Rick Hoctor strapped into a race car for the first time when he was a teenager. Each season since he has driven, mostly in his highly recognizable bright yellow No. 18 "Bad Banana" Modifieds to green flags at many local tracks in a career that has spanned the decades. No matter what, fans could always count on Hoctor doing what he most enjoys, wheeling a race car.
Things have now changed. Now 62, Hoctor, a second generation driver from Cheektowaga, will again field his latest "Bad Banana" 358 Modified but this year for the first time he will not be positioned behind the wheel. Hoctor suffered a major heart attack last June. Based on both a directive from his doctor as well as advice from his long-supportive wife Nancy, like a flash of speed, Rick's driving career is over. What will not end is his ownership role within the local auto racing fraternity.
Hoctor will continue to field his self-owned, unsponsored 358 entry in the Outlaw Modified ranks this season at Freedom Motorsports Park. He has recruited the driving services of area asphalt standout and part-time dirt track competitor Andy Jankowiak to drive for him. The pair will race at Freedom whenever Jankowiak's asphalt schedule allows. They will be present at Freedom's season opener Friday night.
"I drove through the middle part of last season," Hoctor said. "I had a heart attack just before last Father's Day Weekend. I was at work. I had two stents put in. After I survived it the first thing I did was feel blessed that I was still here to enjoy my family. Then I realized my race driving was over. The doctor said no more racing. He said if I would crash bad I would die of a brain hemorrhage. Plus the medication I'm on for bleeding prevents it.
"When I realized that I could no longer drive it was probably one of the hardest decisions I could make. I didn't want to give it up. My wife didn't want me to do it anymore."
Rick and Nancy have three kids, Matthew, 27; Amanda, 24 and Krista, 18.
Hoctor, the son of the late local driver Bill "Doc" Hoctor, began his driving career on the dirt at Ransomville Speedway when he was 18. After a brief three year stint in the asphalt discipline of the Late Models at Holland Speedway very early in his career, Hoctor transitioned over to strictly dirt track competition which has enjoyed the last few decades.
His career highlight was a win in the 2002 "Little Guy Nationals" at Pennsylvania's Mercer Speedway.
Hoctor is looking forward to his new association with Jankowiak.
"I'm friends with Bob Reis (Freedom promoter) and he asked me to go out there to Freedom when he started the Outlaw class last season and I said I would," Hoctor said. "I ran three or four times there last year. This year, Andy kind of talked about trying to do a dirt deal. He drove some dirt a couple years ago in the Sportsman. I asked him if he wanted to give it a try with me and he said yeah. So we're basically also going to run at Freedom because Andy's drove there before in the Sportsman.
"We really haven't come up with an exact schedule yet for my car. We're just going to run it as many times as we can when things don't conflict with his busy asphalt schedule. Andy's a good, popular driver. He has no money in our deal. I just still want to be in the game. I don't know that we'll have huge success but we'll do as good as we can." You never know."