A blast from the past – Sleepy Tripp

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WXC Speedway – Western Springs has had the honour of playing host to some of the greatest drivers ever to get behind the wheel of open wheel speedway cars with American and Australian drivers taking on New Zealand’s best for decade’s worth of summers.

But there is one driver that not only captured the hearts of Kiwi Speedway fans (including his now wife), but also has left a record in the 50 Lapper that no one has got near. We are of course talking about the legendary Ron ‘Sleepy’ Tripp.

“A huge part of his career was New Zealand and I think he had the best times of his life down here in terms of the racing, the crowds and the atmosphere and he always really, really enjoyed that part of ‘The Springs’. Being a Southern California boy, he didn’t like those winters in Indianapolis too much so he was better off coming under down under to the sun. He loved ‘The Springs’ and his record down here is phenomenal,” says long term friend and fellow 50-Lap winner Bryce Townsend.

Although Tripp was winning races in New Zealand as late as 1993/94 and in the USA in 1998, he gave up full time competition on the USAC national tour at the end of 1983 and would only run the West Coast series, which he also mixed with part time.

“He’s an electrician. Pretty much since about 1983 when he went back from the full national USAC circuit to running the West Coast, he was semi-full time doing the West Coast stuff, but he works for his Dad and Brother’s electrical company.”

As a retired Speedway driver, there was little evidence of Tripp’s legendary career, which included nine 50 Lap wins when only two other drivers have taken multiple victories (Michael Pickens and Jerry Coons Jr.). Once he was finished with racing, it almost disappeared from his life as Townsend explains.

“He’s one of those guys that might go once or twice a year to a meeting somewhere, but once he was done he was done I think.

“He’s the humblest sort of guy, he never wanted people to make a fuss of him, and I guess never realised just how great he probably was. He downplayed it a lot and used to give away all his trophies and sashes and it’s probably only in the last four or five years that he asked to try and get a few of the trophies back, just the ones that meant a lot. So he’s got a small collection and other than that, you’d never know he raced really, he’s pretty low key.”

Townsend runs tours to the USA to follow speedway and one of the highlights of some of his trips over the past five to six years have been a barbeque with Sleepy and wife Erin.

“The majority of them, this year we didn’t but four or five years before that we always call in. He and his wife Erin put on a big barbeque for us and our tour and it’s really, really good. He wasn’t really for it at first but then he realised he has such a big following here and people wanted to go see him which is really good, even though he hasn’t raced in a long time.”

“He’s a really good conversationalist and funny, he’s hilarious, but he’s low key, he doesn’t like a lot of fuss made. If you go to his place, he pretty much interrogates everyone on what they do and where they fit in, tries to get the truth out of everyone and what they’re doing, just for a bit of humour. He’ll find out something about you from someone else and then hit you with it, so the dinners that we have with him are just fantastic, people love going there and he’s enjoyed.”

After years of Speedway racing, a cruel twist of fate saw Tripp involved in a serious Motorcycle accident in October 2012 that left him with some rather serious injuries, which Tripp explained in an interview a few months after the accident.

“We were a long way off the freeway and one of the guys in our group pulled up real hard and I didn’t quite react fast enough. I tripped over him at, I don’t know, maybe 80 or 90mph and I cartwheeled down the pavement. When I stopped, I had a broken pelvis, ruptured bladder and everything was torn up on me.

“When I went to the hospital, it was just my pelvis and ruptured bladder, I had road rash and holes punched in me, but then after a day or two I got a blood clot then my heart stopped and they had to restart me with the paddles.”

Townsend explains that Tripp has recovered enough to live a near normal life, but still suffers day to day from the effects of that crash.

“He’s in reasonable health, he’s back working and everything else, not so much full-time, but he still has a little bit of ongoing stuff from the crash with the body being battered about quite a bit. He’s doing alright, it’s been a long road because he was in and out of hospital pretty much for nine months over that period.

“It’s been a long road for him with stuff from the accident, which is pretty sad really, but he’s hanging in there.”

That summer was supposed to see Tripp return to Western Springs as a spectator, something that obviously didn’t happen.

“Before he got hurt, they were supposed to be coming down that summer and they’ve been trying to get back, but I think the long haul and the travel would be pretty hard on him at the moment with the body and that. He’s a little bit slower in the movement overall these days but I think Erin, who is a Kiwi, really wants to get back down here, so you never know. If he comes, he’ll just turn up I’d say, I doubt whether it would be this Christmas but perhaps next year. It would be good to get him back here.”

So keep an eye out over the next few summers, you never know, you may just be sitting next to a speedway legend that wants to know about you just as much as you want to know about him.