Safari News

Those We Lost in 2019

by | Jan 2, 2020

Today we honor those who greatly influenced the automotive industry that we lost in 2019.

Jim Perkins, former general manager at Chevrolet, who rose from a warehouse job for the company in his native Texas to the top job over a two-decade period, then was lured away by Toyota to help launch the Lexus brand in the US.  Five years later Perkins returned to Chevrolet, again as general manager, to help Chevy freshen its product line and recapture some vitality.  He then saved the Corvette from the bean-counters’ ax and leveraged truck sales and racing success to rebuild a positive image for Chevrolet.  Following his retirement from Chevrolet he found a new career challenge with the Hendrick Automotive Group and all of Hendrick’s various retail and racing operations.  Perkins died on December 28, 2018.

George Summers, a lifelong New Englander who began racing in 1953 and over a more than 30-year period accumulated over 200 stock car racing victories up and down the east coast.  Close to home Summers holds the record for the greatest number of wins at the Seekonk, Massachusetts, Speedway as well as the record for the most consecutive wins in one season at the same track. Also at Seekonk, Summers won two track championships, in 1967 and in 1974.

J.D. Gibbs, eldest son of three-time Super Bowl-winning coach and multi-time NASCAR champion team owner Joe Gibbs.  While Gibbs first served as a tire changer on his father’s team in 1993 and spent time as a driver in the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series, he is credited with being the NASCAR team’s co-founder and co-chairman and was best known for his business role within the team.

Michael Redlick, formerly a senior vice president, chief sales officer and chief marketing officer for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the years 2011 to 2013.  Prior to his stint at IMS, Mr Redlick was the vice president of Business Development for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, and at the time of his death he was the director of External Affairs and Corporate Partnerships for the DeVos Sport Business Management at the University of Central Florida.  Redlick’s wife was later charged with his murder.

Glen Wood, an icon of NASCAR racing, linked inexorably with the number 21 Fords and Mercurys driven by a Hall of Fame roster:  Donnie Allison, Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, Bill Elliott, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Dale Jarrett, Junior Johnson, Fred Lorenzen, Tiny Lund, David Pearson, Ricky Rudd, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, and Cale Yarborough.  As a driver himself, Wood made 62 career starts in NASCAR’s top series, winning four times at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  But after forsaking the driver’s seat to be an owner and team manager, his Wood Brothers Racing team captured 99 Cup Series victories, encompassing at least one Cup Series race in each of the last six decades.  He and his brothers Leonard, Clay and Delano, along with friends, neighbors and other relatives, formed Wood Brothers Racing in 1950.  The team’s most recent victory was at Pocono, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 2017.

Betty Rutherford, wife of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford.  The Rutherfords had been married since 1963, when they met at Indianapolis Motor Speedway while Betty was a student nurse in the infield medical center at the track during the month of May and Johnny was a rookie at the Speedway. The two were married later that year.  Betty Rutherford went on to found CARA Charities in partnership with a group of similarly dedicated women in the motorsports community, and during its more than 30-year run the organization donated more than $4 million to community projects that benefited children’s safety and well-being.

Sherman Armstrong, a colorful and successful Midwestern race car owner whose Armstrong Mould team won two USAC National Sprint Car championships and who enjoyed Indycar success as well, winning the 1979 “Tony Bettenhausen 200” at the Milwaukee Mile in what was driver Roger McCluskey’s final start.  In the 1980 Indianapolis 500, Armstrong’s cars finished third (Gary Bettenhausen), eighth (Tom Bigelow), and tenth (Greg Leffler).

Robert Hubbard, who along with brother-in-law and IMSA racer Jim Downing created the HANS device, a highly significant racing safety device that contributes to the well-being of drivers worldwide.  First put into production in 1991, the HANS device gained a solid foothold after the 2001 death of NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt and today is a mandatory piece of equipment in virtually all racing series, from local short tracks to the top echelons of the sport.  In addition to the high-profile loss of Earnhardt, it is worth remembering that the inspiration for the HANS device was the death of Downing’s friend, IMSA driver Patrick Jacquemart, at Mid-Ohio in 1981.

John Haynes, founder of the Haynes motor manuals, first published in 1966 and the many editions went on to sell more than 200 million copies through the years.  Haynes started the company after helping fix an Austin Healey “Bugeye” Sprite and realizing the official manual was “not designed to help an average car owner.”  Born in Sri Lanka, which was then occupied by the British and known as Ceylon, Haynes moved to the UK when he was 12.  Haynes served in the RAF, and in 1995 was awarded an OBE for services to publishing.

Bob Nixon, longtime designer at American Motors who was credited with the designs for the Gremlin and the Pacer, but who had a hand in virtually every AMC design from the early sixties through the company’s absorption into Chrysler in 1987.  Among Nixon’s designs was the Hornet and its variations, as well as ongoing redesigns of the Rambler American.

Sam Bass, who became NASCAR’s first officially licensed artist, and who designed numerous iconic NASCAR paint schemes, including those used by Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Bass also designed program covers for tracks including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway.

Don Montgomery, a Southern California hot-rodder who, after giving up racing to pursue a career and raise a family, turned his attention to documenting the post-WW2 history of hot rodding in a series of books on the subject.  Montgomery is today credited with fueling the re-birth of so-called “traditional” hot rodding.

Peter Tork, the bass-playing member of “The Monkees.”  Although not generally thought of as a car guy, Tork wrote a song about his MGB-GT and was active on the car show circuit in recent years.

Richard Sias, a designer credited for the 1968 through 1970 Dodge Charger, but who, disenchanted with design politics, left the automotive design field not long after that car hit the market.  A Michigan native, Sias studied industrial design at the Art Center in Los Angeles, then moved to Detroit where he worked as a designer first for GM and later for Chrysler.  After leaving the auto design field he relocated to Seattle where he worked in the aerospace industry for Boeing.

Charlie Whiting, Formula 1 race director, after suffering a pulmonary embolism just before the start of Australian Grand Prix race weekend. Whiting, who began his career in Formula 1 racing in 1977, had served as the series’ race director since the 1997 season.

Bobby Hillin, a Texas oil wildcatter who got involved in dirt-track Sprint car racing as a car owner in the 1970s and soon moved into Indy car racing.  In addition to utilizing experienced Indy car drivers such as George Snider and Al Unser, Hillin gave Sprint car veterans Jan Opperman and Bubby Jones their opportunities in Indy cars.  Hillin’s Longhorn Racing enjoyed success in the Sprint car ranks, but his best results in Indy car were a fifth-place finish in the 1982 Indy 500 with Unser and a second-place finish at Road America the same year, also with Unser, after running out of fuel while leading.

Glenn O’Connor, Catholic chaplain to the IndyCar Ministry, and a popular and respected figure at the races.  Known as “the priest in the pits,” Father O’Connor worked as a crew member for several Indianapolis 500 teams and served numerous Indianapolis-area parishes.  He was also the Catholic chaplain for the Indianapolis International Airport.

Arlen Hess, a California-based custom motorcycle builder who began by modifying his own Harley-Davidson Knucklehead, going on to gain celebrity with show-dominating bikes. Ness soon entered the aftermarket parts business as well, and his business, Arlen Ness Motorcycles, continues in the hands of his son and grandson.

Joseph Ossichak Jr, known far more widely as “Joe Oz”, a New Jersey vintage motorcycle enthusiast who, through his friendship with the founders of The Race of Gentlemen, became the tuxedo-wearing staging-lane boss at TROG events.  He never missed an event until heart-related sidelined him this past March, and he passed away shortly thereafter.

Richard L. “Butch” Kaelin, a championship-winning car owner with the East Coast-based American Racing Drivers Club.  Through the years Kaelin’s cars were driven by an assortment of drivers including Van May, Ron Dunstan, Jim Maguire, Leigh Earnshaw, Jack Hewitt, Bob Cicconi, and Rich Vogler; Kaelin won the 1979 series championship with Hank Rogers, Jr., at the wheel.

William C. Allen, a popular Central New York stock car racer from the 1950s through the 1970s, who went by the nickname “Wee Willie” due to his diminutive size and his large personality. Allen began racing at the old Hemlock Speedway in 1953 and retired from competition in 1979. Throughout the 1980s, Allen served as the official pace car driver for DIRT Motorsports.  In 1993, Allen was inducted into the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame.

Jim Russell, a former racing driver and founder of the Jim Russell Racing Driver School, graduates of which include Derek Bell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Danny Sullivan, and Jacques Villeneuve.  Russell was also responsible for preparing the cars and coordinating the action in the 1966 film, Grand Prix, as well as training lead actor James Garner to drive a race car at speed for the role.

Brenda Jackson, mother of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kelley Earnhardt Miller.  The daughter of  NASCAR race car builder Robert Gee, she and Dale Earnhardt, Sr., were married in 1972 but later separated, after which the children stayed with their mother while Dale, Sr., worked to get his racing career going.

Heidi Hetzer, a Berlin native who in 2014 at the age of 76 undertook an around-the-world drive in a 1930 Hudson Great Eight, which she named Hudo.  The journey took more than 2½ years to complete, but complete it she did.

Richard Hoffman, one of the owners of the Hoffman Auto Racing USAC racing team founded by his father, Gus.  Hoffman, born in 1942, began working alongside his father in 1956, the same year that USAC began operation.  Hoffman entries earned a total of eleven USAC National Sprint Car Series owner’s championships from 1989 to 2016, winning a total of 116 races along the way.

Dean McNulty, a veteran Canadian motorsports reporter who covered a variety of racing series since starting at the Toronto Sun newspaper in 1979.  McNulty, who retired in 2015, was known for identifying and championing young Canadian racing talent over the course of his nearly 40-year career in print and online.

Mike Mittler, a team owner in the NASCAR Truck series from the initial 1995 season through 2018.  Mittler’s team, MB Motorsports, competed in more than 300 races during that period.  While the team never won a race and scored just three top-ten finishes and one top-five, Mittler was highly respected personally and professionally.

Gene Romero, the 1970 American Motorcycle Association champion who, over the course of a professional career that extended from 1967 to 1981, proved his versatility on both dirt and paved tracks, ovals, and road courses.  Romero won 12 AMA nationals and the 1975 Daytona 200.  After his retirement from racing, he was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.

Niki Lauda, a worldwide motorsports icon who, while a three-time Formula One World Champion and winner of 25 F1 races, is best known for a gutsy and improbable recovery from devastating burns suffered in the 1976 Formula One race at Germany’s Nürburgring circuit.  Lauda not only recovered from his disfiguring injuries, but by dint of sheer will got back into a race car a mere 43 days later, at the Italian Grand Prix.  Apart from racing, Lauda enjoyed a successful career as an airline entrepreneur, and in recent years was serving as the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team.

Robin Herd, an Oxford-educated physicist who contributed to the design of the Concorde supersonic airliner but best known for his top-level racing designs that earned victories in Formula One and Indycar.  After stints at McLaren and Cosworth, in 1969 Herd was a co-founder race car constructor March, where cars in which Herd played a role competed in more than 200 grands prix, earning three F1 wins and five consecutive Indianapolis 500 victories between 1983 and 1987.

Norman Dewis, a longtime development driver for Jaguar and one of the last remaining Jaguar employees who knew company founder Sir William Lyons.  Dewis played a part in the development of virtually every Jag from the C-Type to the D-Type to the E-Type to the XJ6, and was a key player in the earliest applications of disc brakes and monocoque bodies for both production and racing cars.  Dewis, who had said that he hoped to celebrate his 100th birthday by driving an XJ13 at 100 mph on the MIRA high-speed test track, was 98 at the time of his passing.

Rod Hall, an original desert racer who made his name by winning more races than anyone in the history of the sport.  Hall raced in fifty consecutive Baja 1000s and, aside from winning overall in 1969 and winning his class 25 times, recorded 37 consecutive SCORE International and High Desert Racing Association victories. Inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2005, Hall’s record is said to include more than 150 wins in major events.

Monte Shelton, an Oregon-based SCCA racer who held a competition license for 60 years and who last raced in March of this year, at age 85. Shelton raced in the US Road Racing Championship, the SCCA’s Can-Am series, Formula 5000, and the Trans Am Series.  Shelton also competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona the 12 Hours of Sebring, and the IMSA Camel GT series.  A dealer in British cars by profession, Shelton was one of the six founding members of the SCCA’s Oregon Region in 1962.

Davey Johnson, an auto and motorcycle writer who was a contributor to Car & Driver, Autoweek and Jalopnik, as well as Motorcyclist.  Johnson disappeared while riding his motorcycle in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento, and while his parked bike was found shortly, his body was not discovered for more than a week, in the Mokelumne River.

Nicole Meguiar, daughter of well-known car care products executive and exuberant “car guy” Barry Meguiar, and herself the founder of the Benedict Castle Concours in Riverside, California.

Carlin Dunne, Ducati motorcycle racer, as a result of injuries sustained in a crash during the 2019 Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.  Prior to the run that claimed his life Dunne had registered the top qualifying time.  He was a four-time winner of the event and the defending champion in the Heavyweight Division.

Lee Iacocca, the “car-guy” auto executive who championed the original Ford Mustang and spearheaded the original Chrysler minivan, and who became a household name by rescuing the ailing Chrysler Corporation from likely bankruptcy via government-backed loans and production of the unexciting but practical and affordable “K-car.”

Don Sommer, a lifelong classic car enthusiast and founder of the Meadowbrook Concours d’Elegance.  Sommer was a tireless promoter of Detroit area classic car events and was sought out as an advisor by the creators of Pixar’s Cars movie.  An engineer by training, after serving in the Army Sommer worked in the aerospace industry, and later started American Arrow, a company to make replacement parts for vintage cars.

Nick Harrison, a NASCAR crew chief since 2010 in the Cup, Xfinity, and Truck series, working for Xfinity Series driver Justin Haley at the time of his passing at just age 37.  During his career, Harrison worked for several drivers including Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, and Bill Elliott, and earned five Xfinity and one Truck Series victory.

Jim Reed, a New York-born racer who, after five consecutive championships in NASCAR short-track racing, went on to win the 1959 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.  Overall, Reed won seven races in what was then called the Grand National division in NASCAR.

Dick Jordan, the public/media relations man for the United States Auto Club since 1968, his entire professional career.  Jordan worked on behalf of all of USAC’s racing divisions and was tireless, thorough, and professional.

Jim Dunne, perhaps the first person to make a career of automobile spy photography, shooting prototypes and pre-production models surreptitiously for publications such as Popular Science and Autoweek for some 50 years.

Ferdinand Piech, grandson of Ferdinand Porsche.  Exerting immense influence at Porsche, Volkswagen, and Audi, Piech is credited with brand-saving moves at each automaker.  At once genius and arrogant, Piech brought cars such as the Bugatti Veyron to market and brought an iron glove style to the boardroom.

Jessi Combs, self-described land speed record holder, professional driver, metal fabricator, TV personality, public speaker, brand rep and author, killed on Oregon’s Alvord Desert in a crash of the jet-powered car in which she was attempting to beat her own record.

Anthoine Hubert, the 22-year-old reigning GP3 champion who stepped up to Formula 2 for 2019, killed in an F2 racing crash at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.  Hubert won the French F4 Championship in his first season in single-seaters in 2013, then progressed through Formula Renault 2.0 and European Formula 3 before reaching GP3 in 2017.

Tom Jobe, the last surviving member of the Surfers drag racing team, which consisted of Jobe, Bob Skinner, and Mike Sorokin.  It was Jobe who is often credited with figuring out how to run ever-higher loads of nitromethane during the period when the Surfers’ team was running their front-engine dragster, seeking the right relationship among nitro, compression ratios, and blower speed.

Mike Stefanik, a six-time nominee to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a driver who won a record-tying nine series’ championships, seven times in the Whelen Modified Tour and twice in the Busch North Series.  Stefanik also raced in the NASCAR Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series, winning the Rookie of the Year honors in the truck series in 1999.  Stefanik holds the Whelen Modified Tour record with 74 victories from 1985 to 2014, and in 2009 added to his resume by winning an indoor TQ Midget racing in his home state of Rhode Island.

Luigi Colani, an industrial designer and futurist who designed automobiles ranging from production Fiats to outrageous concepts.  Colani also designed boats and furniture and household appliances, even coffins.

Paul Ingrassia, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who chronicled the ups and downs of the American automobile industry for more than 30 years, first as the Wall Street Journal’s Detroit bureau chief, then as a managing editor of Reuters News.  Ingrassia was the author of several books, including Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars and Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster.  At the time of his passing Ingrassia was serving as an editor and writer at the Revs Institute, an automotive history and research center in Naples, Florida.

Sir Michael Edwardes, the South African-born chairman of British Leyland from 1977 until 1982.  Edwardes tried to revive the fortunes of the declining British motor industry but was not successful.

Lou Cicconi, Sr., patriarch of the Cicconi racing family from suburban Philadelphia.  Sons Bobby and Lou each won American Racing Drivers Club racing championships, and Bobby in particular gained national recognition via ESPN’s “Thunder” series.

Jim Martyn, public address announcer at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and formerly the announcer for the Ferrari Challenge.

Ron Watson, founder, and president of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.  Watson founded the MSHFA in his hometown of Novi, Michigan, in 1989, and shepherded its move to Daytona Beach in 2016.

Mike Streicher, the 1991 USAC National Midget driving champion, who also claimed USAC championships as a mechanic and car builder.  Along with his father, Jim, Streicher won his first USAC National Midget owner title as a mechanic for driver Rich Vogler in 1983.  Streicher also constructed the Hawk racing chassis, which raced to countless Midget feature wins in USAC, NAMARS, ARCA, NEMA, ARDC, and other series.  Streicher also served as a professor at the University of Northwestern Ohio’s motorsports program.

Rex Gardner, co-founder of the Vintage Car Rally Association and its Mid-America All Star Rally & Benefit for Autism.  A two-time winner of The Great Race vintage rally in a 1917 Hudson Indianapolis racer, Gardner also operated a business building and preparing vintage rally cars.

Randy Sweet, successful West Michigan short-track racer and founder of Sweet Manufacturing, a company that put into production the innovations Sweet first tested on his own race cars.  Sweet was inducted into the Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1997.

Louis “Sonny” Meyer Jr., one of the most accomplished engine builders in Indianapolis 500 history.  The son of Louis Meyer, the first three-time winner of the Indy 500, Meyer was associated as an engine builder or chief mechanic with 15 Indy 500 victories, including having built the engine that powered Gordon Johncock’s first “500” victory, in 1973.

Timothy George, a competitor in November’s four-hour Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore at Sebring International Raceway.  George experienced a medical emergency while driving the No. 2 Ansa Motorsports LLC prototype, and while he was able to drive the car onto pit lane and be attended to by track medical personnel, he succumbed following transport to a local Sebring hospital.

Michael Olinger, who served 13 seasons, 2006-2018, as medical director for the Indycar Series. Olinger first became involved by joining the Indy Racing League in 1996 as a trackside physician, and rose through the ranks to become the top medical official.

Walter Miller, who began collecting automobile literature as a child, and as an adult he turned his appreciation of automotive brochures, owner’s manuals, posters, photos, paint chips, maps and dealer displays into a business and a career.  Miller operated the business out of a jam-packed building in his hometown of Syracuse, New York.

John Martin, who as a combined driver, owner, engine builder and chief mechanic was the last of his type at Indianapolis, qualifying second-hand cars for five Indianapolis 500s in the 1970s.  Prior to racing Indycars, Martin competed in sports cars, once substituting for George Follmer in the Trans Am series on qualifying day and putting Follmer’s Javelin on the pole – an effort that earned Martin the ride for the race itself, to Follmer’s displeasure.

Bill Simpson, a less-than-successful racer who became a highly successful and highly respected pioneer in the business of racing safety, and who can be credited with countless lives saved and injuries reduced.

Robert Glenn Johnson Jr., better known as Junior Johnson, a NASCAR racing pioneer who went from running moonshine to racing success to operating a legal alcoholic beverage enterprise.  As a driver, Johnson won 50 NASCAR top-tier races, then as a car owner won six series championships.  Johnson was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame with its inaugural class in 2010.

Maynard Boop, a “greatest generation” member who served with distinction in WWII, came home, married, started a business, raised a family, and along the way became a championship-winning Sprint car owner on the tough Central Pennsylvania circuit.

Horst Kwech, talented as both a driver in Trans Am racing during the 1960s and ’70s and as an engineer with multiple patents to his credit.  Kwech holds the distinction of being the only driver to win a Trans-Am race in both the Over and Under 2-liter divisions, and won two Under 2.5 Liter Trans Am championships driving an Alfa Romeo.

Cecil Taylor, a popular behind-the-scenes figure in American racing who was on the pit crew of the Agajanian #98 that Parnelli Jones drove to victory in the 1963 Indianapolis 500 and who later joined up with A.J. Foyt in a professional and personal relationship that encompassed everything from Midgets on dirt tracks to the Indycar series.

Syd Mead, a designer and artist most often referred to as a “futurist” for his conceptual and futuristic renderings.  Mead worked for a time at the Ford Motor Company design studio before hanging his own shingle as an automotive design engineer for varied clients, eventually working for Hollywood as well as for industry.