The Keith Rauch Story, Part I

Rauch had settled in Denver as a service manager for Capital Chevrolet when, ironically, his respiratory issues got the best of him.

Just as it had played out with his mother decades ago, he was advised to move to a drier climate. Considering the available alternatives, Rauch chose Phoenix, and with great help from his employers he resumed his career.

In 1969 his second child had arrived and, true to his word, he named his new son Keith.

“In fact,” Ed added with a chuckle, “I wanted to name him Keith Andrew Rauch, but the wife said, ‘No, it has to be your name, Keith Edward.’”

Keith Rauch
Keith Rauch. (Jerry Bennett photo)

Before Keith had reached his fifth birthday, he was taking laps in a quarter-midget.

He cut his teeth at the famed South Mountain Speedway – the starting line for so many southwestern legends – and, as his father recalled, “At that time he was most interested in looking at his mom in the stands.”

While it may have taken a few rounds for him to give full focus to the task at hand, the truth of the matter is that it became obvious that he had the requisite talent to be successful.

When he became a dominant force on the local scene, owner Tad Fiser took Rauch to a national event indoors at Sacramento, Calif., to go head-to-head against all of the hot dogs in his discipline.

“We were running Light A,” Keith remembered, “and the tire to have was a Burris. We couldn’t get any at the time; all of the fast guys had them and they wouldn’t let us get our hands on one. So, Tad had an idea. We went to the Novice guys, who had raced before us, and bought some from them. We lapped the field.”

Later, Rauch and company ventured to a national event held in the parking lot of the Hacienda Hotel in Las Vegas and, once again, he landed on top.

Keith began working for owner Dave Ellis in his Phoenix shop, and it was Ellis who gave him his first opportunity to race a Volkswagen-powered midget. The teenager practiced under the watchful eyes of Ellis, who surmised that the youngster was up to the challenge.

It was both an exhilarating and frustrating experience, as broken rocker arms kept sending him to the sidelines.

Keith later jumped at an opportunity to work for Jack Yeley, which also afforded him more opportunities to race. He entered the win column by taking Manzanita Speedway’s annual anniversary race in late August of 1989 and by then any reservations about his ability were dashed.

His father purchased a Cosworth engine from Yeley and put a car together to keep his son in the game, but they were always on the lookout for chances to race for others.

A key moment in Keith’s career came during the running of the Western World Championship at Manzy. While sprint cars on the big half-mile constituted the main event, midgets would compete on the accompanying quarter-mile.

On this night, Rauch was racing for southwest racing icon Wayne Weiler. While Ed Rauch was scrutinizing his son’s performance, a stranger moved next to him and said, “Hey, that kid is making that Chevy II go pretty good. Do you know him?”

Relishing the moment, Ed turned and said with a laugh, “As a matter of fact, I do. That’s my son.”

The stranger was Denver-based owner Tony Finley. Finley had purchased a car from Dave Ellis and would see John Heydenreich carry his car to victory in the 1990 Chili Bowl. More impressed with each lap he watched, he casually asked Ed Rauch if he thought Keith would be interested in racing for him.

“That’s up to him,” Ed replied. But when pressed to offer an opinion on what it would take to lure his son to the Rocky Mountains, he said, “Probably an airline ticket.”

Looking back, Keith said it was an easy decision to make, in part because, “All I wanted to do was race.”

Any rough edges that might have arisen in the transition period were softened by the fact that his older sister Kristy not only resided in the Mile High City, but also managed an apartment complex.

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