It’s Hard to Say Goodbye to So Much Talent
I bid you welcome gentle readers, to our final visit of the fast fading year 2015; but before we say goodbye to this old year, let’s look back at some of the goodbyes we folks that embrace racing have already said throughout this year. This list is by no means complete; in fact, it barely scratches the surface of the long list of folks in and around racing that have departed these earthly climes over the past twelve months. It is merely intended to offer one last farewell before we move on to whatever awaits the world of racing in the New Year, 2016. Come then, and walk a bit with me down Memory Lane, taking a moment to recall and reflect on these good folks, whom we already miss…
January 12 - Dusty Jones (90) – Built Modifieds with Junie Donlavey – Dusty drove the #91 complement to Junie’s #90
January 29 - Howard Thomas (85) – Thomas Brothers Country Ham was a longtime sponsor in NASCAR Late Models and Busch Series. Most notable driver to carry this sponsorship was Sam Ard in the #00 – Howard was also a car owner in the Busch Series from 1982-1988 with drivers Sam Ard, Jimmy Hensley and Brett Bodine winning 27 times in 201 races
March 23 - Earl Baltes (93) – Built Eldora Speedway in Rossburg Ohio in 1954 and promoted racing there until selling the track to Tony Stewart in 2004. Eldora, perhaps the best known dirt track in existence today, began hosting the highly successful Famous World 100 for Dirt Late Models, now the largest dirt race in the world, and the Dirt Late Model Dream, the richest Dirt Late Model race in the world. Baltes also took great pride in his fabled Kings Royal Weekend for World of Outlaws Sprint Cars and many USAC events, including the Four Crown Nationals. Today, under the supervision and care of Stewart the track also hosts an annual race for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
April 21 - Steve Byrnes (56) – FOX announcer so badly missed by all – This man needs no introduction to any race fan. He was with the FOX network from its racing beginning, 2001, and prior to that Steve was seen in many facets of racing on TNN, WTBS, CBS and the History Channel. His face was as familiar to race fans as that of your local postman or pharmacy owner. In many ways, Steve was racing. Byrnesie, we all miss you and wish you were still here with us
June 4 - Jabe Thomas (85) – Virginia Dirt racer; graduated to Grand National and later became a car owner
June 5 - Worth McMillion (88) – Another Virginia racer, “Worth” raced in Grand National from 1962-1969. He never won a race, with a best finish of 5th, but he had a name one just loves to say
June 17 - Glen McDuffie (78) – Glen was a younger brother of NASCAR driver J.D. McDuffie, a gentleman this scribe respected greatly and has missed since 1991
June 18 - Jim Vandiver (75) – Jim defined the term “journeyman racer”, with his most notable finish being a second place finish to the winning Richard Brickhouse in the inaugural race at Alabama International Speedway, known today as Talladega. Recall that almost every “regular” driver boycotted that race citing unsafe racing conditions
June 28 - Joan (Gram) Farmer (84) – Joan was the wife of Red Farmer, member of the “Alabama Gang”, who still enters a race to this day, once or twice a year.
July 17 - Jules Bianchi (25) – F1 driver succumbed to injuries sustained at the Japanese Grand Prix, September 5, 2014
August 10 - Buddy Baker (74) –- "Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name. I'm not saying goodbye. Just talk to you later.” Those were the parting words left with us by our “Gentle Giant.” (Grey is for the famous Grey Ghost, the Harry Ranier-owned car that Buddy drove to victory in the 1980 Daytona 500, under the guidance of crew chief Waddell Wilson.) When God took this man, He took the very best! Buddy, you are missed so much!
August 24 - Justin Wilson (37) – IndyCar driver, originally from the UK, killed in a freak accident at Pocono Raceway, when struck in the head by the nosecone from another racecar. By strange coincidence, just two weeks after NASCAR lost its “Gentle Giant”, IndyCar lost Wilson, known to IndyCar fans as their “Gentle Giant.” Heaven got a bit bigger last August, with two new Giants singing in the choir
Sept. 5 - Gail Sommer Germain (45) – Wife of Bob Germain, owner of #13 Geico Sprint Cup entry driven by Casey Mears
September 7 - Major General Thomas Sadler USAF Ret. (90) – Longtime Executive Director of Speedway Children’s Charities
September 18 - Bill Terry (70) – The only car owner 1992 Winston Cup Champion Alan Kulwicki ever drove for. The rest of Alan’s career was raced as an owner/driver
October 8 - Jack Beebe (90) – Owner - Race Hill Farm Racing Team – Drivers included Harry Gant, Geoff Bodine, Morgan Shepherd, and Ron Bouchard
October 13 - Thelma Kulwicki (89) –– Stepmother of Alan Kulwicki
November 1 - David Lee Green (77) –– Father of three racing sons, David, Jeff and Mark Green (Owensboro KY)
November 25 -Nina Guthrie (86) –– Wife of Glenn Guthrie, 1959 NASCAR Modified Champion. I did not know Nina personally, but we shared mutual friends
December 10 - Ron Bouchard (67) – 1981 Rookie of the year and winner of the 1981 Talladega 500, driving for Jack Beebe
December 11 - Lloyd Dane (90) – Lloyd won 3 of the first four Championships in the Pacific Coast Late Model championship, the forerunner to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West
December 14 -Sid Mauldin (61) – Co-owner of the NEMCO Racing #8 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, driven by Joe and John Hunter Nemechek
December 14 -Judy Allison (74) – Judy was perhaps the best-known Matriarch in NASCAR today. Her passing was felt by millions. Farewell dear sweet lady
December 19 -Stephanie Rembert (25) –- daughter of BK Racing crew chief Joe Williams - #23 Cup car driven by Jeb Burton
December 25 - Torie Costa (19) – step-daughter of crew chief Scott Zipadelli – What a beautiful person to lose on Christmas day, and so young… so very young
Because I’ve always thought that Country music and stock car racing belong hand in hand, I’ve also chosen to recall a few of the very best to whom we had to bid one last farewell in the year 2015.
January 2 - Little Jimmy Dickens (94) – Classic Country has many, many stars, but perhaps none was as loved as this man, small in stature, but so very large in heart
June 11 - Jim Ed Brown (81) – Lead singer of “The Browns” with his sisters, Maxine and Bonnie. (“The Three Bells”) He had numerous hits alone (“Pop a Top”) and others with Helen Cornelius (“I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You”) Multi-talented singer, songwriter, radio host
July 29 - Buddy Emmons (78) – Country Music’s “Big E” – Legendary steel guitar player, performed with many top artists and is perhaps best known as a member of Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours and Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys
July 30 - Lynn Anderson (67) – Lynn had a monster hit with “Rose Garden”, the song she would forever be known for recording.
November 17 - Ramona Jones (91) – Fiddler, singer and wife of “Grandpa Jones.” (Died 2/19/98) Ramona appeared many times with “Grandpa”, even on the old Hee-Haw shows with Roy Clark and Buck Owens
With only two more days left in the year of 2015, let’s hope there are no last-minute addenda to these lists. To all that have left us this year… and as noted above, these lists are woefully incomplete and only skim the cream from the top of much longer lists… you are not forgotten. You live on endlessly in the memories of those who knew, loved and admired you. Again, slightly paraphrasing the words of one of my all-time favorite people, “It’s not goodbye. Just talk to you later.”
I wish all of my gentle readers, including our assigned reader of all things NASCAR, a very safe and Happy New Year. May 2016 be the best year of your life, so far. Take care and God bless…
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!