1967 NASCAR Rookie of the Year and 1966 winner of the Firecracker 400 Sam McQuagg died at age 73. We lost Jack McCoy at 72, a multi-time Winston West winner, together with journeyman 60’s and 70’s NASCAR entrant Dick May. We also lost Benton Woodward, Jr., former NASCAR driver at age 79.
In short track racing we said farewell to Lou Blaney, sprint and dirt modified star, and the father of Dale and Dave. Former Carolina Clash champion Ed Gibbons died at 46 in traffic accident. Matt Hawkins, just 21, died of an accidental gunshot. He was an ARCA and USAR winner, and Southern All Star Super Late Model champ. Former Nationwide series driver Kevin Grubb, 31, took his own life. His career ended after being banned by NASCAR in 2006 for substance abuse. Alex Beaumont, 1988 Late Model champion at Delaware International Speedway, died of heart failure at 55. Wayne Patterson, Late Model champion at Southside Speedway and two time South Boston champ, died in a road accident at age 60. Frank “Rebel" Mundy, NASCAR pioneer and AAA stock car champion in 1955 passed away this year at 91. Midwest veteran George Anderson died at age 80. Pat Wohglemuth, Sr., a champ at Flemington and Morristown, left us at age 74. South Carolina dirt late model competitor Phillip Seifert died suddenly of cancer at age 30. Jack Reilley, the 1965 Baer Field stock car champion passed on this year, as did veteran ARCA owner Bobby Jones, at 62. At 76 veteran dirt late model owner Raye Vest passed on. He had been car owner for Rick Eckert since 1995, and was a fixture at World of Outlaw events. For years John McCarthy manned the pits at Star Speedway in New Hampshire, and he left us this year. Rupert Porter, founder and promoter of Anderson Speedway in South Carolina, died at age 73. Mike Johnson, former owner and promoter of 311 Speedway and Ace Speedway in North Carolina died at 64 after a long illness.
If you grew up around racing in New Hampshire and Maine then at some point you were a Stub Fadden fan. He thrilled crowds for decades running NASCAR North and keeping the youngsters honest. The hometown legend died after a lengthy illness this year at age 75. Joining Stub was another New England legend, Ernie Gahan, the 1966 NASCAR Modified Champion who barnstormed throughout the northeast with the best of them.
It was a tough year in open wheel when we heard that Larry, “Rice-a-Roni" Rice lost his battle with cancer at age 63. A racer of the old school Larry was USAC midget champion in 1973 and Silver Crown champion in 1977 and 1981. In 1978 he was co-rookie of the year at the Indianapolis 500, sharing the honor with Rick Mears. He went on to a successful career in broadcasting and insurance, and I had the privilege of working with him at Seekonk many years ago. Truly one of the nice guys.
Larry is joined at the Golden Speedway this year by “The Rube," Lloyd Ruby. The unluckiest man at Indy, Rube entered the race 18 times and was always fast, but never first. Other victories on the champ car circuit graced his career, and he was no slouch in sports cars, winning the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring.
Bob “Caveman" Christie, an 8 time Indy starter died this year at age 85, while Danny Kledis, who drove in the 1946 Indy 500 for the Granatelli brothers died this year at 92. We lost Big Jonathan Byrd all too soon at age 57. The jovial cafeteria owner fielded a car for years at the Speedway for genuine heroes like Rich Vogler.
Jim McWithey, a four time entrant in the Little 500 and a two time entrant at Indy in 1959 and 1960 passed on this year. Roy Bryant was a two time IMCA Sprint champ, a Belleville High Banks Hall of Famer, and a four time entrant in the Knoxville Nationals. Fellow Knoxville veteran Earl Wagner, a Knoxville sprint and supermodified champ and a National Sprint Car Hall of Fame member passed on this year. Just 16, talented mini-sprint racer Christian Stover was killed in an ATV accident. Veteran northwest midget driver Harry Stryker, Sr., died this year, as did Don Carr, 87, a veteran IMCA big car driver. Walt James led CRA sprint cars for a long time and passed on this year. Billy Wilkerson, the 1967 and 1970 CRA Sprint Car champion left us, as did two time UMRA TQ champ Robert Nichols, Jr., who died at 46 in a motorcycle accident. Nine time Pennsylvania Sprint Car champion Jim Nace left us all too early at 55. Veteran sprint car engine builder and owner Loren Woodke died this year at age 84. Gordon Betz, veteran AAA and USAC official died at age 91.
And let’s not forget Art Rousseau who left us at age 87. Art was a legend in sprints, cutdowns, and supers in New Hampshire.
Crocky Wright wrote what many considered to be the definitive midget history in the US. The author, motorcycle daredevil, and racer passed away late this year at age 91. There are a million Crocky Wright stories but my favorite is when he took a tour bus around the Speedway, sightseers and all, at racing speed. It was the shortest tour bus driver employment ever at Indianapolis but I’m sure Crocky thought it was worth every minute.
Road racing lost Bill Scott, accomplished Formula Vee racer and Summit Point boss this year. Larry Miller, who built the beautiful Miller Motorsports Park in Utah died at age 64. Longtime sportscar entrant Harry Brix died at age 62. Paul Hacker, 1975 Car and Driver Showroom Stock Sedan champion and long time SCCA racer left us, along with Donna Mae Mims, H Production SCCA national champion in 1964, who passed on at 82.
Teddy Mayer lost his brother Tim to the sport in the early 1960's, but went to work for Bruce McLaren, guiding that company after Bruce’s death in 1970. He went on to work for Roger Penske for 20 years, and died this year at age 73.
Across the pond perennial British entrant Jackie Epstein died at 74. Six time British Hillclimb champ Tony Marsh passed away at 77, as did Roy Lane, four time MSA British Hillclimb champion at age 74. Tony Maggs raced in the junior formulae and Formula One in the 1960’s, retiring to become a game warden in his native South Africa. He died this year at age 72. Pete Arundell was a two time Formula Junior champion, graduating to become Jim Clark’s team mate at Lotus. A devastating Formula Two crash at Reims effectively ended his career, and he passed on at age 75. Formula Three and Formula Ford team owner Joe Tandy died this year, just 26. Jean Sage led Renault to Formula One and sportscar success, and was a pretty good driver in his own right. He died this year at age 68. Swedish rally star Ingvar Carlsson died at 62. And let’s not forget Frank Gardner, who famously said he never wanted to be the fastest race car driver, just the oldest. He made his name in touring cars, but was among the few who Porsche called upon to tame the fearsome 917. The garrulous Aussie died this year at age 78.
Tom Wheatcroft single-handedly resurrected Donington Park, bringing Formula One back to the circuit for the first time since the 1930’s. He amassed a priceless collection of vintage cars, and lent a hand to so many young drivers, most notably the ill-fated Roger Williamson. Suffice it to say an era ended with his passing this year.
The straight line set lost pioneer Chet Herbert this year at 81. He was the father of NHRA star Doug Herbert. Former land speed record holder Robert Pierson died this year at 82.
The sport did not take a year off from tragedy this season. Carlos Pardo, NASCAR Mexico driver, was killed in a horrific crash in a race at Pueblo. Chad McDaniel was killed in a midget crash at Knoxville at age 34. He led USAC/SMRA standings at the time. 2007 SCCA E Production champion Thomas Thrash, Jr., died in crash at Road America at 48. Henry Surtees, son of 1964 World Champion Big John died in a freak Formula Two crash at Brands Hatch, just 18 years old.
John Schulz was killed in a modified crash at Red River Valley Speedway in North Dakota at 47. Ikey Dorr, 56, had a fatal heart attack during a Super Street Stock event at Speedway 95 in Maine. Mechanic Dennis Frank, 48, was killed when he was struck by a sprint car at St. Francois County Raceway in Missouri. Rudy Ramos, 62, died when thrown from his 1958 Corvette in a crash at the Kauai Raceway Park drag strip in Hawaii. Steve Bowers, Jr., was 49 when he died in a modified crash at Thunderhill Raceway in Iowa. Charlie Webster, was killed at age 38 in a Stock Car crash at Oxford Plains, in Maine. Ronnie Marcum, 53, was killed in a freak drag racing crash in the pits at California Speedway. Alan Burgess, 54, died of burns when his Porsche caught fire at an SCCA event at Daytona. Richard Shafer died at 66 of injuries sustained in an SCCA hillclimb.
The fourth estate lost Dick Beebe, publisher of the MARC Times for 47 years. NASCAR reporter David Poole, who covered the sport for the Charlotte Observer, died suddenly this year at age 50. Stew Reamer founded the RPM promoters workshop and newsletter, and he leaves impossible shoes to fill. Veteran photographer Steve Snoddy left us this year, while the midwest drags and sprints lost photographer Bob Hesser at 46. NASCAR lost two of its best when Dick Thompson, the long time public relations director for Martinsville Speedway died at age 74, and northern PR director Bob Paulin passed on at age 62. Phyllis Devine, who kept the vintage racer flame burning with her little publication The Advocate, died this year after a long illness.
Thom Ring’s excellent Shorttrack Magazine fell victim to the economy, ceasing publication.
Greed, stupidity, and the economy wasn’t kind to race tracks either. The city of Birmingham, Alabama, decided they didn’t want to be in the race track business any longer and shuttered Birmingham International Raceway after 95 years. Nashville shut down the Fairgrounds, as did the State Fair at Oklahoma. Dover Downs International pulled the plug on Memphis Motorsports Park.
And a way of life came to an end with the closing of Manzanita in Phoenix. Watching the sprint cars there was as close to heaven as most of us may ever get.
And what will we do without Robert “Barnrat" Devaney. A New Hampshire character in the mold of Mo Tweedie, Barnrat raced supermodifieds in the golden era, and founded the V6 Super division at Hudson International Speedway. He died this year at age 67, of cancer. Lew Boyd, racer and publisher, recounted the story of Barnrat’s Last Ride on his web site, coastal181.com. Barnrat’s family gave another legend, Pete “The Travelin’ Man" Fiandaca his ashes for one last time around Hudson. Peter, sporting Barnat’s old number, 222, won his heat and finished fourth in the feature.
At 97 Marvin Rifchin passed away this year, and with him a lifetime of race tire knowledge. Founder of M&H Race Tires Marvin was racing royalty. He was a good friend of Don “Big Daddy" Garlits, and you can find his handiwork in the Smithsonian. But Marvin was most at home at a street stock race or with the NEMA midgets. He could give you a durometer reading by pressing a pencil eraser to the tire tread.
Racer Max Papis said this year that “life is about the stories you tell." And so, as ever, while we shed a tear at their memory, I ask that you remember their stories, the stories we shared with them, and, oh, how they lived. We raise a glass to them all, for Auld Lang Syne.
Joyeaux Noel, Bonne Annee mes amis. – Chris Romano
In addition to Chris' wonderful salute, let me note these racers and racing folk who left us in 2009:
Several drivers who raced in NASCAR in earlier eras left us in 2009, three of them Georgians: George Alsobrook made 18 starts from 1958-1962. He passed away at 75. Ken Spikes made 15 of his 16 starts in the 1964 and 1967, he died this year at 74. Bob Burcham was a top short tracker who made 36 starts at NASCAR's top level, 20 of them in '74. Burcham, a member of both the Georgia and Tennessee racing halls of fame, passed away at 73. Gutsy Joe Caspolich graduated from the short tracks of Mississippi' s Gulf Region and survived a severe accident in his debut in the '57 Southern 500 to make 7 more starts, all of them on superspeedways – including the first race at Charlotte Motor Speedway – and three more of them on the same Darlington Raceway that nearly claimed his life. Caspolich passed away at 79. Virginian Phil Good made 8 starts between 1984 and 1987 and passed away at 54.
Jack McCoy still has more wins than any driver in the history of NASCAR's Western series and began his career at Stockton 99 Speedway before moving into the stockers, where he won two titles. McCoy chronicled his fascinating life and racing career in the book "Racing's Real McCoy" and was hoping to do a book covering the history of NASCAR's Western series. Jack died at age 72.
Vic Irvan is sadly better known as "Ernie's dad", but beginning with Hardtops and winding up with Late Models, he raced 26 years on California dirt tracks from 1952 through 1978. He excelled on the Watsonville- Merced circuit for the unique NASCAR sanctioned Sportsman division (winged open wheeled cars featuring bodies such as Corvair station wagons!), where he won more than 60 features over a nine year span at the wheel of his purple circle 9 car. We lost Vic this year at 79.
Bill Osborne was one of the "Big Four" who dominated the Southern California NASCAR Late Model Sportsman circuit from '73 through '76. Osborne also raced in NASCAR's Western series, made some starts in NASCAR's top series (including Rockingham, NC) and Trans-Am. Not as big a winner as the other three – Ivan Baldwin, Bill Spencer and Chuck Becker Jr. – the fact that he drove as teammate to Baldwin and Spencer speaks volume about his abilities. The mercurial Baldwin would not have tolerated a slouch in one of his cars. When the money was greater at San Diego's Cajon Speedway, the team of Spencer and Osborne switched their racing there and set records. Now, they're all gone, except in the memories of fans who can still see the four flying in formation in a trophy dash on the tight quarter at Orange Show or the banked half mile of 605 or battling in any combination for a main event win at those same tracks or in open comp races at other tracks. Bill Osborne was 62.
Fred Steinbroner was an early star of the California Jalopy Association and also an early stock car star in California. Steinbroner passed away at age 83. Likewise, Billy Wilkerson started out in the jalopies before moving on to super mods and the CRA sprints. The '67 and '70 CRA champ died at 82.
While they rarely got out of their area, the West Coast short track scene lost San Jose Hardtopper and owner Merv Furtado at 87, Orange Show Speedway stock car fans remember Gary Headley, who died at 67 and San Diego area race fans remember "Barney" Barney racing open wheelers with the San Diego Racing Association at Balboa Stadium and Cajon Speedway. "Barney" was 86. Ron McGee raced super modifieds at San Jose, NASCAR stocks at Ontario and Riverside and later took the same Chevrolet Laguna and ran it on Bay Area tracks (even dirt!). He passed away at 61.
Ollie Prather owned sprint cars and champ cars. He died at 89. Marshall Hansen owned CRA sprint cars and stayed involved in the sport with his son (I also believe he was related to midget Hall of Famer and Indy racer Mel Hansen).
Midget racing lost one of its last links to its pre-WWII era when Judd Pickup, the inaugural Rocky Mountain Midget Racing Association champ in 1938, died at age 94. Cliff Spalding was an open wheel racer out of Washington state who won 5 USAC National Midget features between 1959 and 1962 and finished 11th in points in '62. Spalding passed away this year at 80 years of age.
Leo Wyrsch was 92 when he died this year, having spent a life in the sport from helping son Richard to co-promoting the legendary West Capital Raceway dirt track in West Sacramento, CA. Bob Blood raced super modifieds at the same West Capital Raceway in the early 70's. He passed away at 70.
The sports car world lost Charlie Kolb, who raced everywhere from Daytona, Nassau and LeMans to Southern U.S. airfields. Kolb died at 85. Super Vee racer Peter Kuhn, who made 3 CART starts, died in a body surfing mishap at 54.
Internationally, Oswald Karch, 91, drove in the 1953 German GP. Gino Munaron drove in 4 GP's in 1960. He died at 82. Jackie Pretorius was a successful South African racer who made three starts in the South African GP. Sadly, he died of a heart attack days after being beaten by intruders in his home at age 74.
Ian Gordon was a mechanic and fabricator who left his native Australia to work with Frank Gardner, Peter Revson, Pedro Rodriguez and in F1 and Indy Cars (with All American Racers). He died at 67. Peter Bryant was a mechanic and designer who was involved with several teams and best known for his work on the titanium Ti-22 Can-Am car and Team Shadow Can-Am cars and chronicled his career in the book "Can-Am Challenger" died at 71, days after enjoying the "Legends of Riverside" gathering.
Behind the scenes, Jerry Van Dyke, 74, announced and worked at many Colorado tracks and was founder and former chairman of the Colorado Motorsports Hall of Fame. Colorful "Dutch" Holland resurrected racing in the northern California town of Ukiah in the 80's. "Dutch" passed away at age 75. Earle Brucker Jr. ran Cajon Speedway for many years before turning the track over to his sons. A photo of Brucker Sr. doing a last walk around the closed speedway as it was being disassembled in August of '05 brought a mist to the eyes of any San Diego race fan who spent many a Saturday night at the 3/8 mile oval. Brucker passed away at age 83.
And lastly, Altamont Raceway – recently known as Altamont Raceway Park – the track that has died a dozen deaths, may finally have been shuttered for good. The 1/2 mile and 1/4 mile paved ovals witnessed many an interesting event in it's 43 years, ranging from Parnelli Jones winning a USAC National Midget feature and USAC Sprint wins for A.J. Foyt and Bobby Unser to regional legends in NARC Sprints, NASCAR Super Modifieds and NASCAR Grand National West to the Rolling Stones ill-fated "free" concert that featured many legends of rock & roll. Eternally windswept and blazing in Summer, noise complaints from a couple of persistent neighbors (and the economy) may have sealed it's fate a final time.
To anyone whom I've missed, apologies and thanks for your participation in our sport. You all deserve a salute. By Chris Romano