Drag racing is so much more than a hobby to many who participate, and that’s true for both drivers and those behind the scenes. It’s particularly true for Rich Nietupski, who has been part of the Summit Motorsports Park team for more than a decade in their technical department. His position there at the Norwalk, Ohio, facility changed the trajectory of his life.
“I moved up here when I was 60,” says Nietupski, who was 73 at the time of this interview. “I left Erie, Pennsylvania, because I had to – I’m an alcoholic, and I would never have been able to stop if I hadn’t left. I’m 13 years now without a drink.”
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #179, the 30 Under 30 Issue, in November/December of 2022.]
For 40 years, Nietupski had been drinking and spending every penny he had on a habit that was slowly claiming his life, but with three daughters – and now eight grandchildren – watching him, he knew he had to make a change.
“I lost everything. I was homeless,” Nietupski shares. “I used to race here [at Summit Motorsports Park], and I thought of Bill Bader. I called him and asked for a job and he said, ‘Rich, I think you’re perfect for tech.’ I’ve been here ever since.”
Nietupski – or “Race Car Rich” to many who know him – has deep roots in racing. He bought a 1967 Camaro when he was just 18 and raced it with fervor. He also ran a speed shop in Erie for a number of years. He found a lifelong home, though, in Norwalk.
“Racers up here are very friendly,” he says. “You have some that no matter what you do, they’re mad at the whole world – but there aren’t many of them here. The people are truly my favorite thing about racing.”I’ve never been happier in my whole life,” Nietupski continues. “It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven, and I hope I get to do this for a long time. God has been really, really good to me – when he tells me to stop, when I can’t do this physically anymore, that will be the day I’ll give it up. But not until then. It changed my life.”