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Posted December 26, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Murto: A tribute to those who died in racing

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As we enjoy the holiday season and await a new year of excitement on the track, it's good to remember those in the sport we've lost in the past 12 months.

Nobody remembers those in auto racing better than award-winning motorsports journalist Chris Romano. Annually he sends an e-mail tribute "for Auld Lang Syne," which he's given permission for me to share.

"On track this year we lost Tyler Wolf, just 20, the Silver Dollar Speedway Sprint Car Champion in 2011," Romano wrote. "Young Tyler died of injuries received in a crash at Calistoga. Yuri Semenchev, 49, died of injuries in a touring car crash at the Smolensk Ring in Russia. Phillip Yau Wing Choi, 28, was killed in a touring car crash at Macau. Scott Doty died of a heart attack at age 41 during a race at New Egypt Speedway in New Jersey. South African V8 Modified driver Curt Alchin was killed in a crash at Victory Raceway in Port Elizabeth. Jerry Vanderpool was killed in a crash at the Thunder Valley Raceway Park drag strip in Oklahoma. He was 51, and tragically was racing his brother when he was killed. Geraldo Backer died testing a Formula BKR at Serra, in Brazil, at age 48. Dr. Sandra Harrison Moore was killed in the crash of her Caterham Seven in a sprint event at Goodwood, in England. She was 37.

"Jeff Osborn died at the wheel of his Sprint Car in a race at Valley Speedway in Missouri at age 38," Romano continued. "Mike Rooke was killed in the crash of his Honda Civic at the South Australian Motor Racing Championships at Mallala. He was 33. Gene Bennett suffered a heart attack at age 62 after completing a Sportsman feature at I-77 Speedway in South Carolina. Tim Sands died in the crash of his IMCA Modified at Columbus Junction Raceway. He was 48 years old. Rich Moore was killed at Thompson Drag Raceway in Ohio at age 56. Dave Robinson died of injuries after crashing his PRB Composite at the Queensland Motor Racing Championships at Morgan Park Raceway in Australia. Osamu Nakajima was killed in a GT race at Suzuka, age 54. And at age 12, Tyler Morr died of injuries received in a crash during a "kids race" at Auburndale Speedway in Florida."

Romano paid tribute to those we lost off the track. Carroll Shelby at 89, drag racer Grumpy Jenkins at 81, and Dr. Sid Watkins, who worked to improve the medical care in F1 for 30 years. He died at the age of 84.

Dr. Joe Mattioli died at 86; he built Pocono Raceway. Jerry Grant almost won the 1972 Indy 500 but for a pit road mistake. He died at 77. John Fitch -- a witness to the carnage at the 1955 LeMans 24 Hour -- dedicated his life to safety on the track and highway. He died at 95. Bob Newton of Hoosier Tire died at 84.

"Buck Simmons, Georgia Dirt Late Model legend, was inducted into the National Dirt Racing Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in 2009. He left us this year at age 66," Romano wrote. "Winston Cup veteran driver Cecil Gordon passed on this year at age 71. ... And veteran Late Model and NASCAR driver Don Satterfield left us late in the year."

Romano observed that media members also left us in 2012, including West Coast photographer Denny Strimple, who died at the age of 65. He noted that we lost Frank Sagi, the "Voice of Hagerstown Speedway." But no media member had as much impact as Chris Economaki, the "Dean of U.S. Motorsports," who left us at the age of 91.

There isn't enough space to share Romano's entire remembrance, which pays tribute to all the sport has lost, from local flag men to track presidents, local drivers to national champions, local promoters to players on the international scene. We are lucky that we have Chris Romano to document the lives of those who have contributed to the sport of auto racing.

It's good to remember those we've lost in the sport as we move forward. As Romano writes at the end of his tribute, "We shed a little tear, we remember them with a smile, we recall lives well led, and we lift a glass to them all for Auld Lang Syne."

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.


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