You should never be defined by what you do by the things you have; you've got to define yourself by who you are and, who you impact, and how you impact people. - Tony Dungy

We were the A-team for

Roger Richards, the face of photography, passed away on Monday morning. He was the longest-running team member here without the last name Bennett. September would have marked 25 years of his unwavering dedication and passion for us together.

When he was at the drag strip, it was his happy place, a testament to his deep love for drag racing and photography. Four things comprised his world:

His family.
Shooting drag races for
His dogs.
The people at the drag races, all of whom he cherished.


Roger and I met in the late 1990s in an chatroom, where he answered to the screenname Geezer. Immediately, his personality made folks gravitate towards him.

Who would ever know that we would become the Murtaugh and Riggs of drag racing, the fictional characters in Lethal Weapon starring Danny Glover and Mel Gibson. 

In 1999, around April or May, knowing he was a photographer and videographer, I asked him to accompany my son and me to a Junior Dragster race at Greer Dragway, where he helped us create a promo video.

Months later, I got the crazy idea of creating, and with the help of another AOLer, Frank Dill, we created an internet magazine. Broker than broke, and with even less business acumen than I had money, I knew I needed a photographer to help me. This moment is where the Geezer entered the picture.

"Hey, would you like to go and photograph a big national drag race?" I asked.

He could only do Sunday, so I lined him up for credentials at the IHRA Autumn Nationals in Rockingham, NC. The memory is as clear as yesterday; after briefing him on shooting trackside's do's and donts, I sent him away to experience the moment.

Paul Romine, the IHRA Top Fuel champion at the time, did a burnout, and I could watch as the rookie drag racing photographer stayed dialed into his subject. As the car staged and launched, I looked out to see his reaction, and he was gone! Assessing the area, Roger was nowhere to be found.

Then, in a moment, I see this bald head slowly rising from behind the wall. Welcome to the NFL, rookie. When the day was over, he quickly asked when the next one would be.

We flew to Shreveport, La., for the next race, and we started to get to know one another. Immediately, this guy had a sense of humor and was too good to be hanging around this mullet-wearing jerk, as I was. Of course, the highlight of the weekend was accidentally closing the hatchback on his head and causing him to lose five hairs he could barely afford to part with, and stumbling into a late-night diner only to realize the night before there was a shooting - in the same booth we occupied!

Roger was a master at life's lessons. He had so much positivity about him that it could have oozed out of his ears. No matter how much he tried to counsel this immature 30-something, he never quit trying to make a difference.

Roger made a difference in so many lives in so many ways. I credit him with being the first to revolutionize digital photography in drag racing. He had a mentoring spirit that made you love him.

We could be at a race with eight other shooters, and he'd never take a break for fear of missing out.

He always brought out the best in folks. I remember a gathering of me, him, and my dad one day before leaving for a drag race. We ran up and down the road in a minivan to countless thousands of miles. Roger was telling my dad, a straight-laced, no-joking man, about a vitamin that could do him some good. Roger said, "Hey, you take that, and it will put some lead in your pencil."

My dad responded, "It don't matter, I don't have anyone to write to."

I will never forget Roger laughing hysterically as my face turned ghost-like white in shock.

There are countless memories of running the road and race after race. But I think one of the biggest things Roger shared with a sense of pride was watching grow to respectability. He said, "I remember when we used to go to PRI and we'd spend ten minutes explaining who we were, and now they know."

Roger loved and grew into an icon of this publication. He could have made much more money elsewhere, but he stayed with us. Even in the hard times, he never wavered.

In memory of Roger, I will share a pun, which were worse than his dad jokes.  

"I don't trust stairs; they are always up to something."

But that was Roger. When he loved you, he loved you. There was no middle ground. I say this because I had to remind him once, "Roger, we have 36 full sequences of Leeza Diehl backing up her husband, Jeff. I think we have enough."

He was even a team player, taking a whole meal spilled in his lap from a rookie waitress at the Cracker Barrel in Darlington, SC, when we barely had enough money to pay the bill. The meal was comped to us. 

I will always take pride in knowing that, in some little way, I might have made a difference in his life by introducing him to drag racing. Some of the happiest times I ever witnessed for him were at the strip. Even though he was sporadic in his visits for the last few years because of personal issues, he was always there in spirit.

Going to the drag strip will never be the same without you, Roger.

I know Heaven gained an awesome angel today. He will be easy to spot in the chorus. Roger will be the angel with the backward hat and a camera hanging off his shoulder. He'll be spouting terrible puns and, even worse, Dad jokes. And his fellow angels will cringe and laugh out of sympathy, but they will love him like we all did down here.

Where he's at, there's no more pain or heartbreak. Best of all, there's drag racing and chicken livers every day.

Thank you for believing in me when I wasn't worth believing in. It was just you being you.