Interview with Doug Rivera
I recently took a drive down to Gordie's Speed Center in Yuma, Arizona to have a chat with good friend Doug Rivera about everything from the family business to his dad's racing, and to his own racing for an upcoming article in AZ Extreme Motorsports Magazine.
This interview was supposed to take place back at the end of March when his dad was to be posthumously inducted into the Arizona Drag Racing hall of fame but with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting everything down that induction ceremony has been postponed indefinitely.
How has business been for the shop as of late?
"Business has been pretty good lately and it has been a broad range of items that has been selling pretty steady, everything from fuel, shock absorbers, gaskets, camshafts."
Is that from the racing that has been going on in town?
"Not just from the racing, we have gotten boat guys coming in, guys going down to Mexico to race, all sorts of stuff."
Doug Rivera with his mom Debbie.
Exterior shot of Gordie's Speed Center.
How many employees are currently employed at Gordies?
"Mainly just me and my mom (Debbie). My mom does the books from home and has only come into the store 2-3 times in the last two months. My wife will also stop by once in awhile during lunch time for about an hour and after she is done with school she may stop by for an hour or so and help answer phones."
With the current COVID-19 restrictions What has been the biggest challenge during these times?
For me, getting parts. A lot of companies do not have as many workers active so it has taken longer for parts to arrive.
Has Business been affected by this pandemic?
"The store has actually been pretty busy. I thought business was going to die when they first were talking about shutting everything down. The day the shutdown went into effect I told my mom I thought it was going to be slow and it was a fairly normal day and it kept getting busier as time went on. Foot traffic has been really good."
Gordies Speed Center just celebrated 50 years in business last year and you have been a part of the business a majority of the time. What has changed in 50 years and how have you adapted?
"We are in the same location as we were when my dad first started. The original building was torn down and this building was built awhile ago but the business model is still fairly the same. We are pretty old fashioned when it comes to the business."
Inside of the retail portion of the shop.
Doug was busy answering questions from customers
Doug helping a few customers who are picking up parts for the races at Cocopah Speedway
Just a few of the many customers the Rivera family has helped over the years.
How have you guys been able to tie the speed shop into your racing over the years and vice versa?
"My dad was racing before he started the speed shop way back. When he raced the guys around town would come and buy parts. It is the same with my racing on the dirt track I meet these guys and they help support the business. And when you are always here to try and help them out it helps with the business."
Your dad left a memorable legacy and impact on a lot of people. Why do you think that is and how proud of his legacy are you?
"Very very proud of his legacy. Dad was so outgoing and friendly and he would help anybody who needed help. If they needed parts to help them get going he would do whatever it took."
What do you miss most about your dad?
"I miss just working with him all the time in the shop or on the racecar."
Always with a smile, Gordie Rivera getting towed back to his pit in Sonoma in 2012.
A memorial decal of his dad is prominently displayed on the side of Doug's modified.
Gordie was set to be inducted into the Arizona Drag Racing hall of fame this year, how meaningful would that have been to him?
"It would have been very meaningful to him, I wished he could have been here because I know he would have really enjoyed that. That would have been real good."
Even though your dad had not raced pro stock for nearly a decade and full time in close to 30 years there are still a lot of people in the drag racing world who hold him in high regard, Why do you think that is?
"I think it is because he did his own stuff. He wasn’t a renter, he built all of his own engine stuff. I think people give you more respect when you do your own stuff.
When I was a kid my dad would work in the speed shop all day, come home and eat dinner and then go work for hours in the shop we had next to the house, porting cylinder heads or honing blocks until 2-3 o’clock in the morning and then get a few hours of sleep and wake up and repeat it all the next day."
Was that when he was full-time racing or even when he was running a handful of races a year?
"Both, he was always working on his stuff in the shop."
Some of the many crankshafts Gordie machined for his pro stock car over the years.
A couple engine blocks tucked away under a shelf in the back of the speed shop.
The backroom of the speed shop would also house a full machine shop where Gordie put a lot of effort into his pro stock car.
Gordie making a pass at the 2010 Arizona Nationals.
Your whole family competed against the top runners in one of the most competitive classes in all of racing, Pro Stock, for close to 40 years, what was that experience like?
"It was cool but you don't really think about it at the time. To us, it was just going to the races. We did not look at them any different because they were friends to us."
Debbie & Gordie at the races.
(Photo from the Gordies Speed Center facebook page)
What were some of your favorite memories during that time racing with your dad?
"Going to the final round in Phoenix in 1990 against Bob Glidden was probably the highlight, also the times he pulled off upsets like when he beat Glidden on a massive holeshot in the first round of the pro stock challenge race at Indy."
Gordie and Doug with longtime crew member Mike Channing. (Photo from the Gordies Speed Center facebook page)
Video of Gordie's semi-final victory over Bruce Allen at the 1990 Arizona Nationals in which he cut a perfect reaction time.
(Video credit Dragtimes2)
How much seat time did you get in dad’s car? Did you ever license in Pro Stock?
"I made some runs in my dad’s car at Speedworld. I made a couple 60’ runs all the way up to a couple of full runs in the car. but never did complete my license. I did go to Frank Hawley’s school and did complete my Comp eliminator license about 12 or so years ago."
Gordie being introduced to the crowd during pre-race ceremonies.
You made passes in your dad’s car but in recent years you have gotten into racing dirt modifieds, how did you go from a drag racing background to dirt track racing?
"A buddy of mine in town had a modified and my dad was doing the motors and helping him out and one night when we were at the track he asked me if he wanted to test it out one so I jumped in and liked it so I went out and bought my own."
What was the learning process like?
"I actually learned how to do burnouts from breaking tires in behind the house. We had a concrete pad behind the house we would do burnouts on to break in tires."
I bet the neighbors loved that.
*chuckles*, "They would come over and watch."
"After watching my dad and being around it for so many years it kind of came natural. Lets put it to you this way, the first full run I made in it, I was not suppose to. Dad told me to pull high gear and when you pull high gear, push the clutch in. On the run I pulled high gear and it felt pretty good so I ran it all the way."
Doug slinging some mud in his dirt modified.
Racing is still a family affair for Doug as his son Colin helps out on the car and serves as Doug's crew.
After all of the years in drag racing what if anything can you take from your experience working on a pro stock car to working on a dirt modified?
"Some of the stuff is the same as far as tuning the motor but as far as setting up the chassis it is completely different."
Do you build your own engines like your dad use to on his pro stock car?
"I do not because in the modified class we run a GM crate motor that everyone has to run and it is a sealed motor so you cant take it apart."
So even if something breaks on it you cant take it apart?
"No, if something breaks you have to send it to a certified builder."
Doug climbing into his car for a heat race at the 2020 IMCA Winternationals back in February.
What is the biggest thrill of racing on dirt?
"Heck, its fun to drive when the car is working good. When you got cars in front of you and to the side of you it is a pretty wild ride."
Do you still follow drag racing?
"Oh yes I still follow it and will probably always follow it, in fact just this morning I was looking at the results last night from Indy (US Nationals)
A lot of the guys we knew are still out there so I follow those guys as well."
Do you miss drag racing?
"Oh yes I think about it all the time. I have thought about getting another car. I have been looking around for another car, I just have not found the right car but I believe it will come about but I have been looking because I have a lot of stuff to work with. Part of me wishes I had not sold the one we had. If I had not sold the car I would probably be doing something with that instead."
Instead of dirt racing?
Gordie with the parachutes out after a qualifying pass at the 2011 Sonoma Nationals. In a testament to Gordie's perseverance this was the first pro stock eliminations field he qualified for in over a decade.
Gordie leaving the starting line against Vinnie Deceglie at the 2008 Checker Schucks Kragen Nationals in Phoenix.
If you found another car would you go back into Pro Stock?
"Oh no, cant afford that, it is way too expensive, it is a whole another world. I would probably look into comp eliminator or even factory stock class but even those are pretty pricey, I was shocked at the price tag on those."
Was the cost associated with pro stock the reason you guys stopped racing in the class?
"I was possibly going to start driving but about the time that was gonna happen the pro stock class was going to switch to fuel injection and we would have had to invest so much to adapt to fuel injection from carburetors."
To finish up where do you see the business in the next 5-10 years?
"I'm not too political but I think it has a lot to do with how the election goes this year. If Trump wins I think it can go pretty well but if Biden wins who knows what will happen."
I want to thank Doug Rivera for taking the time to sit down for an interview. The Riveras have always been some of the nicest people you could ever meet. They were always the first and last pit I would visit each day at the races. I rooted for Gordie because he was one of the only Arizonans who raced in professional drag racing but over the years I feel like I have become friends with the entire family. That is what makes them such great people is the fact that whether you are a fan at the track or a customer at the speed shop they treat everyone like family.
If you are in Yuma and need some parts stop by Gordie's Speed Center 1878 S Arizona Ave, Yuma, AZ 85364.
The walls at Gordie's are lined with any part you need to go fast.