Les Richter, 79

Les Richter, Los Angeles Rams star and NASCAR executive, dies at 79

Les Richter, an all-American at Cal, was the No. 2 pick in the 1952 NFL draft and was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for 11 players.
Les Richter, an all-American at Cal, was the No. 2 pick in the 1952 NFL draft and was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for 11 players. (1951 Photo)
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By Jim Peltz
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Les Richter, 79, a key force in establishing big-league auto racing in Southern California after his career as an all-pro linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams, died June 12 at a hospital in Riverside, Calif. He had a brain aneurysm.

Mr. Richter, whose football background earned him the nickname "Coach," was an influential motor sports figure nationally even though he never drove a race car or turned a wrench.

Shav Glick, a longtime motor sports writer for the Los Angeles Times, said in 2004 that Mr. Richter, "more than anyone but [NASCAR founder] Bill France Sr., was responsible for the expansion of NASCAR."

As head of Riverside International Raceway, Mr. Richter brought NASCAR there in the early 1960s.

After that track closed in 1988, he helped supervise development of Auto Club Speedway, a 92,000-seat track in Fontana, Calif., that now hosts two top-level NASCAR races a year.

Leslie Alan Richter was born in Fresno, Calif., on Oct. 6, 1930. He was a star football player at the University of California at Berkeley, where he was valedictorian and earned a degree in business administration. An offensive lineman, linebacker and kicker, he was an all-American his last two seasons at Cal.

Mr. Richter was the second player selected in the National Football League draft of 1952. He was then traded by the short-lived Dallas Texans to the Rams for 11 players.

After he spent a two-year hitch in the Army, Mr. Richter became a first-team all-pro linebacker and place kicker for the Rams and was selected to play in eight Pro Bowls.

After the team's owners bought a parcel of land with a racetrack in Riverside, Mr. Richter became the track's general manager when he retired from football in 1962.

Mr. Richter then persuaded France to bring stock-car racing to the West for the first time with a NASCAR race in 1963. Over the next two decades, the track became a legendary venue for hosting nearly every form of motor racing, including cars from the Indy, Formula One and Trans-Am series, and for being used in countless movies and television shows.

After new owners acquired the track in 1983, Mr. Richter became an executive with NASCAR, based in Daytona Beach, Fla. He lobbied for NASCAR in Washington, at times oversaw the sanctioning body's operations and competition, and helped NASCAR establish a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway starting in 1994.

In the 1990s, Mr. Richter oversaw construction of the 565-acre Auto Club Speedway, which was a key part of the nationwide expansion of NASCAR.

Survivors include his wife, Marilyn Richter; two children; and three grandchildren.

-- Los Angeles Times

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