There can be no doubt that Rocket Chassis has made itself into a powerful force in the world of Dirt Late Model racing. Drivers and teams have used the cars built out of that company’s shop to win scores of feature races and championships over the past three decades with no end of such success in sight. Whether it be with the Rocket Chassis house car driven by Brandon Sheppard or any of the other numerous racers in that brand of machine, hardly an event is ever contested on the national, regional, or local level in which a Rocket isn’t a contender for the win.
Rocket Chassis began operation as such in 1991 when Mark Richards and Steve Baker came together to begin producing race cars carrying that name out of their Shinnston, West Virginia facility.
But even with their history of success, Rocket Chassis, like virtually every other business in the world, has faced challenges in 2020 due to the shutdowns and restrictions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. But Richards believes the organization has weathered the storm effectively.
“It’s not that bad for the race shop as far as Rocket goes,” Richard’s told InsideDirtRacing.com. “We’re back to things as normal and actually we’re really busy. I think we race too much most of the time. I think people are really making a push to get back out and get racing so business is really good right now.”
Richards also believes an inadvertent lesson might have been learned by the sport due to the unplanned hiatus that essentially wiped out all racing in the United States and the world for two months during the spring season.
“Sometimes I think we try to race the season too long and this here is kind of proving it,” the 59-year-old chassis guru stated. “The fans are out in full force and the racers are out in full force. Sometimes I think we’d be better off to skip those months of March and April then come out in May and have everybody hungry to go and have the racers hungry to go.”
The unfortunate side of the pandemic in terms of economic factors was that many people lost jobs. Not knowing how long it would be before racing resumed forced the chassis builder to make tough decisions. Employees were furloughed all over the country and Rocket was not immune from those cuts.
“We were pretty well shut down for five weeks,” Richards pointed out. “Because of the uncertainty and because of where we wanted to come out of this with the employees that we had, we had fifteen guys that were laid off. We weren’t sure when we were going to be back racing and we had work backlogged when we shut down which wasn’t long after we were here(Smoky Mountain) for the World of Outlaws. Then it was May 4th when we opened back up.”
Rocket opted to close down most operations and leave work for their employees to come back to when restrictions began to be lifted.
“We decided that the best thing to do was to shut down completely, hold the work that we had in progress, and then when we came back we would have a full workload rather than trying to work through it(the shutdown),” Richards pointed out. “And I think we kind of fell in a gray area where we could have worked but what happened was it was best for my employees and everybody that we just shut down completely. We had the parts room open, but that was it. I think this kind of shows us that maybe we race too much.”
Fans were able to benefit from the shutdown in one interesting way. Richards took to the @Rocket1_Racing Twitter account to share stories regarding the history of Dirt Late Model racing in general and Rocket Chassis in particular.
“I was bored to death,” Richards explained. “The TV was nothing to watch other than news and sooner or later you get tired of the news. Yeah, we had a few people who responded through texts and some of the tweets who kind of wanted some history and I was bored out of my mind so they got a little bit of the history.”
Obviously, Richards wants his own Mark Richards Racing car driven by Brandon Sheppard to win as often as possible. At the same time, however, he also roots for other teams who use the cars he helps to build. Drivers such as Ross Bailes, who won the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series feature at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, SC on Friday night, Jimmy Owens and Richards’ own son Josh, who pilots a car for NASCAR star Clint Bowyer, are among the many drivers who employ Rocket Chassis.
“It was great last night for Ross Bailes,” Richards declared on the day following the Bailes victory at Cherokee. “Anytime a Rocket wins we’re happy. It just proves that the product is good no matter if it’s the product we’re racing or if it’s the product the customers are getting from us. There isn’t a car we’ve built that I don’t feel like we couldn’t go race in.”
Some believe that Mark Richards Racing gets better equipment than what the other Rocket teams have available to them. Richards insists that is not true.
“There’s the question that our stuff is different but it’s just production stuff. As a matter of fact, our cars are last year’s cars. We aren’t even running with the new cars. I’ve got some new cars but I don’t have them with me. I have a couple of cars from last year with me. It’s definitely gratifying to see our cars win with guys like Ross last night and Jimmy and the other guys who win with them. We’re happy to see that.”
The Rocket Chassis house car team and all the regulars on the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series will be in action this Friday and Saturday night(June 19 & 20) at the Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, TN.
I still have one of these hats signed by Brandon Sheppard and Mark Richards to give away. My Twitter followers will have an opportunity to win it when I reach 8,500 followers so if you aren’t already, click here(@RichardAllenIDR) and follow for your chance to win!