“If people didn’t know who Bob Riggle was,” he said, “I was okay with that. I would just ask them, ‘do you know the Hemi Under Glass?’ and when they said they did I would tell them, ‘well, that’s me’ and they would know who I was.”
Bob said that to me last year when I interviewed him. That was then, this is now; and today Bob Riggle is known by a lot more people than he could have ever imagined, thanks to a little mishap with Jay Leno riding shotgun.
If people didn’t know who Bob Riggle was, I was okay with that. I would just ask them, do you know the Hemi Under Glass? -Bob Riggle
Bob had just finished his “final run of his career” in Las Vegas at the annual MATS (Musclecars At The Strip) show in 2016, and he told me that he would give me his time if I promised not to spill the beans about his accident at Irwindale the month before.
I kept my word and I didn’t tell a soul that while he and Jay Leno were out crossing off one of Jay’s bucket-list items, things didn’t go so well for them. If you recall (and of course you do) Bob and Jay took the Hurst Hemi Under Glass Barracuda out for a spin, and followed it up with a couple of barrel rolls. The car was totaled, and despite tumbling in a 2,500 horsepower wheelstander the two occupants came out unscathed, and joking, actually.
“When the emergency guy came over to check on us after the accident, he asked my name and age and I said, ‘Bob Riggle, I’m 80 years old’,” Bob recalled. “Then he checked on Jay and he said, ‘my name is Bob Riggle and I’m 80 years old’ and that just had me laughing in the car.”
Bob laughs about it now, as he looks back on that day in February 2016. The video of that now infamous rollover – only the second accident in his 52 year career – has been viewed over 5.7 million times on Jay Leno’s Garage, bested by just one video: Batman’s Tumblr, because … well, Batman?
The first trip up on two wheels didn't go as planned, but both men were okay despite the multiple barrel rolls. The car - not so much. Bob said he will have a display at MATS, be sure to check it out.
No Publicity Stunt Here
The story that many people thought was that they took the Hemi Under Glass out on the infield instead of the dragstrip 50 yards away because it was a publicity stunt. Bob chuckles over that too. “Didn’t they hear me say ‘dammit’, ” he asks. Bob readily admits he has the best job in the world, but it was no publicity stunt – for Leno or anybody else – to crash his ’68 Barracuda.
The truth is that the space was already rented by Leno for another event that took place there the day before. But Bob reiterated that he was not very comfortable with it, and said he questioned the producers about it. “I told him, ‘Where you’re asking me to run is not conducive to this car’,” he said. “And then Jay said, ‘What could happen?’ That’s something that turns you around and slaps you in the face,” he laughed as he looked back on the night before the accident.
He’s back, and this time he means it: both finishing what they started, and retiring.
Let’s Finish What We Started – Making History At MATS
Jay has said that one of the guys he has always looked up to is “a guy named Bob Riggle” and it was on his bucket list to take a ride in the Hemi Under Glass. In about 1990, Bob was Jay’s guest on the show and they took the Plymouth out on the street in the back lot where we’ve all seen Jay do a few burnouts. But they never really got to go for a ride the way the Hemi Under Glass does it, and Jay was itching to go for a longer ride.
So Irwindale was the place to be last year for the pair, and unfortunately they never really got a chance to do the Barracuda justice. I asked Bob how this year’s event coming up in Vegas this month came to be. “I called Jay,” Bob told me, “I told him we need to finish what we started.” He wanted to give Jay that ride so that he could finally, and completely, cross it off his bucket list. But it wasn’t going to happen in Vegas, at least, not until Phil Painter got involved.
The Gears Began To Turn
“First I talked to Phil Painter,” Bob continued, “and I told him that I got the car all done, and that when we get done with the Vegas show I was going to run the car out to Burbank, and we’re going to do a follow up show with Jay, because we didn’t really get to do the whole show.”
Phil Painter is the guy behind MATS, and when he heard that the two of them were going to finish what they started, the gears started churning in Phil’s head. Phil asked Bob what he thought if they came to Vegas and did the follow up show at MATS.
Phil figured that would be a great attraction for the event, and after a few phone calls between Bob and Jay’s producer, and a few emails back and forth, the idea spun into this historic event: visitors and participants at MATS will get to witness the REAL last run of Bob and his Hemi Under Glass.
But this time, Bob assures me, is his final run. We both joked about how he said that last year, and he said, “I really did mean it, and I do this time, too. But we just never got to finish it.”
And then there’s Nanci, Bob’s wife of 55 years. Bob had told me last year that she was glad to see him finally retire, and now there’s this “last” run with Jay as his passenger again. He was in trouble.
“Phil was really excited about this, and we decided we’d just make Saturday the big day.” Bob said. “Then somebody sent out a message, or an article or something, and it said that Bob Riggle got permission from his wife to make this last run for the Jay Leno thing.”
“Needless to say, she had seen it before I did and said, ‘what does this mean that you’re going to do another run up there in Vegas, when you promised you weren’t going to do it anymore?’,” he said. “I just told her I wanted to put this together to help Phil out, because that’s a great event there, MATS.” He paused, and got a little serious with me after all our joking. “I had to talk to her,” he said calmly, “because I felt like I let her down, you know. But this is the last one for me, this is it.”
Bob truly felt like he was in a position where three things were presented to him. He needed to finish the show with Jay, and he wanted to help out Phil. But, more importantly, he wanted to give the people a show they’ll never forget. The last time he made a pass with Jay Leno in the car, nobody got to see it in person. This time, it’s not a secret, and everyone is invited to MATS to witness history.
More To See At MATS
If you show up at MATS you will get to see Bob’s “real” final run of the Hurst Hemi Under Glass with Jay Leno as his co-pilot. And Bob promises to put on a show for his fans. But that’s not the only draw to MATS this April 21-23.
Of course, there’s the dragstrip, and it’s a pretty big place. To paraphrase Jodie Foster from the movie Contact, “It seems like an awful waste of space” if it was just Bob and Jay out there. So you can expect to see some drag racing on the strip all weekend long. You’ll see plenty of competition, as it’s open to all makes and models again this year, not just Mopars.
The "quarter mile of cars" at The Cannery has them all lined up outside, and live music in the courtyard. How can you not have fun here?
Last year was a first for MATS in its 14 year history, where the venue changed to include Ford and GM vehicles. It was a tough decision, but one that had to be made. So it’s on: we want to see if the Mopars are going to spank the competition all around, or if the Blue Oval and Bow Tie fans can fill in the empty parking spaces – or exceed them. Spread the word: the Mopar people don’t think Ford and GM owners have what it takes. I’m just sayin’.
The autocross will be put on by Racing Byrds once again for those of you who want to put your car through its paces and navigate around the cones and see who’s going to get the best time. If you haven’t been through one of Rob’s autocrosses, you’re missing out.
All hot rods and musclecars are invited, and we hope to see more from the Blue Oval and Bow Tie camps this year.
The car show area is going to be full of classic and modern musclecars, and we’re hoping to see some more Fords and GMs fill the lot. And don’t forget the nightly events at the Cannery from Thursday through Saturday night, where there will be the “quarter mile of cars”, food, gambling, and live music from Bostyx, combining the best classic rock of Boston and Styx.
And then there’s that famous wheelstander with that guy, from the show, with the videos, and the chin – you know, the guy with all those cool cars. Yeah, that guy, and his driver for Saturday afternoon will be none other than Bob Riggle. Check out the MATS website and plan on seeing the “real” final run and be a part of history. You can’t miss it – but if you do, we’ll be there with Project Track Attack to cover it.