The NASCAR Whelen Southern...
The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified championship came down to the final race at Southern National Raceway Park in Kenley, North Carolina, last year. Miller won the title by six points.
In a day when auto racing is swamped with high-dollar sponsorships and multi-car teams, the old adage that says money buys speed seems to be more true than ever. But a throwback to the days of yesteryear is very much alive and doing well in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
David Riggs started racing in the Modified Series in 1962, and since that time, using a who's who list of Modified stars, he has amassed seven touring series titles and innumerable track championships. Riggs Racing's shop is located in the hills above Martinsville, Virginia, and looks nothing like what you would expect a championship team's shop to look like.
First of all, it's not a shop at all, as the entire facility is located in the garage and basement of Rigg's home. Spare parts, tires, wheels, and lubricants share space with the family washer and dryer, and the adjoining rooms hold the fabrication shops. The garage holds workbenches and floorspace where the car is put together and reworked after every race. David's wife, Margaret, is obviously a very understanding woman.
The 69-year-old Riggs, along with longtime friend Irvin Holley, both of whom retired from Dupont in 1992, work on the car during the day. At night, David's son, Jeff, along with Reggie Newman and other childhood friends, take over the shop duties.
In 1996, the team made a decision that would change the destiny of Riggs Racing. The regular driver, Tim Arre, decided to race the entire season up north, and David Riggs went in search of a new driver. Junior Miller's engine builder suggested Junior's name to Riggs, and soon a deal was made.
Riggs Racing's shop is located...
Riggs Racing's shop is located at the home of owner David Riggs.
The combination of Miller with Riggs Racing was a success right out of the box, as the team won its first race together at South Carolina's Myrtle Beach Speedway. Last year, the championship came down to the final race at Southern National Raceway Park in Kenley, North Carolina. Miller caught championship rival Tim Brown in traffic and passed him with 17 laps to go to take the title by six points.
Unbelievably, Miller doesn't take a cent out of the operation, driving for free. All Junior wants to do is drive around the track at the end of the night with the checkered flag in his hand. After nine track and series championships together, the team is entering the '07 season confident of another title.
At first glance, you wouldn't expect this team to be a perennial title contender. The yearly budget for Riggs Racing is much less than some teams spend for one motor. Last year, for example, David Riggs spent $33,000 for the entire year-$9,000 for tires-while winning $33,383. Riggs Racing was probably the only team in the Whelen Southern Modified Tour that actually didn't lose money last year.
How does the team do that? What is the secret?
Being old school. The chassis that has carried Junior Miller to two consecutive Whelen Southern Modified Tour championships is a 2003 Troyer. Since David and his boys took ownership of the chassis, it has never gone back to the manufacturer. If something needs to be fixed, they fix it; if it can be repaired, they'll repair it. Very few parts at Riggs Racing are unsalvageable. As a matter of fact, team members will see parts that other teams have thrown away, fix them, bolt them on their car, then turn around and beat the team that threw away the "broken" part.
Junior Miller in familiar...
Junior Miller in familiar territory.
If Junior gets into a wreck, the team brings the car back to the family garage, cuts off the damaged hardware, and replaces it with new tubing and chassis pieces. Aluminum body panels are fabricated right there next to the humming clothes dryer.
"I ordered $560 worth of parts last week." David said recently. "Those will last me for two years."
When you are sitting there looking at the rolling frame, sans bodywork, you realize that something just doesn't look right in the front end of the car. You ask about it and the answer startles you.
"It's the shocks," David Riggs says. "They're Penske shocks. Back in 1988, Penske gave me eight shocks. I liked them and bought every one that I could find. I've had them for 19 years now, and I rework them after every race. I've had young guys from the other teams come over and look at them and call them antiques.
"The brakes there I got when we bought the chassis. After every race I'll take them apart, put in new O-rings, oil the pistons, and Scotch-Brite them so they look brand new. It makes the brake guy kind of mad because I don't buy new ones from him like everybody else. But I still beat them most weeks with my antiques. That's the fun of it. We're not here for the money. It's a great feeling inside to go out and beat the guys who are throwing all kinds of money to go fast while we build most of our stuff down here. It's the reason I'm still here doing the racing thing. Years ago, we were really serious about all of this. But now it's just fun.
SST technology with David...
SST technology with David Riggs and Irvin Holley. "That's our sit and swing technology," says Riggs. "We'll work on the car for a while, then go up on the porch and sit on the swing and think about what we need to do for a while. It works for us."
"It brings my family and all of our friends together. We are all together about every day of the year. What could be better?"
David's son Jeff chips in, rummaging on the workbench for a part. "At the North/South Shootout at Concord [North Carolina] last year, Junior was driving someone else's car," says Jeff. "They had it set up way too soft. They wore down this tube. It costs 80 bucks. I'll straighten it, cut off the couplings, and reweld it and then we'll use it. Every part counts.
"We also hand-mount all of our tires to keep the wheels from being damaged on the machines. Sure, that's a little thing, but all of those little things add up over the year."
"Anybody can just keep buying and bolting on parts," David says. "We just don't operate that way. It's just wasting money. I feel that if you do that you are cheating your sponsors, and that's not right."
Mike Paris, motorsports marketing supervisor for Advance Auto Parts, one of Riggs Racing's sponsors, tells the story of how David Riggs asked for a certain amount of money for the season one year. At year's end, Riggs had not used all of the money that he had asked for, so he wrote a check back to Advance Auto Parts for the difference.
Irvin Holley sums up the philosophy of Riggs Racing this way: "David and I use SST. That's our sit and swing technology. We'll work on the car for a while, then go up on the porch and sit on the swing and think about what we need to do for a while. It works for us."
Riggs Racing may not have all of the spit and shine of a Ganassi or Roush shop, but the team is a proven winner. And Riggs Racing does it the old-fashioned way.