Safari News

Those We Lost 2018

by | Jan 1, 2019

Tatsuro Toyoda, the second son of Toyota Motor Corp.’s founder Kiichiro Toyoda and uncle of current President Akio Toyoda, and who served a relatively short tenure as president of the company in the 1990s.  Toyoda died on December 30, 2017.  His time at the head of the company was cut short when he suffered what has been surmised to have been a mild stroke in 1995, after only three years in the top position.

Walt Breeding, a lifelong racer from Delaware, having been a driver, car owner, chassis builder and race track owner.  He was a race winner in dirt track Modifieds as well as a drag racer, and he was the first champion of the DIRT speedweeks series in Florida.

John Portman, a highly respective and influential architect who was the man who designed Detroit’s Renaissance Center.  The “RenCen” is today General Motors’ world headquarters, despite one of the site’s original principal backers having been Henry Ford II.  Construction began in 1973, and while the use of the property has changed over the years – originally a hotel was part of it – it remains the tallest building in Michigan and a point of pride for Detroit area residents.

Jack Merkel, a drag racer from Long Island, New York, best remembered for winning back-to-back B/GS championships in the 1963-’64 seasons, and following it up with an A/GS titles in 1965.  During this time Merkel opened Merkel Racing Engines in the town of Hauppauge on Long Island, and today that shop is still in operation today under the care of his sons, Scott and Todd.

Dan Gurney, perhaps the best all-around racer ever from the United States.  See the full remembrance here.

Joyce Newton, who with her husband, Bob, co-founded the Hoosier Racing Tire Corporation in South Bend, Indiana, in 1957.  Through the years they built their small company into the largest producer of racing tires in North America.  Bob Newton died in 2012, after which Joyce Newton continued to lead the company until 2016 when the family sold Hoosier Racing Tire to Continental Tire.

Jerry Sneva, the 1977 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and younger brother of 1983 Indy 500 winner Tom Sneva.  Jerry Sneva’s best finish in the race was tenth, also in his rookie year, while in 1980 he qualified fifth but finished 17th after a crash.  His career best finishes in Indycar racing came in 1979 with a fifth at Milwaukee and a fourth at Pocono.  Racing largely in the shadow of his more well-known brother, Sneva earned the respect of his fellow competitors for making the most of opportunities that came mostly in second or third-tier equipment.

Cliff Krause, a New Jersey businessman who along with his wife, Diane, resurrected racing at Wall Stadium Speedway after the track’s future was in doubt.  The speedway owners opted to close the now-68-year-old facility in 2008, but Krause leased the property beginning in 2011 and recently signed a new lease through 2019.  Following his death, Krause’s widow indicated that she and the family would continue to operate the track.

Keith Jackson, a television sports commentator who began with ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” more than 50 years ago and, although best known for his college football broadcasts, covered auto racing including the NHRA Winternationals, the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500, and the Monaco Grand Prix.

Bob Webber, owner of Star Speedway and Hudson Speedway, two paved oval tracks in New Hampshire.

Siegfried Rauch, an actor known to car guys for his portrayal of Erich Stahler, the fictional protagonist to Steve McQueen’s character in the iconic racing movie Le Mans.

James Hylton, former NASCAR and ARCA stock-car racer, who over the course of his driving career competed in 602 events in NASCAR’s top-tier series between the years 1964 and 2009, earning 140 top-five finishes, 301 top-10s and two victories, one at Richmond in 1970 and another at Talladega in 1972.  He continued to race in the ARCA series until 2013, when he was 78 years old.  Hylton was a legitimate contender in his prime, and he still holds the record for the highest point finish for a rookie, when he finished second to David Pearson in 1966.  Both Hylton and his son James Hylton Jr. were killed in a highway accident while returning from the Talladega Speedway.

Bodo Buschmann, founder and CEO of Brabus, the second-largest Mercedes-Benz tuning company behind only AMG.  While most of the Brabus modifications have been aimed at making the cars faster (it has turned out cars capable of more than 200 mph) the company has also modified cars to be more luxurious and more high-tech. Buschmann opened Brabus in 1977 after being unable to find a company to modify his own Mercedes, and Brabus played a key role in the growth and widespread acceptance of so-called “tuner” companies.

Randy Alexander, a racer in the NHRA Top Sportsman ranks, who succumbed as a result of injuries suffered in a crash during the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Georgia.

Maynard Troyer, a highly successful and influential stock car racer from New York, who raced between 1958 and 1982, and who founded Troyer Race Cars where he designed and built revolutionary cars for both dirt and asphalt modified racing.  As a driver, Troyer won major modified events, including the 1976 Race of Champions at the Trenton, NJ, Speedway, and the following year’s RoC race on the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway.  Troyer won three consecutive “Spring Sizzler” races at the Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut (1977-78-79), as well as the Atlantic Coast 300-mile NASCAR Modified race at Dover, Delaware in 1977.  Troyer backed that victory up with a 150-lap triumph on the old half-mile Richmond Raceway later that same year.  In NASCAR Cup Series racing, Troyer ran 14 races between 1971 and 1973 with a best finish of fourth, but his Cup Series career is best remembered for the wild flip he endured during 1971 Daytona 500.

Marcel De Ley, a Belgium-born metal craftsman who, after coming to the US immediately following World War II, gained a solid reputation first for collision repair to classic and exotic cars, and later for building custom bodies for hot rods and one-offs.  De Lay’s work was done entirely by hand, primarily using just the English wheel and some hammers.

Henry Bock, longtime medical director at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and for the IndyCar series.  Among Bock’s contributions to racing safety was the development of the LifeLine helicopter medical service, and he participated in the development of the SAFER barrier now in use at virtually all major speedways.

Tom McEwen, an iconic NHRA drag racer who, while not one of the sport’s most prolific winners, he certainly was one of its most influential.  McEwen competed in both Funny Car and Top Fuel, and in 1964 he was nicknamed “the Mongoose,” largely as a device to entice Don “the Snake” Prudhomme into a high-exposure match race.  McEwen won only five NHRA national events during his 35-plus-year career, but his gift for gab and promotional ability made him one of the sport’s most colorful figures.

Martin Birrane, a driver who competed ten times in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, owner of the Mondello Park circuit in Ireland, and former owner of race car constructor Lola.  Birrane is credited with saving Lola Cars in the mid-1990s after an aborted Formula 1 program crippled its finances.  Under Birrane Lola grew with a successful CART IndyCar chassis, spec FIA Formula 3000s, and a deeper foray into the sports car markets.  Birranne was a successful entrepreneur in British real estate and remained active in vintage racing.

Jason Johnson, a dirt-track Sprint Car racer, as a result of injuries suffered in a racing crash in Wisconsin.  Johnson, well-regarded among his peers, was the winner of the 2016 Knoxville Nationals in Iowa, Sprint Car racing’s biggest event.

Tony Feil, a highly respected engine builder, designer, and craftsman who in 2005 was inducted into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame.  While focused primarily on drag racing, Feil also built winning engines for dirt-track Modifieds in the northeast.

Dee Ann Andretti, wife of F1 World championship-winning racing driver Mario Andretti, mother of Indycar champion Michael Andretti, and grandmother of current Indycar racer Marco Andretti.  Mario and Dee Ann met when she was tutoring the young immigrant from Italy in English, and their marriage spanned the entirety of Mario’s racing career, from the dirt track in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, to the great stages of Indianapolis, Monaco, and elsewhere.

Harold Johansen, a hot-rod pioneer who was one of the original SCTA dry lakes racers and ultimately a land speed competitor who set more than 60 records, including a 208.86 MPH record in the C/Gas Roadster class in 1974 than gained him entry into the Bonneville 200 MPH Club.

Morris Nunn, who started driving race cars at age 24 but found his greatest success once he began building cars instead of driving them.  Nunn became a mainstay in Formula 1 as a privateer and then crossed the pond to engineer Indy 500 winners and Indy car champions.

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and chairman at Ferrari, removed from those positions only days before his passing and only because of his failing health.

Tom Higgins, a highly-respected journalist who was on staff at the Charlotte Observer from 1964 through 1997, where he was the NASCAR beat writer and the first reporter to cover every race in a NASCAR season.  In the pre-internet age, Higgins’ NASCAR reporting was a must-read for NASCAR fans and participants alike, and he received a number of awards through the years, including a 2011 induction into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame.

Doug Rose, A jet-car showman from the 1960s through this year, losing his life while at the wheel of his “Green Mamba” jet car during an exhibition event in Michigan.  It is not clear whether Rose, aged 80 years, succumbed to a medical issue prior to crashing, or as a result of injuries suffered in the crash, or a combination thereof.

George “Sonny” McCurdy, Jr., a second-generation short-track racer from New Jersey who relocated to North Carolina and became one of the first four employees at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.  Following Earnhardt’s death, McCurdy worked for other NASCAR teams, including Roush Racing’s 2004 championship-winning team with Kurt Busch.

Donnie Large, an accomplished Supermodified racer from the west coast, as a result of injuries suffered in a crash at Madera Speedway in California.

George Tuma, co-owner of Historic Sportscar Racing LLC owner and a lifelong racing enthusiast with a special passion for historic and vintage racing.

Burt Reynolds, the popular actor best known for the comedic and car-centric “Smokey and the Bandit” films but also respected in Hollywood for his prior role in the gritty “Deliverance.”

Donald Panoz, who amassed a fortune through the invention of the transdermal patch and then became an innovative and influential figure in road cars and racing cars.  Panoz had a particular interest in prototype sports car racing, and built cars and bought racetracks and was a force for change on and off the track.

Greg Hodnett, widely regarded as one of the best Sprint Car racers in the Northeast region.  In addition to his dominance at local tracks throughout the state of Pennsylvania, Hodnett scored 20 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series wins and 19 All Star Circuit of Champions victories during his career.  Hodnett lost his life in a racing crash.

Bob Jane, a four-time winner of the Armstrong 500 (which later became the Bathurst 1000), a four-time Australian Touring Car champion and a 2000 inductee into the V8 Supercar Hall of Fame.  Despite those high-profile successes, Jane is perhaps best known worldwide for having spent $54 million to build the Thunderdome at Calder Park Raceway north of Melbourne, specifically to bring NASCAR-style racing to Australia.

William S. Hirsch, a lifelong car enthusiast and founder of Bill Hirsch Automotive Products in Newark, New Jersey.  The company, which offers a range of restoration products with an emphasis on Packard, was started when Hirsch needed the correct shade of green engine paint for restoration of his own Packard.  Needing only a quart but required by the supplier to buy far more, Hirsch sold the rest quickly and an enterprise was born.

Mari Hulman George, chairwoman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1988 through 2016 and chairwoman emeritus at her death, was best known to millions of fans as the one who ordered drivers to start their engines for the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. Her father, Anton Hulman Jr., who was known as Tony, purchased the speedway in 1945 and saved it from demolition after World War II. Racing and the facility became a staple of her life.  In 1957 she married driver Elmer George, who raced in the Indy 500 on three occasions.  Their son, Tony George, is the current chairman of the speedway.

Kitty O’Neil, a pioneering Hollywood stuntwoman and land-speed racer who let neither gender nor deafness stand in the way of her desire for speed and thrills.  “Deaf people can do anything,” she was quoted as saying. “Never give up. When I was 18, I was told I couldn’t get a job because I was deaf. But I said someday I’m going to be famous in sports, to show them I can do anything.”  She succeeded.   She performed stunts for television series such as “Wonder Woman” and for films including “Smokey and the Bandit II” and “The Blues Brothers,” while also pursuing land speed records.

Frank E. Schneider, Jr., known to most as Frankie, a highly successful stock car racer from New Jersey who won more than 750 races over a more than 40-year career, including a victory in NASCAR’s original Grand National series (now today’s Cup series).  In 1952 Schneider won NASCAR’s National Modified Championship, winning 62 out of 105 races that year.  In 1963 Schneider won the season-long track championships at four different tracks, the Reading Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania, the Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown, New York, the Harmony Speedway in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, and the half-mile Nazareth Raceway in Pennsylvania.

David Pearson, a three-time NASCAR Cup-series champion and the winner of 105 Cup-series races, second only to Richard Petty.  His winning percentage was greater than Petty’s, having made 574 starts to Petty’s 1,184.  Nicknamed the Silver Fox due to his premature gray hair and cunning driving, Pearson won his three series’ championships without competing in every race in a given season.  Petty described Pearson as his toughest competitor, and Pearson was inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in 2011.  While Pearson is most often identified with the iconic Wood Brothers team, where he won 43 times including a fender-banging finish against Petty in the 1976 Daytona 500, none of his three championships came in the Wood’s #21 Ford and Mercury cars.

Katarina “Kat” Moller, as the result of a crash during an exhibition run in a jet dragster at Sebring International Raceway.  A graduate student at Florida Tech, Moller had a mechanical engineering degree and had been racing since age 11.

Irv Gordon, a middle school science teacher in New York who bought a new 1966 Volvo 1800 S and drove it an authenticated one million miles over the next 20 years, adding another million by 2002 and hitting the three million mile mark in 2013.  Gordon accumulated the record-setting mileage through a combination of a 125-mile daily commute and a passion for extended road trips.  At the time of his passing in November, the car was reported to have 3.4 million miles.

Michael Paul Smith, an immensely talented and supremely patient modelmaker, whose nostalgic 1/24-scale small-town dioramas, photographed in strategic outdoor settings and incorporating many of the 300 or so model cars in his personal collection, captivated viewers over the past decade.  He shared his idealized small town, which he named Elgin Park, on Flickr, and soon the fictional town, the man, and his models became the subject of both a pair of books, Elgin Park: An Ideal American Town and Elgin Park: Visual Memories of Midcentury America at 1/24th scale, and a brief documentary film that can be seen on Vimeo.

Richard Philippe, a former racer in a range of open-wheel series including Formula BMW and Indy Lights, and younger brother of Nelson Philippe who competed in the Champ Car and IndyCar Series.  The Frenchman was just 28 years of age before being killed in a helicopter crash in the Dominican Republic, a crash that also claimed the lives of four others.  Among those Philippe raced alongside in the various junior series were IndyCar drivers Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe.

Joseph “J.D.” Wilbur, a long-time Midwest short track flagman who also served as the starter for the CART Champ Car Series for a number of years following the retirement of Nick Fornoro.

Sam Foose, perhaps best known at the time of his passing as the father of automotive artist Chip Foose but a respected Southern California hot-rod icon in his own right.  His business, Project Designs, is where young Chip got his start, and the senior Foose built well-known custom cars including a customized Pantera, a roadster reinterpretation of the wedge-shaped Alfa Romeo Carabo coupe concept designed by Marcello Gandini and shown at the 1968 Paris Motor Show.

Dick LaHaie, former NHRA Top Fuel championship-winning driver and crew chief, who spent 47 years in the sport.  He drove competitively for 33 years, then retired as a driver in 1991 and became a crew chief for 14 years.  LaHaie was the NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion as a driver in 1987 and a four-time championship crew chief, two with Scott Kalitta (1994-95) and two with Larry Dixon (2002-03) before retiring fully in 2005.  The NHRA includes LaHaie on its list of the Top 50 Racers of all time, and he is enshrined in both the Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

Mike Hiss, a Connecticut native who, after success in Formula Ford, Formula A & B and F5000, burst onto the USAC National Championship scene in 1972.  At that year’s Indianapolis 500 Hiss earned the Rookie of the Year title and went on to finish sixth in the season-long USAC point standings that year, ahead of Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford despite competing in only eight of the 10 races.  Hiss was noteworthy for having substituted for the injured Mark Donohue in a Penske entry, for having replaced Peter Revson in Penske’s car after Revson lost his life in an F1 accident, and having qualified Mario Andretti’s car at Indy in 1978.

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