaller than me. The cars are not that big to begin with and there are a couple out there that are just a little wider. That extra room in the shoulder area is a big deal. I promise you will we get it worked out to race.”
Following the PRO Superstar Shootout Richards is planning on racing a minimum of 15 NHRA national events with hopes of competing at every race on the tour. The opportunity to get track time and passes in advance of his biggest season ever is another reason Richards is thankful for the inaugural race. He will be racing to put a frustrating 2023 season behind him and the ever-optimistic Richards looks forward to more win lights in his future.
“I am excited about everything that is coming up this year and especially the PRO Superstar Shootout,” said Richards. “We had that bad crash last year and I am hoping we got all the bad crap out of the way. It is so cool to be included in this race and to just be able to drive a Funny Car. This is an awesome opportunity but then to have the chance to win $250,000 is unbelievable.”