TULSA, Okla. – When Rickie Gaunt was asked about his surprise entry in the 36th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals he laughed and added, “I’m possibly making a huge mistake.”
Gaunt enjoyed plenty of success during his sprint car career marked by a win in the Oval Nationals at Perris Auto Speedway in 1999 and capturing the Sprint Car Racing Ass’n and Non-Wing World Championship titles in 2004.
Yet, for all his accomplishments and accolades the man deemed “Super Rickie” may be best known for his larger-than-life personality. Gaunt was plenty serious when the visor went down, but once out of the car anything could and did happen.
On July 3, 2015, Gaunt streaked under the checkered flag at Santa Maria Speedway and after crashing in the main event the following night at Perris Auto Speedway he called it a career. He knew it was the right decision.
“At that time, I was only racing 15 times a year tops,” he says, “and racing is a perishable skill.”
He also knew it was time to focus more concentration on the budding careers of his sons, Chasen and Mavrick, who were finding their way in off-road racing. Today, his offspring continue to shine in the SCORE and Best in the Desert Series.
Still at some point before the calendar turned to 2022 Gaunt knew the telephone would ring.
“Billy Rose and I have been buddies for 30 years,” he says, “and he always calls me and asks if I want to do the Chili Bowl. I would say, ‘Yes,’ and then call him back a few weeks later and say I can’t do it. For me, circle-track racing is like a girl you broke up with but still love. Then you go to the bar and see her with another guy. I’m just not into that. My boys just love the Chili Bowl, but I didn’t want to go unless I was racing. This time, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
With nearly 400 cars on the grounds and over a half decade since his last time behind the wheel on an oval track, one might think Gaunt has modest goals. Far from it.
“Your goal is to kick everybody’s ass,” he said. “You know there is the Kenny Roger song about a boy who throws the baseball up in the air and swings and misses three times. After that he says, ‘I’m the greatest who ever lived. I didn’t know that I could pitch like that.’ That’s me. I would go to every race and say I’m going to kick ass. Then I would walk through the gate at the end of the night and would think, ‘OK, you guys, just wait until next week.’”
One thing is for certain. No matter how this week goes Gaunt will leave a mark before he heads back west.
“The one thing I can say,” he says emphatically, “is there is probably no one who has had more fun at the race track than me. Nobody. Damion Gardner and I are friends, but for the first two or three years we raced, he couldn’t stand me.
“It’s because for me I would work Monday through Friday to get to Saturday. That was a gap I had to fill to get to the next race,” Gaunt explained. “When Damion clocked in on Saturday, it was his job. When we rolled through the gates, I was clocking out and he was clocking in. He wasn’t having fun. Now I have a fierce competitive side, but I was also there with my buddies. That’s how I am approaching the week.
“Who knows? I might not be fast, but I have a big cooler and I’ll have lots of beer.”