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On Big Rigs and Courage
By Bob Burbach
Marysville CA - February 7, 2010 --- The 2010 schedule is all but complete as we who love the sport and, in particular, racing as presented at MRP endure the final 4 weeks of this endless winter.

In future installments I’ll examine in detail what will be the most innovative and spectacular season in the track’s 42-year history. Here’s a quick overview. Promoter Paul Hawes has once again stepped into uncharted territory with ideas that have created quite a stir around here. Not only will the traditional Winged Outlaw 360 Sprinters lead the way with hammer-down action in a new dual heat race format, but also, all of the other divisions will be back. No class has been eliminated. Moreover, MRP will participate in the $10,000 Joe Hunt Magneto Wingless Sprint Car Series presenting four events and the point race finale that will qualify cars for the wingless portion of the 2010 Gold Cup.

The Spring Sprint Car Open, the Mel Hall Memorial Race, the Rich Dozier 100 and of course the Sherm Toller Gold Fever Sprint Car Open that will bring down the curtain on open wheel racing at MRP are all featuring showdowns with the west’s finest chauffeurs at the controls. The season ending EXTREME BOMBER TRAILER RACE and Gold Fever Stock Car Open will put a period on 2010.

But here’s the ringer. Hawes will introduce dirt track big rig tractor racing during the summer months. The Intergalactic Big Rig Racing Association will be offered as MRP continues to take huge steps forward. This sensational promotion will pit big rig tractors wheel to wheel in a mind-blowing spectacle. More on this later as this promotion is still getting some finishing touches put on it.

This winter, however, real life reared its sometimes-ugly head and created a real battle royal at a hospital in San Francisco. While most of us just cursed under our breath that the New Year’s Day open practice was cancelled, the New Year provided a new chapter in the life of an MRP legend. Like him or not, Richard “Pops” Dozier has had an impact on racing at our house…a big one. This is a look at his courageous winter.

I have worn virtually every hat at MRP over the last 23 years; I’ve known Richard Dozier just that long. I’ve driven the water truck and had a section of time when I was the race director…and virtually everything in between.

Rich Dozier is a competitor. It’s a good thing he is. He and his type are slowly being eroded from racetracks by time and nature. His nature is all about winning. Remember that? When racing was for tough guys going too fast, doing something we on the other side of the fence couldn’t do. That’s why I bought tickets.

This soldier of the dirt track wars was nose to nose with me on more than one occasion when I was the race director. Right or wrong, he wasn’t happy with anything or anyone that would, in his estimation, keep his cars from securing championships. This man is a passionate, old school racer. “Pops” is a guy who could fix the car…then race it to see if it worked or not. Into his 70s he was an enigma…a throwback to a day when dirty hands and the willingness to go fast went hand in hand.

Richard Dozier strapped on a sprint car for the 1st time when he was in his 60s…I’ll say it again…his 60s! These rides in open wheel rockets occurred after a successful career in stock cars of all types. He’s has now built and raced nearly everything that slides on dirt.

To give you an idea of how crystal clear he perceives short track racing’s importance, recently he related a story to me. He was at the Richard Petty Driving School to try out a NASCAR Cup car at about 160 MPH or so. At the conclusion of the run, Pops hopped out and said to the guy, “You think this is good? Go drive a sprint car and see how you do.” Over 70 years old, trying a Cup Car and thinking a sprint car is the real measure of a courageous driver. It’s an attitude that we in dirt track racing would agree with. A. J. Foyt stopped driving racecars at 61 years old. That’s when “Pops” first wheelied his way around MRP in a sprinter.

Well, Dozier gave up driving a few years back and provided seats for the family. His fire wasn’t diminished at all. But, you could see he wanted to be out there.

Then, like the punch you never saw coming; “Pops” was in a battle for his life. A deadly disease got a real grip on “Pops” over the last couple of years and was literally choking off his ability to take in air. The fight was on and as of January the rounds were clicking off and the disease was winning…way ahead on points.

“Pops” needed new lungs…yep, new lungs. He’d been on the list for better than a year and missed a big opportunity a few months ago when problems prevented the operation from taking place after “Pops” had roared down to San Francisco for a possible transplant. After pre-op prep Dozier got the bad news and came back home.

Then as the New Year came in he got another call. Donor lungs were available. Rich flew (low-level flying on I-80) to the San Francisco hospital again. This time it looked good. This time it was all or nothing, and dangerous. He went into that operating room and into that frightening dark with no guarantees.

I talked to Rich last week for the first time since the transplant. I actually returned his call. It was amazing. He and his loving wife Sondra were weathering the storm, together. They had just been for a walk and Rich was slightly out of breath. A month after this incredible transplant “Pops” was joking, vital and gave me a blow-by-blow account of it all…for 20 minutes.

“Pops” is not out of the woods by a long shot. His recovery will be long and arduous. Walking is slow and painful. I can’t imagine what a cough must be like.

I am taken aback almost every week at our track by some courageous feat of one kind or another…a driver putting his car where it doesn’t belong and finds success…a beaten and battered racer pulling himself out of a smoking ball that used to be his racecar, repairing it in 30 minutes, wiping away the blood and still making it to the night’s next green flag...red-eye and all. A Billy Knoop nearly dies in the seat of a sprint car and comes back to win…in a stock car. If you’ve been around the sport long enough you’ve seen it all.

But, Richard Dozier’s long fight with a vicious disease has been inspirational beyond description. Courage comes in many forms. This is one of them. Remarkable. This dirt track warrior gets a big tip of the straw hat.

27 days until we start turning laps in anger…and counting.

Watch this site for updates.

Note: Please make this observer aware of any names that are misspelled or incorrect. The text is based on information we have at the time of its release.