Troy Rutherford celebrates a win last season with daughters Skylar, left, and Logan.
By Sondra Murphy
Ojai sprint car racer Troy Rutherford is heading back to Ventura Raceway this weekend. Rutherford’s return for the 2008 racing season has been delayed by a serious kidney condition, but his doctor has given him the green flag back to the track. “I feel 100 percent. It’s going to be a great weekend,” said Rutherford.
Last season, Rutherford won the last seven of eight sprint series races at the raceway, giving his fans and crew something to cheer for. Winning is obviously a thrill for Rutherford, but he said it is the speed that keeps him competing. “I’ve been doing it since I was 11 and it’s become an addiction, I guess,” said Rutherford. “Everyone tells me I should be playing golf, but I tell them the carts don’t go fast enough.”
He started racing go-carts out in Oxnard when he had just reached double digits. He was already helping his stepfather, Frank Sheltren, work on cars for Rick Taylor, who is the father of fellow racer, Greg Taylor. “I used to go help work on Rick’s TQ Sprints with my dad,” said Rutherford. “It seems like it was just yesterday.”
Rutherford began racing International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Sprint Cars in 1996 and lists Rick Taylor as an early inspiration in the sport, but credits Sheltren for his success. “My old man said, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it right,’” said Rutherford. “He’s been part of my crew ever since. He’s been the one who’s pushed me along the whole time. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
There are many other supporters of Rutherford’s efforts. Clive Burton serves as his crew chief, while Garrett Leib and Dale Munzel round out the crew. Sheltren oversees everything. “He’s the boss,” said Rutherford of his dad. “He makes sure everything goes right.”
Munzel’s company, L & H Consulting, is Rutherford’s only sponsor. “Anything that needs to be done, he does it,” said Rutherford.
The rest of Rutherford’s family helps out, as well. Wife Leslie, and daughters Logan, 5, and Skylar, 2, regularly lend assistance. “I couldn’t do it without the support of my wife,” said Rutherford. “It takes the whole family and a group of friends willing to work together and sacrifice their own time. Even my girls come down and help. Logan helps put tools away and Skylar gets filthy helping to clean up. They’re actually mad that I haven’t been racing.”
Rutherford’s parents, Cheryl and Frank, brother Rob and sister Keri Escalante all live in Ojai and support him in his racing, as well. “I have two dads, luckily,” said Rutherford, whose day job is outside sales for Frank’s Rooter & Pumping Service.
He says that he spends about 40 hours a week on racing efforts. “It’s a second job,” Rutherford said. “It’s nothing you’re going to get rich off, but it gives me the possibility to run and have fun.”
The cost of the sport can be daunting and Rutherford would like to attract more sponsors. He estimated the basic car alone cost about $48,000 and says that winning helps cover the expenses. “I have to win every week to make it out the next week,” he said. “I was lucky enough to have Mike Sala let us use a closed trailer,” said Rutherford. “It works perfectly for local trips.”
Being out of the driver’s seat has been hard for Rutherford. “It’s been very difficult, but it gives you a different perspective on life,” he said. “Racing is not everything, but it’s something that I love to do and if I can do it, I’m going to do it.” Rutherford is ready to get back on the track and start winning races again. “There’s nothing like winning. It makes the work we’ve done all week long worth while.”