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Those We Lost in 2023

by | Jan 1, 2024

Those We Lost in 2023

Those We Lost 2023

Ken Block, a 23-time winner in the U.S. domestic rallying and a six-time victor in Global Rallycross, and perhaps best known for his Gymkhana series of web videos highlighting his exceptional car control.  Block, 55, died in a snowmobile accident in Utah.

Jim Haynes, a two-time SCCA National Champion as a driver but best known for taking ownership of Lime Rock Park in 1964 and overseeing the track for eleven years.  Haynes later worked with the SCCA’s national office and was for many years the general manager of Wisconsin’s Road America circuit.

William T. Collins Jr., known within the automobile industry as the father of the Pontiac GTO, but Collins was responsible for a wide array of additional interesting vehicles.  Among them, the 1961 Pontiac Tempest’s flexible drive shaft cum rear transaxle system, the XP-833 Banshee two-seat sports car project, and the rear-engined fiberglass-bodied BMW-powered Vixen motorhome.  Collins also worked on initial engineering for John DeLorean’s ill-fated DeLorean sports car project.

Kitty O’Neil, known in automotive circles as “the fastest woman in the world” for her various speed records, but also a competitive diver, stuntwoman, actor, and racer.  Hearing-impaired from childhood, following a competitive diving career cut short by illness, O’Neil moved into racing and became a pioneering stuntwoman in Hollywood. O’Neil’s women’s absolute land speed record stood until 2019.

Lucy Foyt, wife of racing legend A.J. Foyt.  Never in the racing spotlight herself, she had a passion for culture, arts, and global travel, and was steadfast in her support for her husband through his successes and challenges in his long racing career.

Craig Breedlove, who became a household name in the 1960s after setting successive land-speed records, including the first over 600 mph in 1965.  En route to the record he endured a 400-mph crash that he survived without injury, adding to his legend.

Melvin “Jerry” Bickel, famed drag racing chassis builder and owner and founder of Jerry Bickel Race Cars on Ohio. Bickel and his business were dedicated supporters of the NHRA and his chassis were found in cars winning races and championships in categories including Pro Stock, Pro Modified, Street Outlaws and more.

Allan Brown, founder of the National Speedway Directory.  Before Brown’s publication of the annual paperback there was no available guide to the nearly 1,000 race tracks that dot the US countryside.  The National Speedway Directory was sold to Frost Motorsports, LLC in November 2009, and Brown fought cancer longer than most before succumbing in April.

Craig Breen, an eight-time podium finisher and 30-time stage winner in the World Rally Championship, following a testing accident ahead of the WRC’s Croatia Rally. An Irishman, he was named Ireland’s Young Driver of the Year in 2009, and later became a regular on the WRC circuit.

Chuck Ciprich, a versatile racer from Pennsylvania who won both in Supermodifieds on pavement at New York’s Oswego Speedway and in dirt track Modifieds at other New York tracks, and who also competed in CART Chap Cars in 1983 and 1984.

Lloyd Reuss, a mechanical engineer who in the course of a 36-year career at General Motors worked his way up through the ranks to became the company president from 1990 to 1992, and whose son Mark Reuss is the current GM president.  Following his retirement from GM, the elder Reuss devoted his efforts to charity work.

Jim Wangers, a car-guy marketing man who pulled General Motors, kicking and screaming, into the use of racing and performance to sell cars.  Among Wangers’ credits was convincing Chevrolet to use the marketing tagline “The Hot One” in 1955, and his name is mentioned frequently in the same breath as Pontiac GTO.

Giotto Bizzarrini, a Italian engineer and designer who was responsible for such iconic cars as the Ferrari 250 GTO, the Lamborghini Miura, the Iso Rivolta, Grifo A3/C, and Grifo Strada, as well as his own version of the Iso, the Bizzarrini GT Strada 5300.

Harry Bentley Bradley, the first designer of Hot Wheels for Mattel.  Bradley was responsible for the original “Sweet Sixteen” Hot Wheels in 1968 which included the infamous Car Show Safari Silhouette, as well as the Beatnik Bandit, Python, and others.  Bradley worked for General Motors before joining Mattel, and later was a lecturer at the Art Central College of Design in California.

Tina Turner, the internationally known singer who also had a love for cars.  For Turner, cars were both a symbol of her success and a gateway to freedom on the open road.  Among the cars she owned through the years were both a Jaguar XJ6 and E-Type, and a Lamborghini LM002.

Henry Robert “Bob” Stange, who in 1964 founded Strange Engineering, which over time became one of the most influential and widely-known manufacturing companies in drag racing and in the automotive performance market as a whole. By 2010, Stange was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame.  And yes, his name was Stange and the business name was Strange.

Gerald C. Meyers, who in 1977 became the President and Chief Executive Officer of American Motors Corporation, at the time being the youngest CEO in the industry at age 49.  Meyers oversaw AMC during the period when AMC Gramlins and Pacers were introduced.  Meyers also engineered AMC’s merger with Renault.  He left the auto industry in 1982 and in subsequent years was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and University of Michigan. In 1986 his book, “When It Hits the Fan: Managing the Nine Crises Of Business,” was published.

Nancy Edelbrock, widow of Vic Edelbrock Jr.  Vic Edelbrock often referred to Nancy as the “Real Boss” of the company, and she was an active participant at automotive trade shows, races, and other promotional events. She was never far from Vic’s side and was played a significant role in the success of the Edelbrock performance parts company.

Peter Horbury, Executive Vice-President of Design for Group Lotus at the time of his passing. During a 50-year career, the native of Britain worked for Chrysler U.K., Ford of Europe, Volvo Cars, the Ford Motor Company, and Geely in addition to Lotus.

Peter Vincent, a photographer whose work captured the emotions and depth of automotive subculture, with a special interest land speed racing. For over 20 years, Vincent photographed Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats, but that was just one facet of his work.  Vincent’s images appeared in popular hot rod magazines including Hop Up, Hot Rod, The Rodder’s Journal, and American Rodder.

Erich Bitter, a consummate “car guy,” a race car driver, automobile tuner, importer, designer, and car builder. Bitter, perhaps best known in the US for his Bitter SC, passed away just before his 90th birthday.

Reeves Callaway, a self-taught high-performance automobile entrepreneur whose Callaway Corvettes set numerous speed and performance records. His company, Callaway Cars, was founded in 1977 in his garage in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and grew to deliver performance and design innovations for track and road-going vehicles from BMW, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Land Rover, Mazda, and Volkswagen, as well as General Motors.

Francois Castaing, the French-born engineer who, after coming to Chrysler via the AMC/Renault merger, played a major role in creating the Dodge Viper, moved Jeep from a niche off-road brand to a major market presence, and reorganized Chrysler’s engineers into more efficient platform teams in the 1990s.

Harris Mann, a BMC and later British Leyland designer for 15 years, Mann is most famous in the U.S. for the Triumph TR7, but he had a varied career that spanned six decades that included lots of industrial design work. After he retired, he became a friendly face on the U.K.’s classic car scene, always eager to talk with fans of the cars he helped create.

Bill Vukovich II, the 1968 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bill Vukovich. Vukovich made 12 Indy 500 starts between 1968-80, with six top-10 finishes including second in the rain-shortened 1973 race.

Mickey Rupp, who started building go-kart kits in his basement in the late 1950s and went on to manufacture designs that included such innovations as step frames, improved braking systems and eventually four-wheel independent suspension. His Dart Karts became very popular and were produced through the late 1960s.  Rupp Manufacturing also produced mini-bikes, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles.  Rupp himself was a sixth-place finisher in the 1965 Indianapolis 500 as well.

Joe Lunati, who as a drag racer won three National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) national titles, and as a businessman founded Lunati Cams.  Lunati Cams was purchased by Holley Performance in the 1990’s and sold again in 2007 to become Lunati Power.

Sherry Pollex, known in the racing community as the girlfriend of 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex, Jr., and with deep roots of her own in NASCAR.  Her father, Greg, owned an Xfinity Series team and won the series championship in 2000 with Jeff Green. But the daughter’s lasting contribution was her charitable work in the fight against both childhood and ovarian cancer, the latter of which she was diagnosed with in 2014.  Sherry Pollex was just 44 years of age at the time of her passing.

Peter Mullin, a founding board member of the Petersen Automotive Museum and, from 2013, the board’s chair for the $90 million dollar renovation that began in 2015. Mullin was a renowned automobile collector and a distinguished businessman and philanthropist.

Joel Rosen, one of the founders of Baldwin-Motion, an internationally-known purveyor of high-performance Chevrolets.  Baldwin-Motion had its roots in Motion Performance, a small speed shop opened in Brooklyn, New York, by Brooklyn native Rosen in 1963.  In 1967, Rosen and  Marty Schorr co-founded the Baldwin-Motion brand, the named being a mash-up of Motion Performance and Baldwin, New York, the Long Island town in which the business was located.

Kyle LeDuc, a second-generation off-road racer with a total of 112 victories in short-course off-road racing and another win in the all-electric Extreme E series. LeDuc, the son of desert racer Curt LeDuc, was Pro4 Off-Road champion seven times and ProLite champ once.  Kyle LeDuc was claimed by cancer at the age of 42.

Ken Squier, best known as the radio and television voice of NASCAR beginning in 1970 with his founding of the Motor Racing Network, and a man with deep roots in his native New England and the New England short track racing scene.

Don Schumacher, Funny Car pioneer and NHRA team owner, who was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. Schumacher was a fierce Funny Car match racer in the 1960s and ‘70s, then left the sport to grow the family business, Schumacher Electric. He returned to NHRA Drag Racing in 1998 to build a team with son, Tony, and by 1999 the team had clinched its first of many championship titles.

Gil de Ferran, winner of the 2003 Indianapolis 500, two-time CART IndyCar Series champion, and holder of IndyCar’s fastest qualifying average at 241.428mph.  Believed to have suffered a heart attack, de Ferran was only 56 years of age.

Cale Yarborough, the first NASCAR Cup Series driver to win three consecutive championships. Notably one of NASCAR’s toughest competitors, Yarborough was respected and admired by competitors and fans alike.  84 at the time of his passing, Yarborough was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 1994, the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012, a nd the South Carolina Hall of Fame in 2013.