From the farm tractor to the fast lane
Manitoba farm boy beats the odds to
become a professional race car driver
As Published in The Marketplace magazine
David Richert finds it easy to connect his racing career with his Christian faith.
Given the odds against him succeeding in professional auto racing, he has no other explanation for the past 16 years.
“Racing and God intersected with each other, in the sense that God used racing as a tool for me to have an opportunity to experience him for myself, and how he operates in the world around me,” Richert told an audience who attended a workshop about his life story at MEDA’s annual Business as a Calling convention.
As a child who grew up collecting eggs on his family’s farm south of Winnipeg, Man., he had no interest in motorized vehicles. When he finally discovered racing at the age of 20, he was told that he was both too old and too tall to be a race car driver.
“I have absolutely no money in a sport that is driven by money, and I’m from a farm. I shouldn’t be a race car driver. It’s not supposed to happen, yet it did.”
Richert’s interest in racing started when he saw a Formula One car race on TV. After seeing another race from the upper deck of the Indianapolis speedway, he wanted to compete.
Told that it would be impossible for a farm kid to become a racer, he did some research and discovered that most people start out racing go carts.
In 2002 he bought a go cart and won rookie of the year honors. The following year he bought a faster go cart that could reach 100 miles an hour and won rookie of the year once again.
Convinced of his skill as a driver, he attended a racing school in Quebec, then took a racing test in Savannah, GA. Told by the team owner that he had the most talent and ability, Richert assumed a racing job would follow.
Unbeknownst to him, drivers had to pay $250,000 to race. “In auto racing, you can literally be the fastest driver in the world, but if you do not have the financial backing to pay your way up through the levels, you go absolutely nowhere.”
Richert chose to change his life and put all his money into racing. Part of the plan included post-secondary studies in marketing and international business.
In late 2004 he sold his go cart and flew to Spain to pursue the dream of driving a single-seat race car.
After a two-day taste of racing there, he took two years to learn the business of auto racing, and business in general.
Rickert is a poised, polished and compelling speaker. But things weren’t always that way.
Growing up in rural Niverville, he recalls being a shy, quiet guy who was afraid of loud noises on his family’s farm.
Getting a chance to race professionally required pushing himself. “I realized that if I wanted to have success as a race car driver, I was going to start having to take some risks in my life.”
Richert experienced God after stepping out of his comfort zone to introduce his racing concept to investors whose support he desperately needed.
“In those situations, you can no longer rely on yourself. When everything else is stripped away, nothing is familiar. In those moments you can clearly see God moving in the world around you,” he said.
“There was no denying that with the impossible nature of it, there was only one being that made it happen.
That awareness didn’t make the journey easier. Nothing happened the way he wanted it to. After months and months of work, plans would fall through.
Once he realized that God is in control and writing the script, “life became so much more peaceful.”
A Christian since an early age, he attended a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Winnipeg for the first 26 years of his life, and now attends churches around the world.
Describing his racing ventures since 2012 as a miracle, he says “God orchestrated something that was absolutely absurd.”
At age 36, he spends most of his time developing partnerships to raise money. “The vast majority of drivers I race against are there because their mothers and fathers are willing to give them millions of dollars to drive racing cars. I’m not complaining, that’s just the way it is.”
Richert has won several races in Germany. That doesn’t make getting to the next contest any easier. Prize money in Europe is minimal to non-existent, perhaps 100 Euros (about $220 US dollars), he said. Purses are larger in North America, but still don’t come remotely close to supporting the costs of competing.
“I know that the only way I’m going to have the opportunity to continue my racing career, and advance up to the highest levels, to go race in events like the Indy 500 in the next year or two, is if I treat racing as a business, first and foremost.”
Racing is as physically demanding a sport as any. Richert has “never been as beat up, physically beat up, as I’ve been driving a racing vehicle.”
“In these vehicles, if I wouldn’t maintain some sort of physical fitness in the gym … then I wouldn’t be able to last a race.”
His big break came in 2008. Volkswagen named him one of the top 30 young race car drivers in North America. He still had to pay a $35,000 entrance fee and was responsible for any crash damage to the vehicle, regardless of who caused it. In his first race, someone smashed one of his door panels, leaving him with a $3,000 bill to pay at a time when he only had $200 to his name.
Luckily, VW had a media contest for the driver who could get the most media attention for Volkswagen. He won the contest with twice as many mentions as other contestants, despite competing with a driver whose father had hired a public relations firm.
In 2011 he signed with a team in Italy, raising just enough money to participate in several races. A TV crew from Winnipeg flew to Italy and did a documentary on his efforts.
He then took a year to develop a business plan, allowing qualified investors to put money into a limited partnership, and met his target of raising $500,000 to boost him up to higher racing circuits.
In 2014 and 2015, he was able to race full-time in Europe. In May 2016, he raced in Monaco after raising $400,000 in four months. Actor George Clooney’s tequila company became the title sponsor for his car. Richert designed his own vehicle because he couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it for him.
“There’s more Canadians that have been in outer space than have completed a circuit in Monaco.”
Racing in the most famous of contests, the Indy 500, would require raising $2.5 to $4.5 million. Participating in Indy Lights, the highest step on the Road to Indy, a program of racing series leading up to the IndyCar Series, costs $1.7 million.
Richert hopes to qualify for Indy through a less expensive series of European races.
“I’m excited for what the future holds, as long as God is at the controls.” ◆