By Nancy Knapp Schilke
Legendary sprint car racer, Charles A. Amati, died Tuesday, November 18, 2008. While it was listed as a one-vehicle crash on Park Avenue in Herrin, Illinois, preliminary investigation reports have indicated that he might have had a medical problem just prior to leaving the roadway and striking a light pole.
"The one-armed bandit" from nearby by Freeman Spur, was transported to Herrin Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival around 8:00am EST at the age of 68.
Amati was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2004, two years after he had taken off his racing gloves and hung up his helmet. The hall of fame is located in Knoxville, Iowa, near the track that is known for its hard racing and flips. There is not one sprint car driver that does not want to notch the Knoxville Nationals victory.
This year, the World of Outlaws (WoO) celebrated 30 years of racing, Amati had already won numerous races over more than 10 years before the new series even formed. Amati's first race as an "official outlaw" was at the famous Devil's Bowl in Mesquite, Texas in 1978.
During WoO's 2008 anniversary celebration, they chatted with Amati. "The thing I remember most about Devil's Bowl, is that it was a flat-foot, flat-out track. It was tacky as glue and you could run it as hard as you wanted to run it. The competition was just as tough then as it is now and you were lucky to make the show," he recalled earlier this year in March.
One of his competitors in WoO's inaugural season was a young kid. Later that year at Paragon Speedway in Indiana, Amati finished second and the kid, Steve Kinser, was the winner.
Sprint cars are a mixed bred -- both in racing machines and drivers -- they travel from track-to-track, racing nearly year long. Like a race club within multiple sanctioning bodies from USAC to WoO to ASCS, many of the drivers and teams easily switch from winged to non-winged sprint cars to the the sprint supermodifieds and several switch over to midgets -- all on the same night, weekend or week -- in a very competitive style of racing which rarely saw domination by just one driver.
"The idea of traveling all over was probably the biggest challenge, though for me I was used to it. Most of the races I ran were all over, so it didn't really affect me," said Amati in March. "I was thrilled to death to be able to run with the organization when they formed the World of Outlaws."
Amati was one such racer and during an 18 year span, from 1969 to 1986, he earned at least one victory in WoO competition. The legend will be missed by those he raced against, those who came into the sport after he retired and the many sprint car racing fans.
In his interview with WoO, he reflected on the past days of racing, "As far as I was concerned, the three original 'Outlaws' were: myself, Rick Ferkel and Bobby Allen. The reason I truly say that is because before the World of Outlaws existed, we three were always racing all over the place. We may be in Mississippi tonight, tomorrow night we may be in Missouri and the following night we may be in Ohio. We would just show up whenever we wanted to and wherever we wanted to."
He was, without a doubt, one of the racers who help to build the popularity of sprint/midget car racing in the United States. His nickname "the one-armed bandit" came about on a night that he injured his right arm. He did not want to bail out so he made his own harness using whatever he could find; it would not be a surprise to learn that duct tape was used. The harness held up and he was able to race the event using his left arm.
This past April, he served as the Grand Marshal at I-55 Speedway. Amati was honored to have been asked and had a delightful time sharing his memories with the current crop of young racers, his former competitors and the WoO fans. Shane Carson, WoO Industry Relations director and himself a Hall of Fame member was involved in Amati being asked as the grand marshal for the event in Pevely, Missouri.
"Chuck was a good friend, a great racer and brought a smile to everyone's face when he showed up," said Carson. "Chuck was a true showman in our sport, way before it's time. Having him at Pevely this year as the Grand Marshall for the Outlaws show was quite an honor for me and all that were there. When he talked to the fans, he just lit up. It was a great night. He will be missed."
Funeral services are pending and will be announced at a later date.
It has been confirmed that Amati had a massive heart attack prior to the accident.