There comes a point in one’s career when one punches the time clock for the final time, and they walk away with a lot of happiness. It shows they put in everything they could with their employer, and often more. But for whatever reason they have, they decide that finally the time comes to call it a career.
Some earn it over years, decades even, and it’s made clear that the time was right. Other times, it comes as a surprise, at a point where no one is thinking about it.
In racing, no matter what kind, retirement either in a driver’s prime, or even a crew member, is not uncommon, and come in many forms.
This week, Bob Vandergriff stunned the NHRA by his sudden retirement. His unique timing of calling it quits now, instead of waiting till the end of the season, shocked everyone because he retired as an owner, not a driver. His top fuel team suddenly is no longer at the track, trying to do the turn-around in between runs. Employees were suddenly out of a job, employees that have husbands, wives, and children to care for, along with the everyday bills and needs of a home.
No one expects one to call it quits at a point where it effects so many, with some maybe not having a back-up plan in case of such instances.
Some will retire from one aspect in the sport, only to become involved in another. Look at young Ricky Hendrick, who was taken from this world before anyone could see how much potential he had. He had strong success as a Busch Series driver, but a hard accident would take him out of the seat as a driver, but instead opened a door to a new opportunity.
Hendrick retired as a driver, and then went into the owner role. It worked, but no one will ever know how well it would have been if not for his untimely death in 2004.
Drivers retire and then still want to be involved, because they can’t get that itch away from them. Sometimes it comes because they know their time at the wheel is over, or it’s because a better opportunity came. Or, in the case of one driver, the opportunity for another.
Richard Childress stepped out of his car in the mid 1980’s when the opportunity came around to give another driver who saw time with a few previous owners a chance to find his footing. A tall, prominent man, cowboy hat along with some big sunglasses and a mustache named Dale Earnhardt got the opportunity to take to the wheel, and Childress took over a new role as a team owner. That relationship brought about six championships, multiple wins, and a relationship that continued away from the speedway.
In other forms of motorsports, one retires possibly when they are at their absolute best, or in the absolute best equipment they have ever driven.
This year, Dan Runte has elected to step away as possibly the best driver to ever pilot Bigfoot. He’s doing so after seeing so many different changes in the sport, and is walking away from the best truck the team has in their fleet, Bigfoot #21. He walks away having completed by winning five consecutive Toughest Monster Truck Tour championships, something no other driver in the Bigfoot team has ever done, nor any other driver in any other promotion has ever done.
Runte had more years in his career, but his time came, and he leaves with admiration.
Whether it’s injury, time, or opportunity, there is a moment when someone in motorsports then decide, “This is it. I need to do this.”
It’s not uncommon, although sometimes the circumstances may be. But in the end, it is the choice of the one individual that feels the time is right to call it a career.