The age on his birth certificate says he’s 77 years old and while Rick Ellis conducts himself with the respect and modesty of a man his age, don’t ever underestimate the spunk he has once he straps himself into his stock car.
Despite first taking up the sport in 1965, Ellis has refused to let Father Time siphon his enthusiasm and 55 years into it, he still has that burning desire to race cars and be around the sport he’s loved for more than five decades.
He got back into racing near the end of last season, teaming up with Wayne Lebouef in the factory stock division and was excited to be racing a lot more this season at Laird International Raceway before COVID-19 hit, basically wiping the season out.
Ellis said he and Lebouef have talked and due to their age and love for the sport, they have agreed to name their team TCOG – Two Crazy Old Guys.
“Unfortunately I still have the itch and Wayne and I make good partners,” said Ellis. “We only want to race four-to-six times a summer so we’re not committing to every week and we’re not racing for points or things like that.
“I just really get a rush from getting in the car and putting the belts on and firing up the motor and going out on the track and competing against other drivers.”
Ellis, who retired from Algoma Steel in 1998, has had many great memories over the years, but the ones that touch the heart strings the most are those that have a human element to them.
As he reminisced about his run to the modified championship in 2012, Ellis paused and then excused himself for choking up. He won that championship just months before his Eazy Express team sponsor, Ted Brooks, passed away suddenly of a heart attack.
“That 2012 title is the greatest memory of all,” Ellis said. “I raced all those years and won a modified championship at Kinross in 2011, but because of everything that happened in 2012 with Ted passing and all, that meant a lot to me. Ted and JoAnne (Brooks) really kept my career going and everything and it almost felt as though that year was meant to be, you know, for Ted.”
That year also involved one of Ellis’s most memorable crashes. While standing at No. 1 in the modified point standings, he crashed his No. 5 car at Laird while coming off the No. 2 turn. The car went up in the air and landed on its roof before sliding down the track.
“It was pretty spectacular,” said Ellis, who was shook up but emerged relatively intact.
With his car basically done for the year, his teammates came to the rescue as Dennis and Mike Uhlman loaned him their car for the rest of the season in an attempt to give Ellis a shot at winning the title, which he ultimately did.
“That’s when I found out I had terrific teammates at Eazy Express,” Ellis said. “They gave me their car for the rest of the season because I was leading the points race and I ended up winning it.”
And while Ellis will forever be indebted to Eazy Express, his said his biggest supporter has always been his wife, Donna.
“When I told her I was going to race again, her response was, ‘You’re crazy',” Ellis said. “That’s kind of when Wayne and I decided on the TCOG thing – Two Crazy Old Guys.
“Donna has always been my biggest supporter,” Ellis said. “She only enjoys racing when I’m racing as she’s more a golf and curling fan. I was going to tell you I’d like to race in my 80th year but she’s behind me and she says I’ll race until I die. Now that I have this car, I’d like to race in my 80th year, but we will see.”
While Ellis has had many racing memories, two others that stand out came in the pit area and involved fans.
“One night in the pits at Laird I had a gentleman come up to me and he said, ‘This is cool, I watched you race at the Fifth Line track when I was a teenager and now I’m here with my 13-year-old kid watching you race again.’ That was nice to hear.
“The other real memorable time was again in the pits at Laird when a woman in her mid-60s came down and told me that she doesn’t often come to the pits but wanted to come tell me she’s been watching me since Fifth Line days too and really appreciates the way I drive and act around the track.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by many, as Ellis is renowned for his cool temper and gentlemanly demeanour.
Even in a sport as hot and heated as stock car racing, Rick Ellis has always found a way to smile and remain as cool as a cucumber.