Racing fuels Richmond's  passion for competition

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   Most 51 year-old grandfathers are ready to start slowing down. When you are George Richmond and you've been around competitive sports your whole life, slowing down is not an option.
   A former semi-pro football player, Richmond has for the better part of the past 27 years been involved in the sport of motorcycle drag racing. Just one season ago, he raced his green Kawasaki to a fourth-place finish in Bristol Dragway's point standings.
   "I love the challenge," said Richmond, a father of three and grandfather of four. "I've always been into sports. I've played a lot of basketball and played semi-pro football. Just the competition of drag racing is what I really enjoy.
   "There's more to it physically than people think. I play ball to get into shape, and that way you don't feel sore after drag racing all day. I usually walk about three miles every day on top of that."
   Richmond has always been a top-notch athlete. Standing 6-5 and weighing 250 pounds, he earned all-state honors as a defensive end at Elizabethton High School. George played on the old Johnson City Bears semi-pro football team and another semi-pro team in Los Angeles.
   Age has never been a deterrent as Richmond later played on the Tennessee Kings team after reaching 35, and remains active in church league basketball.
   Still, where he finds the greatest challenge is bracket racing down the quarter mile at Bristol Dragway.
   "It's tough competition," admitted Richmond. "I'm still an old-time racer who uses a clutch, and it's tough to go against all the boys who have put the delay boxes on their bikes. I still deal with them pretty good.
   "You just have to stay more focused when you race against someone with a delay box."
   As his proudest moment, he mentions going to the finals of an IDBA meet at Bristol, where he left the tree with reaction times down in the double zeroes in each elimination round before red-lighting in the finals.
   Part of the reason Richmond manages to pull out wins without the benefit of the extra technology is his vast experience. Big George explained he's been racing bikes so long, he can make up for a slow reaction time at the tree by knowing just how long to leave the machine in a certain gear.
   That experience and his willingness to share information have made George one of the most popular racers at Bristol. The motorcycle racers have a particularly close bond, with defending champ Mike Gill, former track champ Tom Lane, Allen Sparks and Jerry Turner, who has been serving the last several months in Iraq, forming a tight group.
   "We have become pretty close," said Richmond. "We help each other and pitch in if something is wrong. It's like a family-thing in a way and it's a good pastime. I've been through the different channels, but I like motorcycles."
   After racing at tracks all over the eastern U.S., George is now satisfied doing most of his racing close to home.
   "I couldn't count all the different drag strips I have been on," stated Richmond. "Bristol is the best there is. It would be crazy to drive somewhere else to race when you have a track like that over there. I did like traveling around racing different tracks and different competitors. I still plan on doing a little of that, but I like racing at Bristol, where they have the best facilities."
   If you ask Richmond how many races he's won, he can't tell you. You could say that's because he's been so willing to share his triumphs with others.
   "I gave a bunch of my trophies to the kids in the neighborhood," said Richmond. "They sometimes come to the garage if they see me working on a bike. If they hear me start one up, they come running down here. I'm trying to get them where they won't be on the street racing.
   "I'm trying to influence those that want to go faster and want to race to come over to Bristol. You can go as fast as you want to there without worrying about a car pulling out in front of you or hitting you."
   Among the youngsters George is influencing is a grandson, who hopes to graduate from dirt bikes to the drag strip in the next couple of years.
   During racing season, Richmond spends three nights a week preparing his two-wheeler for the upcoming weekend. He has decided however not to pursue chasing after track championships, opting instead to spend more time with his wife, Joyce.
   "At 51 years old, I have a lot of fun with motorcycles," said Richmond, who is also in the process of completing work on a Top Gas bike. "But, I don't want to let it take away from when my wife wants to go to Myrtle Beach or New York or somewhere. My family comes first and it's sometimes good to get me away from it where I'm not spending every weekend at the track."