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Les Richter: A NASCAR legend passes on

  Les Richter, the man who helped NASCAR hold Southern California, here with LA's Auto Club Speedway boss Gillian Zucker in 2006 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   One of the giants of the sport of NASCAR racing is gone.
   Les Richter, the one-time boss of legendary Riverside Raceway, and then the man who was the 'go-to' guy for the late Bill France Jr. when a major league issue arose in this sport, died quietly Saturday morning in San Bernardino at 79.
   Richter was a big bear of a man, with an infectious grin and a genuine joy of this sport during his 50-plus years in it. He was for years NASCAR's top West Coast promotions man.
    Richter – called 'Coach' from his NFL days as a feared middle linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams --  was instrumental in the California Speedway project, handling the development of the $100-million-plus Los Angeles area track, including intense 'remediation' work on the toxic waste site, once the historic Kaiser Steel Mill ( set for a famous scene in  Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator 2 ).
    The track, now known as Auto Club Speedway, is just up the road from the defunct Riverside track, and it's just around the corner from the ill-fated Ontario Motor Speedway.
    Gillian Zucker, who runs the Fontana, Calif., track, said "Coach's name was synonymous with West Coast motorsports...somewhat ironic for a man who became famous in football, but fitting for a man who could charge through any obstacle and was larger than life
   "As a colleague, his knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for the industry was beyond compare.  As a mentor, he was always there with sage advice and a hug that would knock the wind out of you but would leave no doubt how much he cared. 
    "He was a special friend, and we will miss him dearly."
    Richter was famous in his football days as the man the Rams wanted so dearly that they traded away 11 others to get the rights to sign him in the 1952 draft. He was an All-Pro for eight of his nine years in the NFL.
    And it was as a sidelight business venture that he bought into Riverside Raceway, famous in so many racing films of the era, because it's just a few minutes up from Hollywood. Richter ran that road course from 1959 till 1983, when he moved into NASCAR. He, as executive vice president of competition, and then senior vice president of operations, helped France run the sport, as the Mike Helton of his day, ruling the NASCAR garage.

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   Riverside Raceway: the place that Les Richter made famous. Bobby Allison (22) chasing Richard Petty (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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