Tazewell Speedway Legends: Rick Welch
When it comes to legendary drivers at Tazewell Speedway none were more polarizing than Rick Welch. He took up the role of villain and played it well. He was the Intimidator of the Taz; however, behind the scenes he was actually helpful to all who needed it.
Rick Welch started his career by racing a 1972 Chevrolet Nova at Newport in the 80’s and although he immediately didn’t find victory lane he was learning how to work on and drive the race cars.
Welch spoke about how his number came about, “We went to Newport and I duct taped a #1 on the side of the car because it was an easy number to make. Turns out, there were too many people with the number that night and an official wanted me to change it so he just added an eight and I have ran the number since.”
Welch enjoyed that race but it was July 4 that year when everything began to click, “We had been running around the top five but that night I made it up to second and the hot wire came off the distributor ending the night.”
He kept racing and eventually made it out to Tazewell Speedway where J. Harrell was the guy to beat at the time and said “I walked by, smiled at him and told him to tune it up and I beat him the second time out.”
Around 90-91, Chevrolet Monte Carlo’s were the choice of cars along with Camaro’s at Tazewell and Welch along with Wayne Overholt, Anthony Morgan, Leonard Bray, Gary Blanken and others were the show. Two classes of cars were the big draws including Thunder & Lighting and Modified Street. They were more anticipated each week than the super late models.
The competition in Modified Street began to be very close and the tension during those races was obvious even to the fans in the stands. They didn’t seem to like each other.
Welch described one incident this way, “Overholt had a championship all locked up one year and during the last race I was able to pass him. Wayne spun me out and went on to win but I protested him and he was running illegal and he lost the race and championship. I think he went up to the tower that night and threatened them with a lawn chair.”
Another famous incident occurred when Welch and Morgan were battling, “I won the race and Morgan wasn’t happy. He had been protesting me all the time and he pulled in the pits ahead of me and sure enough he protested me again.
I saw that he had done it again and I bumped his car, got out, walked on his hood and sat down in front of him on the car to ask him why he always does that? He probably didn’t like that so he gassed the car and was taking me out on the track.
Luckily, I was able to reach down and fight to get his hand away from the switch and shut it off before he took me for a ride.”
Another iconic moment was when Brad Davis was running strong, “Well, Brad had a fast car and one night he went out there and made a strong lap, a new track record. I went out behind him and broke his record.
We always had something going on in that class and I had a lot of fun racing against Davis, Bray, Wayne, Tony Trent, Cabbage, Randy Davis, Charles Campbell and so many others. We pushed each other to go faster and each week we did.”
His favorite dirt driver was Melvin Corum but he also loved Dale Earnhardt. Many fans said he drove a car like Earnhardt and when asked about his driving style Welch said, “I just wanted to win. You got to make it happen not sit and wait for it. You got to be at the right spot at the right time.”
Welch won 75-100 races and four championships at the Taz, 1995-97-98 and the last one in 2004. Not bad for a racer that was first introduced to the sport by his parents Junior and Ruby Welch.
The rivalries were intense and Welch says there are no hard feelings now, “I think we are all friends now. We all talk about those days and when we all parked on the hill under the scoreboard, those were the best of times.”
Welch talked about his favorite and least favorite moments in racing, “It might be taking that record from Brad, that was fun. My least favorite was my wreck in 1987. Faye Perry and I were racing hard and I had to come from the back. I went to pass him and the next thing I knew was that I was going head over heels and barrel rolled across the finish line. I won the race but that hurt.”
The Tazewell Speedway version of the Intimidator wanted to thank a few people, “I can’t remember all that helped me but Alan Mayes, Larry Burke, Larry Hazlett and Mark Cline helped me on a regular basis. I know there are so many more too.”
Rick helps out several racers now and just wants to stay involved in the sport he loves. His garage sits at the mouth of Cave Springs in the same spot where most of his rivals had to drive as they traveled to the track. When they saw that black 18 sitting outside they knew he was ready.
Rick Welch is a legend of Tazewell Speedway and although he seldom races there is a car in the garage being prepared for next season. Look for him to climb back in the cockpit next season for a few Sportsman races.
By: Allen Earl
Rick Welch (Photo by Allen Earl)
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