“Rich in Detail” Don Rich - Replica Rembrandt

By Gary Gasper

(February 14, 2012) - If you’ve ever built a plastic model of any kind, you pretty much stayed within the rules that the instruction sheet gave you.  Don Rich of South Holland, Illinois started building model cars when he was around 10 years old.  He didn’t pay attention to the instruction sheet though because he was putting together model cars of his favorite race drivers from Raceway Park in Blue Island, Illinois.  Since there were no model kits of these drivers, Don had to create them the best he could. 

Don grew up in Dolton, Illinois and at the age of 10 or so asked his dad, who wasn’t a race fan, to take him to Raceway Park to watch the stock car races.  That’s all it took.  Just like many other kids who tell the same story on how they got “hooked” on racing, Don had found his new “passion”!  He began bugging his dad then to take him to Raceway all of the time.  Eventually, Don’s dad would drop him off at a Clark station across the street from the track and after the races were over Don would his call dad from the gas station to come and pick him up! Don played the accordion at this time and once during a musical competition in Springfield, Illinois Don and his family stayed at a hotel across the street from Springfield Speedway, a quarter mile dirt track.  Just as luck would have it for Don’s dad, Don said “guess where we’re going Saturday night?”

Don also used to haunt local garages on his bicycle.  One such garage was Erv’s 66 Service on Sibley and Paxton in Calumet City, Illinois.  Bob Vickery’s #66 Ford would be there and Don would ask to look around at the car and trophies and was told “just don’t touch nothin’"

One of Don’s favorite drivers growing up was Raceway Park legend Bud Koehler.  He possesses a trophy that Koehler won at Raceway Park in 1974. He drove the #77 car and so that would be the first model Don would attempt to create without use of a pre-painted car with a decal sheet enclosed.  It was an AMT 1964 Mercury kit.

Don would use whatever he could find to accessorize the car to look like a late model stock car.  All through high school Don would re-create whatever Bud Koehler’s cars looked like at Raceway.  Don built many, many different versions of Koehler’s #77 but hated to part with them.

With his Brownie Starmite camera, he’d hang out by the pit gate and snap photos of the cars on their open trailers as they rolled in. Remember, back then there were no NASCAR sized haulers parading to and from the racetrack!  Don would then use the photos for reference as to the size and shape and color of the sponsors lettering and numbers.

At the time he realized just how “archaic” his cars were because of the hand painting and lettering, but little did he know how his perseverance would pay off in the future!

Don did get away from the cars and got into model railroading for a while.   After high school, Don went to Greer Tech located on 23rd and Michigan near Soldier Field in Chicago.  Don said on Friday nights when his class was 6 to 10pm and the stock cars were running at Soldier Field, he and a buddy would “sneak” out of class to catch the races and get back to class before it let out at 10.

Don dated Bobbi and they were at Raceway Park every Saturday and Sunday. He had heard about Illiana Speedway in Schererville, Indiana but never could get there because of his loyalty to Raceway Park!  Then, in 1965 he went to his first race there, and it was the Bettenhausen 100 won by Moose Myers.  I asked Don just how many racetracks he has attended since then, and 2 hours after the question, he was still naming tracks!!

Don and Bobbi will now be married 45 years, and she still occasionally goes with him to the tracks. They moved to South Holland, Illinois in 1976, and Don got re-interested again in building model racecars. The model kits were now catering to the race enthusiast which made building them a little easier.  Don would start to amass in his estimation, “tons” of photos and programs as reference for his modeling prowess. Photographers and racing historians Stan Kalwasinski and Ted Knorr were leading contributors to this collection.  Don’s eye for detail in color would have him search wherever he could find the correct color for a car.  One difficult color was the Stash Kullman #4U Camaro.  This, I might add, a difficult color to photograph also!  Don would paint Stash’s car but not be happy until he found a nail polish in the exact color. No, it wasn’t a nail polish that Don used…

Now, Don’s wife Bobbi, being a licensed hair stylist, would get her beauty supplies from a supply house, and Don tagged along one day to check out the nail polishes.  When he nailed the color, no pun intended, he bought all of the bottles of “Flannels” which was the color of Kullman’s 4U!  Don will mix and blend different colors like an artist to capture the correct hue for his creations.

Don said comparing the color of a car through a photo, in a garage under lights, and outside in the sun, would be a challenge to get the color right.  What he thought would be the final say on a color would prove to be off after the car was finished being sprayed.  It was just off enough for Don to strip it and start all over again. 

Don eventually got tired of the all Camaro fields at Raceway Park and started to frequent Illiana a lot more.

Around 1997 Don made his first Illiana Speedway model car. That was the #00 of Mike White.  Each letter on the car would be applied from a letter decal sheet.  It wasn’t state of the art, but it wasn’t hand painted anymore!  He would show this car to car owner Tom Rose who told Don to show it to Jimmy Smith, the owner of Auburn Supply Co.  That was the sponsor of the car.  Don would then be commissioned to build around six model cars a year for Jimmy for the next 12 years!  Add them up!

Don would “hook up” with Stan and Jack Kalwasinski and watch Jack start his late model career. “Crew member” Don helped out in the shop with painting and bodywork on the stockcar.  Last year, after Jack’s late model was delivered with the new paint scheme, the interior was a day-glo green.  Jack went out on the track, and the glare from the sun on the green dashboard made it impossible for Jack to see!  Don had to re-paint the dash black for Jack! 

With the help of his computers and printers Don has perfected his meticulous way of creating graphics for his models. A trusty digital camera around his neck, he patiently seeks out the cars in the pits of drivers who beg him to make a car for him or her. He then shoots the car all the way around to capture every small detail.  After loading all the images into his computer, he then downsizes the lettering to the right scale he needs for a 1/24th or 1/25th scale model.  Don says he has zillions of fonts on his computer to match whatever extra lettering he may need to complete the project.  The final lettering he needs for any given model is then printed out on decal paper.  Even the tire labels  (Hoosier, Firestone, etc.)  are available on a decal sheet form.  Don uses either plastic kits or metal diecast cars to fill his orders.  He said that either material doesn’t matter to him in terms of construction difficulty, although the plastic windshields are a little harder to remove from the metal cars.

After a primer and 3 to 4 coats of paint, all of the graphics are ready for mounting. Don then sprays a clear gloss over the finished car.  Don has been creative in his quest for detail on certain cars.  Going back to the Kullman car #4U, it usually had a cartoon figure of Sylvester the Cat on the painted hood.  Then one year, the hood was changed to black with Tweety Pie on top.  Don had to scan a key chain he found with Tweety on it to get that image for the hood! 

Don’s workshop consists of a room in the house and his painting area in his garage.  The work area also has a slot car track that Don and his grandson Caleb use to let off steam when Caleb’s over for a visit.  Don’s supply of cars he creates is replenished by visiting hobby shops, model shows, eBay, and whatever leads he gets to acquire the cars he needs.  His time line for building a model has not been determined.  He usually has a few cars “in the shop” waiting for various stages of building, so he never could put a definite start to finish time on one car.  He’s presently getting a group of cars ready for the Chicagoland Memorabilia Show in Peotone on March 25th

A funny thing that happened last year was Don received  a request for a certain car through a friend, and during the show, a guy came along and liked that car and bought it.  Shortly after the sale, the guy who wanted that car originally showed up and asked “where’s that car?”  Don said he sold it to another customer not knowing who the heck was who!  So it was back to the shop to build another!  Prices for Don’s cars vary according to detail and availability of the car.  He tries to stay consistent with today’s prices comparing to diecast car prices.  So if you’re interested in having Don build you a car, you’ll have to dicker with him! 

Along with the Koehler trophy Don has in his “trophy room,” he also has numerous diecast cars that he has collected.  Once, at a toy show in Kalamazoo, Michigan, he bought an ASA Mark Martin Camaro.  He found out when he got home that it was autographed on the windshield by Mark. Another nice piece is an O’Hare Stadium jacket given to Don by Bud Koehler’s son, Rodger.  One car in Don’s display case is a fantasy ’57 Olds that he built for himself.  That particular make of car was always Don’s favorite, and he got the color idea after seeing an old Hudson stockcar parked by a garage when he was a kid.  Don got an order to build two 1/18 scale cars.  A ’69 Bud Koehler Chevelle, which is finished, and a Jerry Kemperman ’67 Impala!  He has built one other 1/18 scale car in the past, and enjoys the change of working on a larger scale.  Don has built models of current late models, limited late models, mid-am, and Turbo Stox from Illiana, Grundy County Speedway, and Rockford Speedway.  Along with late models from Raceway Park in the 60’s and 70’s, and a few from Soldier Field in the 60’s, Don figures he has built over 250 models!  But who’s counting?

One last question I asked Don was, “Any dirt cars built?”  He had built one dirt modified a few years ago.  It was the #86 that Mike Oldenburg drove locally at Crown Point Speedway and Shadyhill Speedway, both in Indiana.  Mike is the son of the late Don Oldenburg, who was a star all over the Chicagoland area, among other parts of the country, many years ago.  Don says it’s kind of hard to track down dirt cars for model building, and since he’s always at an asphalt track somewhere, the “dirt fans” don’t have an opportunity to approach him.

Maybe after this story gets out, and future friends check on him on Facebook, he very well may get  a few more requests for different types of racecars!  You can see more of Don’s cars on chicagolandautoracing.com and scroll down to find “stock car replicas” and click on that.

Don Rich has been given many titles for his expert ability to re-create models of current and past full sized race cars.  The title that I’m giving him is “Replica Rembrandt”

 

Don's first model

Don's fave '57 Olds!

Stash Kullman before

Stash Kullman after

Jerry Kemperman

Cheryl Hryn Turbo-Stock

Bud Koehler

Don Rich (in the red hat) is pushing Jack's car.

Jack Kalwasinski on track

Jack Kalwasinski replica

Which ones are the models?

 

A fleet of Jerry Gille cars from Rockford Speedway

Jerry Gille lettered up

A Mike White car

From the 2011 Chicagoland Memorabilia Show

"It will look like this photo"

"I told ya!"

The Ray Nichels/Paul Goldsmith 1/32 scale slot car

Ray Freeman

Bill McEnery

A Dick Trickle Diecast car

A Mark Martin Diecast car

Larry Schuler

Jerry Kemperman

One of Frank Gawlinski's last rides

Randy Weese

Tony Stewart even wins on Don's slot track!

Sharp looking 1/32 scale NASCAR Legend slot cars

A Bud Koehler car for someone