This story about a father and son who share the love of racing was contributed by John Bisci of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Fathers and sons can do many things together: go fishing, hunting, build model cars – even paint the house. The boy bonds with his dad and learns valuable lessons while enjoying companionship. It is different from the bond a father and daughter forge and share. A father teaches his son to be a man but hopes his little girl never will grow up.
Stock car racing is one of the things a father and son can experience together. Sometimes those father-son duos reach great heights, like NASCAR’s Petty, Allison and Earnhardt families. But more often than not, it is dad and the kid having a good time together on a Saturday night at the local speedway.
Both Vinny Raucci and his 10-year-old son, Vincent Jr., compete at the Bullring, Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 3/8-mile asphalt oval.
Vinny Raucci was born in Jamaica, N.Y., 40 years ago. While in the third grade, his family moved from New York’s borough of Queens to Wantagh, Long Island. The 118-mile-long island was a hotbed of racing, playing home to not one, but three bullring-style asphalt tracks – Islip, Riverhead and Freeport – and a drag strip. Islip was the most famous, of course, since it was the site of ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports’ nationally-televised demolition derbies and Figure-8 races. Modified racing legends like Johnny Rocco, Charlie Jarzombek and Jim Hendrickson plied their trade and thrilled thousands of fans on “the island.” Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty won on Islip’s tight 1/5th mile oval in 1971 when NASCAR’s premier Grand National Series made its swing through the northeastern states. More than one “Islander” – Greg Sacks and Eddie D’Hondt to name just two – found his way to fame and fortune in the business of NASCAR. If a young man was interested in auto racing, Long Island was not a bad place to grow up.
“We always hung out at Riverhead Raceway and my dad took me to Islip Speedway before it closed (in 1984),” said Vinny. “Once I was old enough to drive, I started hanging out at Riverhead Raceway. We knew Eddie D’Hondt (a Modified racer who now is a veteran crew chief and co-owner of Riley-D’Hondt Motorsports) and George Brunnhoelzl Jr., who invented the (lightweight) jack. Eddie lived around the block from us in Long Island and we used to go to Riverhead with Eddie’s dad and his sister.”
At age 28, Vinny, his wife Donna and daughter Bridgette moved to Las Vegas. “It cost too much money to live in New York,” Vinny explained. “We sold our house. The taxes were killer – it just got too expensive to live there. We thought, ‘We better move here (Las Vegas) so we could raise our family.’ ”
A plumber by trade, Vinny is a subcontractor for Anytime Plumbing. Although now a Las Vegas resident, his love for short track racing was not forgotten.
“When I moved to Las Vegas, I pitted for Jerry Jones for two years. When he got out of racing, I bought a Bomber and ran that for two years. In my first season in the Bombers I finished second in points in a 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88. We had a great time – a blast. No problems. We got the car from Gary Bodell and it was turnkey, ready to go. All I had to do was buy a firesuit and helmet and go racing.
“In my second season I finished fifth. We blew a lot of motors and had a rough season that year. All my problems started in my second season when I decided I wanted to go faster,” Vinny joked. “We had a motor built that they said you could go 30-over and put a mild cam(shaft) in it and it just didn’t work out. We just kept blowing motors. That’s when we decided to (move up) to the Chargers after we found out how much we were spending in the Bombers.”
Like the Bomber class, the Bullring’s Charger division enjoys immense popularity. The fans relate to the stock-appearing cars and the drivers put on a good show.
“I didn’t want to buy an existing car so I begged the Bray family to build me one and it took me a while to convince them to do it. They built the car from the ground up. In my first year in the Charger class I finished eighth in points and this year we’re in the top five.”
Like most race cars, there is a good story behind the driver’s choice of colors and numbers. “I met my wife in junior high school and her birthday was 6-9-69 (June 9, 1969),” Vinny explained. “I was born in ’69 and her house number was 69. The number just stuck – that’s how we came up with 69. When I told her I was moving up to the Chargers and how much money I was going to need, she said, ‘I’m picking the colors and it’s going to be purple and pink if you want me to fund this!’ ”
Vincent Jr. was born and the Bullring soon found a second Raucci on its driver roster. “My son was coming out to the track when we were pitting for Jerry Jones. He was five years old and helping Jerry with little things. When I started driving Bombers, we became aware of the Bandoleros. We bought his car when he was seven years old. It came from Texas. His birthday is 9-11 (Sept. 11) and this car we found had a wrap on it that was a tribute to 9-11, when the (World Trade Center) towers were hit. I guess it was just meant to be: his birthday was 9-11, the car had 9-11 on it. We bought the car and he ran five or six races during his first season. This season he’s been racing fulltime and he’s in the top 10.”
So how does dad feel about going to the stock car races with his boy? “I think it’s a wonderful thing,” beamed the proud papa. “I first got him started watching the NASCAR races on TV. Once he came to the track, he saw the other kids racing and he wanted a car and he wanted to race. Bringing him to the track got him hooked. He’s still learning, but every week he looks forward to going out there. He tried motorcycle racing and didn’t like it.”
“I like spending time with my dad at the track,” said Vincent Jr., a student at John R. Hummel Elementary School in Las Vegas. “I’ve learned a lot out there each week with him. He’s a good driver and one day I hope to move up and maybe drive his Charger car, if I get good enough.”
What’s the ride home from the track like when junior finishes better than dad? “We haven’t gotten to that point yet,” Vinny laughed. “He usually sleeps on the way home and I get stuck putting everything away.”
Currently, both father and son are in fourth place in the Bullring point standings in their respective divisions.
Vinny’s Camaro is sponsored by Airgroup Express, Warehouse & Logistics Las Vegas, Carluccio’s Italian Restaurant, Anytime Plumbing, Aqua Perfect, photographer Jack Hedstrom, The Balloon Lady and Freedom Water. Sean Bishop of Sierra Truck works on Vincent Jr.’s Bandolero. Carluccio’s hosts a race car show in July – with the Raucci cars as the main attraction – and it is quite popular and well-attended.
But Raucci Racing is not an all-boys’ club. There’s mom, of course, and also a female crew chief. “Our crew chief is Wendy Gregory. She is a special-needs high school teacher by day and crew chief on the weekends. Ruth’s Chris (Steak House) used to sponsor us. We were looking for help and the head chef there said his wife used to race in the sand with her dad. She helps us out every week.”
“We just love racing,” Vinny admitted. “It’s in our blood. We get frustrated when things go wrong, but we’re back every week.”
By John Bisci
Las Vegas Motor Speedway