Zero to Sixty!
Drag racing matches two cars against each other to determine which can cover a quarter of a mile the shortest elapsed time - start to finish. Drag racing has its roots back in the 1930s when low-tech mechanical solutions were all that existed. It is a sanctioned race with multiple governing bodies, classifications of cars, fuels, and distances. It has evolved over the years as technology, fuels, and mechanical innovations have improved.
However, the focus of drag racing remains the same in 2017 as it was in 1930: Accelerate to obtain maximum speed as quickly as possible. During the Golden Age of Drag Racing – the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s – people from the Southside of Columbus made a huge impact on the emerging sport of drag racing.
Fascination With Cars: Many of us when we first got our drivers license, got in our car and headed for South High School. We drove laps around the school. Thurman Avenue to Ann Street; make a right onto Stewart; then a right 18th Street; and a right back onto Thurman and start over again. One result of those slow-paced school laps was the desire to go faster.
For some of us, there was an itch to figure out how to make these cars perform better. Others may not have even had a car in high school but the car bug bit them and grabbed their attention like nothing else in their lives at the time. One such teenager was Rick Stickel a June Class of 1960 SHS graduate. Rick, along with his racing partner Bob Riffle, became well-respected local and national drag racing leaders in the ten-year period after their high school graduation. In addition to their mechanical innovations and advances in engine performance, Rick and Bob won national honors as “best in class” for cars they built and raced in the late ‘60s and early ’70s.
Rick, along with his racing partner Bob Riffle, became well-respected local and national drag racing leaders in the ten-year period after their high school graduation. In addition to their mechanical innovations and advances in engine performance, Rick and Bob won national honors as “best in class” for cars they built and raced in the late ‘60s and early ’70.
Southside Values and Drag Racing: In 1963, two important race events happened. First, the construction of the premiere drag racing facility in the country, National Trail Raceway, started east of Columbus on Route 40 near Newark. Second, Rick Stickel and Bob Riffle became friends after being introduced by Rick’s childhood friend Dan Markus. Both men shared a fascination with fast cars, a highly competitive nature, and a very strong work ethic - a perfect combination for a drag racing partnership.
Rick was working full time for Lazarus, and Bob, a Marion Franklin graduate, was working full-time at Western Electric. They formed a partnership that would last for 10 years and a friendship that is still strong today - 60 years later. I mention working full time during this period because both men accomplished their successes in drag racing by self funding their operations and devoting nearly as much time to their passion as they did their jobs. Neither man had any formal training in mechanics, racing, or engine building. But they were gifted with the ability to learn-by-doing and with an extraordinary capability to solve problems. They spent countless hours pursuing their dream one day, one car, one race.
They started building cars at their Southside shop, a dirt floor garage in the alley at Bruck and Whittier.
The Cars: The first car they raced was a 1940 Willys Sedan. It was powered by a 302 cubic inch Chevy engine. They had limited success with this car and decided that another car was needed to be more competitive. They went on a hunt for a Willys coupe. They found a coupe in southern Ohio, trailered it to Columbus and built it to race. They had good success locally with this car but realized they needed a better combination to be competitive on the national level in 1966. They knew they could not only be competitive but they could win. Bob’s skill as a driver and engine builder and Rick’s design, mechanical, and racing instincts were getting stronger each year.
They found a 1948 Anglia that belonged to a Southside friend, Rocco Rausinger. It was stored in a garage on Parsons Avenue on a property that that Rocco’s Dad had sold. So instead of taking the car to another location they offered it to Rick and Bob. They bought it to build it. It wasn’t long until they were off to the races.
The Success: The Anglia was finished in 1967 and they went racing. Not only were they successful locally but they won their class at the 1967 NHRA Nationals at Indy B/Gas. In 1968 the success continued. They went to Pomona California and made their presence known. They won the 1968 Winter Nationals in C/Gas and later the same year won the Indy Nationals.
The trip to Pomona had its challenges.On the way from Columbus to California the flatbed Chevy truck they were driving went through more than 24 quarts of oil forcing them at one point to stop; find a machine shop that allowed Bob to rebuild the head; and then reassemble the truck’s engine before they could proceed.
When they got to the racetrack their first practice runs were just OK but not really competitive. They knew something needed adjusting.
After talking it over, Rick approached a 19-year- old Mike Williams (SHS ’64) who had made the trip with them as a helper on the crew. Mike still lived at home, worked as a draftsman, and had saved his money for this trip. They asked, “Mike do you have any money?” Mike said, “Yes. I have $500 I brought for my expenses.” Rick said, “We need it!”
They used the borrowed money to purchase two new tires. The new tires made the difference. They ran fast enough to beat everyone in their class and win the NHRA 1967 Winter NationalsFor the first time, the west coast drag racing
community took notice of two young guys from the Southside of Columbus who, on that day, were the best in the nation in their class.
In 1970 Bob Riffle went full-time with the Rod Shop Race Team, a Columbus racing icon. Rick joined with Ray Noltemeyer and built and raced an Opel Cadet. In 1971 the Rod Shop sponsored a new car for Stickle & Noltemeyer with a Dodge powered Colt station wagon. They continued to have success. Bob later joined Richard Petty’s racing team and became one of their main engine builders providing the horse power behind many NASCAR victories. Rick stopped racing after the 1971 season. A growing family and other interests took the time that he had devoted to racing over the previous 10 years. Rick still loves street cars. He is working on a new car that he plans to bring to the SHSAA picnic in 2017.
The Legacy: Rick and Bob accomplished a great deal during the Golden Age of Drag Racing. When I think of their racing career, I am reminded of a common automotive phrase that is applied to acceleration performance – Zero to Sixty! It measures how long it takes for a car to go from a standing start to 60 mph. These guys took their drag racing careers from a standing start on the Southside of Columbus and captured best in class status and national recognition - quite a step up from a few laps around South High School.They made their mark and left an indelible impression on many young men who had the same passion for cars and racing that had driven them - ourselves included.