The parents of the late Jason Richards have declared their intention to return to the Pukekohe Supercars event next year in order to hand over the trophy named in honour of their son.
Today marks five years since Richards, 35, succumbed to a rare form of cancer – an adrenal cortical carcinoma – following a 14-month fight.
Richards’ parents Dave and Pauline have largely stayed away from the Supercars scene since Jason’s death, privately dealing with their grief from the family home in Nelson, New Zealand.
Their one and only visit to a Supercars event came at Pukekohe for the inaugural Jason Richards Trophy in 2013, where the emotion of the occasion proved too much to bare.
They continue to follow the sport closely, however, and believe the time is right to reconnect with their many friends in the Supercars fraternity.
“That weekend in 2013 was really, really difficult, which is the reason we haven’t been back since,” Dave Richards told Speedcafe.com.
“It’s not because we don’t want to come, it’s a personal thing that we really struggle with.
“We still watch all the motor racing at home. It’s alright at home, I can fly to bits at home and no one knows.
“But we’ve met so many great people through the sport and it’s not right that we’re not there, so we’re going to bite the bullet and come next year.
“For us it’s really humbling that the trophy is named after Jason. It is awesome that they are keeping his name alive and we want to be a part of that.”
Although in his 10th full-time Supercars season by the time he was diagnosed with cancer, the charismatic Richards was still considered a rising talent in the category.
Richards had spent the bulk of his career in start-up teams, helping establish Team Kiwi (2001-2002), Team Dynamik (2003) and Tasman Motorsport (2004-2008).
The stint at Tasman yielded podiums at Sandown and Bathurst in 2005, after which the loyal Richards passed up the seat at Prodrive which ultimately went to Mark Winterbottom.
Richards moved to Brad Jones Racing in 2009 and, reuniting with ex-Tasman engineer Wally Storey, finally appeared to have found his Supercars home.
His career ended with three runner-up finishes at Bathurst (2005, 2008 and 2009), as well as a single Supercars race win (Winton, 2006) and pole position (Hidden Valley, 2009).
Present through all but a handful of his Supercars events was Dave, who worked for his son’s various teams looking after the tyre bank on race weekends.
It allowed a continuation of the father-and-son connection that had earlier progressed through karts, Mini 7s and Formula Fords in New Zealand.
Like many parents of aspiring drivers, finances proved a major headache for the Richards family in the early days.
“The big thing for us is that I was only a salary earner, I didn’t have the money to make it all happen for him with the best gear,” reflects Dave.
“When we borrowed the money to build our house, we added some more onto the mortgage to buy the Mini 7 and some equipment so he could move up from karts.
“It was scary times for us because if we’d had a major crash we were in deep s…. When you look back it’s a risk that you wouldn’t normally take.
“In hindsight I’d do it again because of the success we had, but it could have all turned to custard. For Pauline and I it was a major financial commitment.”
After a brief stint in British Formula Ford, Richards’ big break came courtesy of Lyall Williamson’s BMW NZ Touring Car team.
Making the step into a paid drive for the first time, Richards took back-to-back titles in 1998/99 and 1999/2000.
With an eye on eventually progressing to Supercars, he defected to Team Kiwi the following season, winning the NZ title again aboard a fast but fragile Nissan Primera.
“From all his motor racing, winning the last race at Manfeild in the Nissan Primera was the highlight for me,” reflects Dave.
“To win the championship he had to win the last race and there was a lot going on with the three BMWs to try and make it so Jason didn’t win. It was a pretty special achievement.”
While Dave commuted from New Zealand to help out at Supercars events throughout his son’s career, he also maintained his regular job working at a cold storage firm back in Nelson.
A 36-year veteran of the company, Dave finally made the decision to retire ahead of his 70th birthday earlier this year.
Dave was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago but, reporting positive scans and feeling healthy again, is now planning on enjoying his retirement.
“It (the cancer) knocked me around quite a lot and I spent a fair bit of time in hospital, but I feel that I’m good now so we can start to move on,” he said.
“I only wish Jason had the cancer I had and that I had his. Mine could be terminal, but I’ve got more time than he had, that’s for sure.
“It worked the wrong way around, but that’s life. You can’t change it.”
The Richards’ have recently bought a motor home so they can “live like hippies” making trips around New Zealand.
It is the fulfilment of dream that they’d initially hoped would take place in Australia coinciding with Jason’s Supercars races.
Occasional visits across the Tasman are still made, however, to see Jason’s children Sienna (8) and Olivia (7) and widow Charlotte, who remain based in Melbourne.
Mention of the children quickly brings a series of anecdotes from both proud grandparents, who see frequent reminders of Jason in their behaviour.
“Sienna is fussy like Jason, everything has to be perfect,” smiles Pauline.
“If she makes a mistake reading to you she has to do the whole lot again.
“Jason was like that as a child with any projects or pin-striping his helmet with tape.
“He’d be up all hours of the night redoing it so it was just how he wanted.
“Livvy has definitely inherited Jason’s lack of fear, which you often saw on the track.
“She was only two (when Jason died) so she doesn’t remember him directly, but she knows everything about him through photos and the team.
“He did a lot in his life. He spent a lifetime in those 35 years.”
For both Dave and Pauline it’s hard to believe that five years have passed since they lost their son.
Jason had continued to race sporadically during his final year, famously winning a Dunlop Series race in Adelaide before finishing second in a one-off main series return at Albert Park.
He did so while fighting against his illness in his trademark, fully committed style, venturing as far afield as America while he searched for a cure to his rare and aggressive form of cancer.
“It feels like we lost him last week, the hurt hasn’t diminished,” says Dave, who describes himself as “more of a best mate than a father” to Jason.
“Every now and then I’ll be working in the garden and all of a sudden he’ll pop into your thoughts and you fly to bits.
“We are never going to get over it, but I would have thought it would have gotten easier and it’s not doing that.
“There’s not a day that goes past when we don’t think of him,” adds Pauline. “Something is always there to remind you.”