Son of drag racer sets out to turn left at Cocopah Speedway
In some cases, yes. In this case, no.
Since Doug Rivera was two years old, which is just about the time his father Gordie Rivera became a professional drag racer, it’s been a foregone conclusion that Doug would grow up and follow in his father’s footsteps. It would be a right of passage. It was a given in the drag racing community.
But instead of driving as fast as he could in a straight line, Doug found the desire to go as fast as he could and turn left.
He has set out to become a dirt track racer, something he said he wasn’t planning on becoming, and something his father said he never thought he’d ever become involved in.
“It just hasn’t worked out that way,” said Doug this week as he prepared his IMCA Modified Division race car for Saturday night’s show at Cocopah Speedway in Somerton.
“I mean, he’s not ready to get out, and I’m getting older, and if I don’t do something now, I’m going to end up not doing anything. That’s the bottom line.
“I can always do that (drag race) later. But the way I foresee it happening, if it were to work out that way, I’m probably going to be 50. And I don’t want to be 50.
“So I’ve decided if I want to do something, I have to do something that is affordable, and this is what I chose to do.”
Rivera, now 46, said he’s anxious to get his first race under his belt. It will be the first time he’s driven his car in traffic, so he is not going out onto the track with any inflated expectations. As a matter of fact, his goals on the first night out are simple: finish the feature event on the lead lap.
“I don’t plan on going out there and setting the world on fire and winning or anything,” he said.
“After that, I just want to keep going on and finish better and better and maybe win one, whenever that may be. But there are a lot of tough guys out there. There’s guys who have been doing this a long time. It’s going to be a pretty good hurdle to win one.
“I just want to work my way into it. It might take me a while, but I’ll get there.”
When word got out in the drag racing community that Doug Rivera was going dirt track racing, Gordie Rivera said many of his friends were surprised, even shocked.
But the man who has competed against the world’s best at the Pro Stock level in the Full Throttle National Hot Rod Association Drag Racing Series for 43 years said he’s OK with it. As a matter of fact, he’s even embracing his son’s bold move.
“I never thought I’d ever be involved in a dirt car, but here we are,” said Gordie Rivera with a grin.
“I would have rather had him in a Pro Stock car, and it could still happen. I’m going to leave that open. But it’s tough to compete today. I’ve been doing this straight line since the early 70s, and the sport has escalated so big, that it’s tough to compete anymore, for a little guy, a low budget guy.
“Normally a family member picks up on what you’re doing. And a lot of those guys, they don’t think you can have fun with anything else, that drag racing is the only world out there.
“But I think Doug going to the dirt is going to be fun.”
Debbie Rivera, Gordie’s wife and Doug’s mother, agrees.
“I think this is good. I hope they go and they can have some fun,” she said. “I mean, what we’ve been doing has been so serious for so long, and I’m hoping this will be a fun thing. I’ve been hoping for a long time that they could go and do something and smile and have a good time.”
The normal progression for a dirt track racer is to begin with an entry level class, like the Factory Stock Division in the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series.
Doug Rivera, however, is stepping in at one of the fastest, most competitive levels with the IMCA Modifieds. And he has no second thoughts about his decision.
“Well, I like the Modifieds. I like watching them and I figured if I’m going to do it I’m just going to go for it,” he said. “And if I tear it up, and I probably will tear it up, I’ll fix it.”
His close friend, Kent Rosevear, the track’s defending Modified Division champion, was a heavy influence. It was Rosevear who offered Rivera the opportunity to hot-lap his car one night in the late spring, and from that moment on, Rivera was hooked.
Rivera then set out to find his own car, bought one from a racer in Colorado, and has since torn the car down and rebuilt it to become familiar with every aspect of how it works.
Rosevear has been a big help too, he said, offering advice, work space, even parts off of Rosevear’s car if need be.
Gordie Rivera, meanwhile, is doing what he does best: handling the engine department.
“I’ve been trying to help him as much as I can to get him at least on the right track, so he can have some fun,” said Gordie Rivera. “We have some of the stuff to make motors. We know some tricks in the engine department. We can take a motor and probably squeeze a little bit more out of it than a normal guy would do.”
The knowledge of horsepower aside, both Gordie and Doug said there is not much that carries over from drag racing to circle track racing.
“They’re a four link (rear suspension), and we run a four link in drag racing, but their four link is completely out of crazy,” said Gordie Rivera. “They set up a suspension to go left. We’re trying to make it go straight. So it’s a completely different world. I’m sure in time I’ll learn it because that is one part that really brings an interest to me.”
“The one thing I don’t understand about dirt track racing is, there is a lot of crying,” said Doug Rivera. “You’re running on dirt, crap is going to happen. Crap is going to happen to me, and I’m not going to blame it on the other guy. He didn’t mean to do it.
“That’s the one thing I’ve learned from drag racing, is you are professionals and you don’t go blame someone else for your problems.
“The way I look at it is this: They all started where I’m starting.”
Comparatively speaking, Doug Rivera was a lot further ahead in his drag racing career than he is on dirt. On the asphalt, he had completed all but the final step in getting his NHRA Pro Stock license.
“I’m happy for him, that he’s finally going to get to drive something,” said Gordie Rivera. “I’m in favor of him doing it so he can get his feet wet, because the knowledge he will learn over there, it’s a different world as far as drag racing. So he’ll have to start from scratch and he is definitely starting from scratch because he doesn’t know a whole lot about that kind of racing. And neither do I, because I never did the dirt. But it seems very challenging.
“I think that we’re going to have some fun with it.”