EVERYONE in Australia knows just how good Jim Richards is as a driver, but the legendary Kiwi only had a handful of opportunities to demonstrate his ample skills outside our shores.
Thanks to NASCAR, the full broadcast of one such overseas race can now be watched on YouTube.
NASCAR ran a handful of exhibition races in Japan in the late 1990s, firstly on the short road course at Suzuka, then finally on the oval at Twin Ring Motegi.
It was at the second event in 1997 – the last held at Suzuka – that Richards sprung a surprise by qualifying on the front row, ahead of many established NASCAR stars!
We briefly touched on Richards’ Suzuka cameo in our special Thunderdome-themed episode of the V8 Sleuth Podcast – listen below!
Richards’ Canadian car owner Dick Midgely snagged an invite to the exclusive race on the basis of them being the reigning Australian NASCAR champions.
The prevailing conditions for qualifying levelled the playing field between Midgely’s minnows and the elite Winston Cup squads – steady rain fell throughout the day, prompting the Cup Series cars to use Goodyear wet weather tyres in anger for the first time.
Fogged-up windscreens also caused problems up and down the field but, as he explained to the V8 Sleuth Podcast in 2019, Richards got Midgely’s crew to MacGyver a windscreen squeegee out of a broom handle and a chamois.
Listen to Richards talk about Suzuka ’97 on the V8 Sleuth Podcast in the player below.
The combination of Richards renowned wet-weather talent and the makeshift winscreen cleaner saw him qualify a remarkable second.
The only driver ahead of him was Mark Martin who, along with Dale Earnhardt, was one of just two drivers to have sampled Goodyear’s wets in testing.
Behind Richards was an impressive cast: Cup Series heroes Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Mike Skinner, Geoffrey Bodine, Michael Waltrip, Bobby Hamilton, Randy LaJoie and Ricky Craven, plus top Truck Series stars Jack Sprague and Ron Hornaday Jr.
Unfortunately dry conditions prevailed on race day, while Midgely’s pit crew proved no match for the professional Cup Series squads, costing the #09 Pontiac several spots at each stop.
Nontheless, Richards claimed an impressive sixth place in the race, won by Skinner from Martin and LaJoie.
NASCAR recently uploaded the full race day broadcast by TBS onto its YouTube channel – watch it in the player below!