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Les Richter, former Ram who became key force in auto racing, dies at 79

June 12, 2010 | 11:18 am

Richter Les Richter, twice a key force in establishing big-league auto racing in Southern California after a career as an all-pro linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams, died Saturday. He was 79.

Richter died at Riverside Community Hospital after suffering a brain aneurysm on Friday, said his son, Jon Richter.

Richter first led Riverside International Raceway, a twisty road-racing course east of Los Angeles, to national prominence largely by bringing NASCAR there in the early 1960s.

After that track closed in 1988, he helped supervise development of Auto Club Speedway, the 92,000-seat Fontana track initially called California Speedway that opened in 1997 and now hosts two top-level NASCAR races a year.

But Richter also was an influential motor sports figure even though he never drove a race car or turned a wrench, one whose football background earned him the nickname "Coach."

Richter, "more than anyone but [NASCAR founder] Bill France Sr., was responsible for the expansion of NASCAR," the late Shav Glick, longtime motor sports writer for The Times, once said.

The complete obituary can be found here.

--Jim Peltz

Photo: Les Richter at home in Riverside in February. Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times