Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Fastest Street Car Staff, with classic car photo courtesy of Pete Ricart
Pete Ricart was around a fleet of fancy and fast Fords during his adolescence as his father owned a car dealership called Ricart Ford in Ohio.
He would watch cars roll in and roll out, and when he was old enough, he would help prep and polish them before they were presented to their new owners.
Sometimes, he would ride in good-looking Galaxies with his mother as she took care of tasks for the dealership, and that further escalated his experience and fueled his fervor for Fords.
When Ricart turned 16, he got a 1972 Gran Torino, followed by a 1966 Mustang, which was the first car he raced at a track, and then he had a 1964 Thunderbolt clone, a1982 Mustang and a 1965 Fairlane, which was a fan-favorite in NMCA Nostalgia Pro Street.
But it’s his 50th Anniversary Mustang Cobra Jet that means the most to him, as he prepared it to race in memory of his son and fellow racer, Brad, and his dog, Buddy, who both recently passed away. When it was ready, he headed to the 18th Annual NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem presented by Holbrook Racing Engines in early March at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida, signed up for Coan Engineering Stock/Super Combo competition, and stayed the course while running as quick as 8.21 on his way to the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle.
There, he was emotional as he was embraced by fellow racers and race fans, but he was also expressive, as everyone there understood the undeniable bond he had with his son.
Read on for more about Ricart, who lives in Pickerington, Ohio, and works for his family business, Rabid Customs, owns Buddy’s RPM, is married to Sherri, and has two children, Amber, with whom he built-up a 1993 Mustang, and Ryan.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MOST VIVID MEMORIES OF GROWING UP AROUND YOUR FATHER’S FORD DEALER?
I remember riding with my mother to get titles for the cars in the 1960s, and she always had to have the big 428 and 429 cubic-inch engines in her Galaxies, and that made me a little hot-rodder. I can also remember going to the building across the street from the dealership where the guys would put radios in the cars and prepare new cars, and I would hang out with them. Then, when I got a few years older and my father moved the dealership from Canal Winchester to Columbus in 1967, he would take me with him. We had 50 acres and he would put me on one of the tractors after school to mow. After I mowed for three hours, I would race my dirt bike around the property. Then when I was 14 or 15, I was helping the guys in the shop detail cars, in between school and football practice. By the time I was 21, my family changed the name of the dealership from Ricart Ford to Ricart Automotive.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST DAILY DRIVER?
I got my driver’s license the day I turned 16, and then I had a 1972 Gran Torino. It had a 351 Cleveland and a four-speed transmission. I would go too fast in that car, and I got chased by the police a couple of times. I was a little bit of a hell-raiser.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST RACE CAR?
When I was 15, there was a 1966 Mustang on the lot at my father’s dealership, and I asked him if I could work for it. It had a 289 Hi-Po engine. My father knew I was already a gear head and said I could make a race car out of it, so we rebuilt the engine with heads from another car that was going to auction, and I took it to National Trail Raceway and ran 12.90s. That was pretty cool.
WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER THE NMRA?
It was back in the early 2000s, when I raced my 1964 Thunderbolt clone in NMRA Open Comp. It was white with a light blue interior, and it had a 460 Ford crate engine, and it ran 10.70s. I finished in the top ten in points.
WHEN DID YOU COME TO NMCA?
It was also in the early 2000s, with the same 1964 Thunderbolt clone, and I finished in the second spot in points. I started running my black Fairlane in Open Comp, and some other races, too, with an engine by Keith Craft and Larry Kuntz, but I wanted to move to NMCA Nostalgia Pro Street with that car. My family also has a real 1964 Thunderbolt that my brother and I bought from Charles Crites when I was 21 years old. It had just been sitting in a barn, and we restored it to how it would have been raced in 1964 at the Spring Nationals. I always joke that I have one real and one unreal 1964 Thunderbolt.
THE BLACK 1965 FAIRLANE WAS AN INSTANT FAN-FAVORITE IN NMCA NOSTALGIA PRO STREET. WHAT WENT INTO READYING IT FOR RACING?
John Holt Racing built the car from the ground up, from the chassis to the suspension. Kris Nelson built the engine, a 638 cubic-inch big-block Ford, and Steve Johnson of Induction Solutions did the nitrous set-up. I ran the class for five years, was consistently in the 7.50s, did pretty good, won some races and finished in the top ten in points. I raced outside of the NMCA as well, and I did well in Heavy Street at Orlando Speed World in the mid 2000s, but then I crashed it.
WHEN DID THAT OCCUR, AND WERE YOU HURT?
I flipped the car at the NMCA event at Atlanta Dragway, and I wasn’t hurt, and the car wasn’t totaled. John Holt Racing rebuilt the car and pounded out the roof, and then we had the car re-inspected by the NHRA, swapped engines, transmissions, rear-end and tires within a week, and then I ran the 10.5 class at National Trail and got runner-up. I stopped racing that car, and started racing a 1982 Mustang with a 514 cubic-inch engine and nitrous, and we called it Hood Rat. I raced in True Street a couple times and got runner-up at Beech Bend Raceway and Memphis International Raceway, and I won at National Trail Raceway and at a Friday Night Lights race at Kil-Kare Dragway, but then I took the past few years off of racing so much to focus on family businesses Rabid Customs and Buddy’s RPM.
WHAT HAS BECOME OF YOUR 1965 FAIRLANE?
We’ve been working on it at Rabid Customs. It now has an all-metal wide-body, retractable top and a ROUSH 427 cubic-inch engine with a ProCharger, and it’s all-wheel drive. We want to take it to Good Guys shows so that people know what Rabid Customs can do.
YOU HAVE SOME OTHER COLLECTIBLE CARS IN YOUR CORRAL, DON’T YOU?
Yes, our family has five R-Codes, including a 1967 Fairlane, 1963 1/2 Galaxy, two 1964 Galaxies and a 1964 Fairlane Thunderbolt. They have 427 cubic-inch engines, four-speed transmissions, and no heaters or radios. I drive them around a bit. They were not from my family’s dealership, so I did the history on them. I do know where my dad’s 1964 Galaxy R-Code is, and I would love to buy it, but need to talk the owner into selling it for me.
YOUR LIFE WAS DRAMATICALLY CHANGED WHEN YOUR SON, BRAD, RECOVERED FROM A MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT BUT PASSED AWAY MONTHS LATER AFTER A HEART ATTACK IN FEBRUARY. WAS HE YOUR INSPIRATION TO RETURN TO RACING IN THE NMCA THIS YEAR IN A 50TH ANNIVERSARY MUSTANG COBRA JET?
Brad was definitely my inspiration. Before he passed away, he wanted to go racing, and I told him I would buy the 50th Anniversary Mustang Cobra Jet so that we could race it together. After he passed away, I decided that I had to go to the NMCA season opener in Florida in March to run the car for him because I know that’s what he would have wanted. That was all the motivation I needed. I took the car to John Holt Racing to have it set up and scaled, and then Watson Racing did additional suspension work at the NMCA season opener at Bradenton Motorsports Park in March.
BY ALL ACCOUNTS, YOU HAD AN AMAZING WEEKEND, AS YOU RAN AS QUICK AS 8.21 ON YOUR WAY TO THE WIN, AND DEDICATED IT TO YOUR SON, BRAD, AND YOUR DOG, BUDDY.
The weekend was all about my son and my dog, and I was so happy to have been able to win for them. I’ll tell you, I could feel their presence in the winner’s circle. If I didn’t go through what I went through with them, I wouldn’t be so intense about wanting to do well in their memory. Thankfully, I also had a good crew chief helping me all weekend, too. His name is Joe.
NOW THAT YOU HAVE COMPETED IN THE CATEGORY, AND HAVE SEEN HOW COMPETITIVE IT IS, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
I knew what I was in for because I had raced with some of these guys before. It’s a tough crowd, and my hat is off to them. This category is not for just anybody, that’s for sure, but I’m on a mission and I want to do well in it.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO WHEN YOU’RE NOT RACING OR WORKING?
I have a 33-foot Baja boat on which I do poker runs. It averages about 83 mph, and it offers as much adrenaline as racing. I would like to thank Ricart Automotive, Rabid Customs, Buddy’s RPM, Joe Dirt, John Holt Racing, Watson Racing and Joe, who knows how to make them go.
(Interview from the October 2020 issue of Fastest Street Car)