For Auld Lang Syne.
By: Chris Romano
With the motors silent for a while it's time to reflect on those in the sport we lost this past year.
Cancer was particularly virulent in 2007, claiming NASCAR Craftsman Truck champ and Nextel Cup winner Bobby Hamilton at 49. Nice guy Benny Parsons, a Cup champ, Daytona 500 winner, and everybody's favorite broadcaster lost his battle at age 65. Mike Swims, a Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame member, manager of Dixie Speedway in Georgia, and creator of the Hav-A-Tampa tour died all too early at age 42. Veteran California driver and promoter Larry Burton died at age 76. ARCA veteran Dan Shaver lost his battle with the disease this year at 56.
NASCAR lost two pioneers in Bill France, Jr., who guided the sport into the modern era, continuing the legacy left by his father. He passed away this year at age 74, and Morris Metcalfe, chief scorer for the two Bills died at age 81. Earl Powell died at age 79, he raced NASCAR modifieds in the 40's and 50's, and battled back from polio to race hydroplanes. Veteran driver G.C. Spencer passed on at age 82.
The sports car set lost Hal Keck, a Cobra racer in the 1960's. Fellow Cobra driver and SCCA champ Dick Smith died in the crash of own plane. An aircraft crash claimed World Rally champ Colin McRae at just 39, along with his five year old son and two others. Bob Snodgrass, who fielded the immaculate Brumos Porsches for years died this year at age 64. Bob Holbert passed away at age 84. An SCCA champ, he retired after his friend Dave MacDonald was killed at Indy in 1964. His son Al, a Le Mans winner, preceded him in death 20 years ago in the crash of his own plane. Baron Emmanuel de Graffenried, 1949 British GP winner, passed on at age 92.
A farming accident claimed Caraway Speedway winner Rusty Harpe at 28, while USAC midget driver Alex Pruett died in his sleep just at age 20. Lee Anderson, Michigan Late Model star, died in a boating accident at age 33.
It wasn't a good year for open wheel. Danny Oakes passed on at age 96. He was a 3 time west coast midget champion and Indy crew chief for Jim Hurtubise. Joe Pittman, Parnelli Jones' chief mechanic on the Fike sprinter passed away this year, and Jack Wright, Sr., an Indiana midget driver and champion car owner died at age 78. Joe Alexander, former Indy mechanic and lifetime USAC member passed away at age 93. Ageless Frank Riddle, the Florida sprint car ace and two time winner of the grueling Little 500 died this year at age 78. He was USAC's Rookie of the Year at age 51. Oswego supermodified veteran Bobby Stetler took his own life in November. Bob Consani , long time USAC car owner who won the 1990 Silver Crown title with Jimmy Sills passed on at age 74. Sam Traylor III passed away at age 79. He was a veteran USAC entrant and promoter in the east, and won multiple championships in AAA and USAC. Don Freeland, an 8 time starter at Indy, and 3rd place finisher in 1956 died at 82. Fred Meeker was the guy who started it all for the Northeast Midget Association, winning the first NEMA race at Seekonk in 1953. Later in the afternoon he won an ARDC race. He died this year at 80. African American driver Joie Ray defied the odds of surviving sprint cars in the 50's, and the ever present racism to live a long life, passing away this year at 83. Ted Hollingsworth, longtime USAC PR man and promoter died at age 79. SCRA founder Glenn Howard died at age 76.
And how I will miss Nick Fornoro, Sr. He won the 1950 ARDC midget championship and added a NASCAR midget crown in 1956. Of course Nick is best remembered for his long career as a flagman, from the bullrings to Indy Cars. A genuine nice guy, Nick took his final checkered flag this year at 87.
George Tatnell, Aussie Speedway Legend and father of sprint car racer Brooke Tatnell died this year. Frank Sessoms died at age 75, at his home in Darlington, SC. The long time racer and car builder won his last championship at Florence Motor Speedway in 2002.
Let's not forget Wally Parks, the father of the NHRA, who changed the face of drag racing, lost this year at age 94. And in the same thought let's remember Art Arfons, who took his Green Monster backyard creations to 3 land speed records at Bonneville. The master mechanic died this year at age 81.
It remains a dangerous game, and this year, regrettably, was no exception. At age 70 Earl Veeder died in a crash during an indoor midget event at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. Funny Car driver for John Force's team, Eric Medlen, died of head injuries sustained in a crash testing in Gainesville. He was 33. At 51 Scott Seaton was killed in a sprint car crash at Michigan's Auto City Speedway. Late Model racer Stan Perry died at age 60 of an apparent heart attack while racing at Spartan Speedway in Michigan. John Blewett III, 33 years young, was killed in a Whelen Modified crash at Thompson while racing with his brother Jimmy. Don Kotarski, 49 was killed testing in northern Michigan. Sprint car driver Billy Kimmel, 26, crashed fatally on the penultimate lap of a race at Williams Grove. Jim Turner, 50, was killed in a sprint car crash at Kings Speedway in Hanford, CA. Ryan Bard, just 23, died in a qualifying crash racing a modified at Abilene Speedway in Texas. Rafael Sperafico, 27, was killed in a Brazilian stock car race at Interlagos.
In my native New England we lost some legends this year. The Flying Schoolteacher, Mike Murphy, passed on at age 70. For years he was a fixture in Modifieds, and then Pro Stocks at Hudson, Lee and Star Speedways. Dick Cail, who owned the famed 7M late model in NH for years passed on this year. Veteran flagman Joe Calnan was lost to us this year as well. Veteran stock car driver Sonny Martel died this year at age 63. And how can we forget Ed Yerrington, Sr., who died this year at age 78. He was the 1970 Stafford Speedway champion. Later the Arute family trusted him to run the place, and run it he did, sometimes with an iron hand, but make no mistake, he loved Modifieds as much as the late Jack Arute, Sr. For years Dan Pardi served beside Ed as race director, and Dan died suddenly just after Christmas. Truly the end of an era at Stafford.
Northwest historian Stan Cowan died this year, and veteran LA Times journalist Shav Glick met his last deadline at age 86. National Dirt Digest, a great dirt late model weekly, left the scene quietly after an attempted reorganization.
And what will the Northeast Midget Association do without Marilyn Angelillo. For years she was by the side of her husband Gene as he won 14 championships as a car owner, but she also served alongside him when he was President of the organization, filling the post of Secretary. She was mother and coach to us all. She was a gem, and lost a valiant battle with cancer this year at age 61. How I miss her.
In our own way, we loved them all, we miss them all, and as ever I ask that as we dwell on their memories we dwell on lives well lived. We raise a glass to them all, for Auld Lang Syne.
Joyeux Noel, Bonne Annee to you all. - Chris Romano
-credit: chris Romano