Over his long stock car driving career, Williamsville's John Julicher Sr., received purse money, trophies, races victories and championship honors. Yet the best reward of all, after all these years, was realized on July 15 when the veteran driver came out of retirement to compete for one final time, earning the applause and heartfelt appreciation of the racing community for a racing career that was well done.
It was a most special occasion for all that evening.
Julicher is the all-time Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway Late Model division race winner with 66 feature race wins through 2003. Ron Nurmi is second on the all-time Lancaster Late Model win list with 35.
Julicher compiled more wins competing at many other tracks over the decades as well.
Julicher, 68, stopped driving over 10 years ago due to a few different reasons, including undisclosed health issues. But through the urging of a couple of his many racing buddies, Bobby Weber and Bill Eschborn, Julicher returned to make one final encore driving performance in the Late Model class July 15 at Lancaster.
"We had a drivers meeting that night and they announced and welcomed me back and all the drivers at the meeting applauded," Julicher said. "The fans seemed to appreciate me too and that means everything."
Weber, one of Lancaster's most accomplished Late Model drivers, hatched a plot with Eschborn to give Julicher one of their race cars to use July 15 at Lancaster. Julicher accepted their generosity. They and a handful of others gave Julicher one last chance to relive his stock car driving past. Julicher says that he was overwhelmed by the offer and accepted.
"It was all Bobby's idea to do this," Julicher said. "He said that he thought that this old man, me, deserved another ride in a car. About a month ago Bobby got together with Billy Eschborn who owns the cars and told Billy that he wanted to put me in the car. Billy said that was fine with him."
While the night produced some very warm and emotional memories for Julicher, the on-track portion of the evening is something Julicher would like to forget.
"I wrecked the car in practice and Bobby and Billy came to me and said, are you OK?," Julicher said. "I said yes but I'm embarrassed. They said don't worry about the car, just have a good time. I went out for the heat race and the spindle broke. The car took a hard right into the wall."
After making more repairs that also involved the pit side efforts of Julicher's sons, John Julicher Jr. and Brad Julicher, the team came out for the feature.
"The car didn't feel right when I went out for the feature so instead of wrecking it again I parked it after two laps," Julicher said.
It wasn't too often in Julicher's long career that he was not successful on the race track.
During his younger years behind the wheel, Julicher won 10 Late Model season point championships including nine at Lancaster and one (1988) at Spencer.
"I'm not sure but it's been about 10 to 12 years ago that I was last behind the wheel of a race car," Julicher said. "My wife says that I retired but I told her that I just quit racing."
Julicher first began to compete in 1975 at Lancaster in Street Stocks. In 1980, Julicher made the big jump to Modifieds and competed in that class for three seasons.
"When I was in the Modifieds I was involved with Old Man Engineering and Ken Bainbridge Sr." Julicher said. "He and I owned the car together and it got too expensive. I think it was one fall that we got all done racing and I said to Kenny, hey do you want to spend half of your $15,000 to buy a motor for next year? He said nope. I said me neither. Let's do something different."
Julicher transitioned his career over to the Late Models, first at Holland Speedway. Julicher landed an opportunity to drive for noted car owner Ray Blocher, who also fielded Late Models for Holland legend, the late Dick Flaig.
"I ran at Holland a couple years and then we started going to Spencer and Lancaster," Julicher said. "That's when I partnered with Art Hill, who was looking for a driver who wouldn't wreck his equipment. Our engine builder suggested me and that's how I got the ride with Art and I stayed with Art for 20 years. Art was at the race on July 15 and digging in his pocket for tire money for me. I told him this is just like the old days.
"That night (July 15) was it for my driving career," Julicher said. "I had probably 100 people out there that I brought with me and I feel bad that they saw me run two laps but I've lost a lot of what I had and this was a one-time deal. I'm 68 years old and things have changed. I go to my grandkids' baseball games now, graduations and things like that.
"It was nice to see all the people and it was funny when they saw me trying to get in and out of that little hole in the window on the race car. They told a lot of old man jokes but it was all good natured. The purse money when I raced was never important whatsoever to me. It's about people. Easily half of my friends come from racing. That's what it's about.
"I remember one year when the former track photographer Phil Czarnecki asked me if I wanted some championship photos of the team. I said sure but the kind I wanted, 8x10's, were expensive. Phil said, do you know how much that's going to cost you? I said that's OK. I want the memory of the people. It's also fun. That's why we do it."
Julcher is not only known for his great racing career but for having a keen sense of humor.
"You know, I couldn't have done this all the years I did without the tremendous support of my family, especially my wife Carol," Julicher said. "When I first started racing I think my wife was unhappy. At my age, if I started driving again regularly, I think my wife would not only be even unhappier, I think she would take out a gun and shoot me. I don't need that!"