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Published: 2/16/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

Richard J. Gail; 1922-2014: Ex-Champion racing director loved opera, sailing

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Richard J. Gail, who as Champion Spark Plug’s racing director traveled thousands of miles annually as he took in auto, motorcycle, boat, even snowmobile contests, died Jan. 31, in the Elizabeth Scott Community, Springfield Township, where he lived the last six years. He was 92.

He died of cardiopulmonary arrest, his daughter Christina said.

He retired in 1984 from Champion, then a Toledo-based Fortune 500 company.

For the last two decades of his career, Mr. Gail was the liaison between the company and races at home and abroad, from the Indianapolis 500 to LeMans in France.

He had offices at the fabled Brickyard and at Daytona and Long Beach speedways. At auto racing tracks, observations during practice plus prerace tire and engine testing were critical, he believed.

“It all looks so glamorous on race day, but the race is anticlimactic,” Mr. Gail told The Blade in 1972. “It’s the preparatory engineering ... where the real work is done.”

His job also required budgeting — and political — skill. He had to stay abreast of engine trends and race rules in order to inform Champion engineers which spark plugs should be built for which engine.

“You have to keep not only the drivers happy, but also the sponsors, chief mechanics, and race owners — and they all have their own ideas,” Mr. Gail said in 1972.

His son, Mike, said: “They developed a racing brotherhood. He loved the travel, and it was an exciting job.”

He could be reserved, his daughter said, “but behind that was this real sense of life adventure and intellectual curiosity. He could be very spontaneous.”

Mr. Gail’s Champion career began after stateside Navy service during World War II. He started by selling Champion’s products to gas stations and repair shops.

For a time, he was based in Florida, with a territory that stretched from Key West to Baltimore.

The family returned to Toledo about 1960, when he took on technical writing and helped with the editing and production of internal publications.

He was born Jan. 1, 1922, to Marie and Harry Gail. He played football at Libbey High School, of which he was a graduate, and Bowling Green State University, where he acted and sang in theater and musical productions before receiving a bachelor’s degree in English literature.

He was an opera devotee — his travels allowed occasional visits to the Metropolitan Opera in New York — and admired such tenors as Jussi Bjorling, Lauritz Melchior, and, later, Luciano Pavarotti.

He was a student of archaeology and visited dig sites in Egypt and Jordan.

In retirement, he enjoyed sailing the Maumee River and towed his sailboat when he and and his wife, Dorothy, went to their second home in Palm Coast, Fla. He was a member of the Toledo Sailing Club.

He and his wife married March 31, 1944. She died April 8, 2010.

Surviving are his daughters, Leslie Stephens and Christina Monnier; son, Michael Gail; three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Memorial services will be private. Arrangements are by the Bersticker-Scott Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to the Elizabeth Scott Community. 

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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