Dayton driver was auto racing's Jackie Robinson Racing with inferior equipment compared to most of his competitors, sprint car legend Joie Ray didn't find wins as often as he should have. But off the track, few could keep up with his winning personality.
"His biggest career accomplishment was how many friends he made," said Dr. Pat Sullivan, Indy Racing League announcer and author of a soon-to-be released book on Mr. Ray. "I don't know a soul who didn't like Joie Ray. He was a great ambassador for racing and a great ambassador for African-Americans. He was such an incredible role model because he was just so classy."
Mr. Joseph (Joie) R. Ray Jr., 83, passed away Friday morning in Louisville, Ky., after a brief illness. Visitation is today in Louisville. Funeral services will be at noon Wednesday, also in Louisville.
As baseball remembers Jackie Robinson for breaking the color barrier, the sprint car world celebrates Mr. Ray for doing the same just a week apart. Mr. Ray, the first black driver to receive a sprint car license from the American Automobile Association, ran his first race April 8, 1947. Robinson made his major-league debut April 15.
"It's ironic it's right consistent with Jackie Robinson," said Sullivan. "Jackie was such a fierce competitor. Joie was so uncommonly nice everybody liked him."
That, said Sullivan, is what enabled Mr. Ray to run sprints after racing greats Chick Smith and Bill Cantrell (among others) befriended and backed up Mr. Ray. Racing mostly in the Midwest, Mr. Ray competed at Dayton Speedway, Winchester (Ind.) Speedway and in Celina and Greenville. Mr. Ray also lived in Dayton for a time and participated in Dayton Auto Racing Fan Club charity events. A daughter, Susan Mark, is a longtime teacher in the West Carrollton district. Mr. Ray is also survived by daughter Carol Bottoms and son William Ray.
Brick by Brick, Sullivan's book about Mr. Ray and his father, is expected to be released in early summer.
"Hall-of-fame driver Dick Gaines once told Joie he always admired him because he got the most out of every car he was ever in," Sullivan said. "There's a lot to be said about that. I think other drivers admire drivers for that."
Joseph (Joie) R. Ray Jr.
• First African-American driver to break color line in old AAA racing circuit (1947)
• Racing career lasted from 1947-63
• Served as Indianapolis 500 pace car driver in 2003
• Featured in book Brick by Brick and PBS television special For Gold & Glory
"When Joie had good equipment, he could run with them. The problem in judging how great a driver Joie was is that Joie never had great equipment. He was a back-of-the-field driver. But he was a back-of-the-field driver in places like Winchester and Dayton and Salem with skinny tires and no roll cage. Every one of them was brave." Dr. Pat Sullivan, Indy Racing League announcer
Visitation: 2 to 4 p.m. today at Hathaway & Clark Inc. and
6 to 9 p.m. at Burnett Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville
Funeral: noon Wednesday at Burnett Avenue Baptist Church; burial at Green Meadows Cemetery