Safari News

Those We Lost in 2020

by | Jan 1, 2021

2020 was a tragic and complicated year worldwide, a year in which the overall automotive community did not escape the additional heartbreaking losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Whether their passing was due to COVID, natural causes or other reasons, here are those we wish to remember as the calendar flips:

Frank Iaconio Jr., son of National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock racer Frank Iaconio.  Losing his life as the result of a traffic accident, the younger Iaconio was a talented racing engine builder for the company founded by his father.  Frank Iaconio Sr., founded the company, Frank Iaconio Racing Engines (FIRE), in 1972 and is an 11-time national NHRA Pro Stock event winner.

Paul Deesen, a Brooklyn native who, after graduating from Pratt Institute in June, 1954, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design, was hired by GM Styling and remained with the company for a 42-year career.  Over the course of that career, Deesen worked on everything from Corvairs to GTOs to trucks to show cars, and is credited with the creation of the “red line” tire.

Jack Costella, a Bonneville land-speed racer whose penchant for creative tinkering led to a total of 137 land-speed records over the years, 75 of which were for speeds greater than 200 mph and eight of which eclipsed 300 mph.  Both a driver and a builder, Costella’s fastest run behind the wheel was 304.151 mph in 1997, and the best run for one of his streamliners was 384.657 mph in 2018.

Edd Byrnes, who as a young actor in the late 1950s became a teen heartthrob and household name portraying the pompadour-coifed and slang-slinging hipster Kookie on the TV series “77 Sunset Strip.”  On that show, Brynes’ character was paired with Norm Grabowski’s “Lightnin’ Bug” hot rod, which led to the car being renamed the “Kookie T.”  The car is credited with starting the T-bucket craze, and Byrnes is credited with the hit record “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)” with Connie Stevens.

Jim Mariol, a former Chrysler illustrator and Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild winner who designed the world’s best-selling car of all time – the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe.  Introduced more than 40 years ago, the Cozy Coupe is a fixture in family-friendly neighborhood driveways and remains a top seller to this day.

Gary Bockman, a key figure in the motorsports community in and around Portland, Oregon, enjoying success as an SCCA racer and earning respect as an advocate for Portland International Raceway.  Brockman also served as a driving instructor for new racers and as an instructor in safe driving schools for both teens and adults.

Norman “Bubby” Jones, a small-town barber who went from racing on the weekends to a being a championship-quality professional racer, achieving such success in dirt-track sprint cars that he made it to the Indianapolis 500 in the 1970s.  After campaigning in the United States Auto Club series, Jones moved to California where in the 1980s he accumulated 90 race victories and two season championships at the Ascot Park speedway.

Colin Seeley, a motorcycle rider, racer, and designer whose two-wheeled successes made him a motorcyclist’s hero first in his native Britain and soon worldwide.  Seeley matched various engines to frames of his own design and the resulting bikes were (and are) classics.

John Andretti, son of Mario Andretti’s twin brother Aldo, and who as a driver won in Indycar, NASCAR, USAC, IMSA, and NHRA racing.  Mario’s nephew got his start at the Dorney Park Speedway near his Pennsylvania birthplace and made it to 12 Indianapolis 500s and 17 seasons in NASCAR.  Following his retirement from competition, Andretti was active in various charitable events including the “Race for Riley,” benefitting the  James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children, as well as being an outspoken advocate for colonoscopy exams for early detection of colon cancer, the disease which claimed him at age 56.

Ben J. Smith, a career auto industry engineer best known for designing the complicated and memorable retractable hardtop for the 1957-1959 Ford Skyliner, and who later developed a similar system for the original Ford Mustang, the latter of which never went into production.

Gary Romberg, correctly described as a Rocket Scientist due to his involvement with NASA and the lunar programs of the 1960s, but also a Car Guy who worked for Chrysler and played a key role in the development of Plymouth’s 1970 Superbird winged NASCAR entry.

Bill Fowler, a Bonneville hot-rodder who later became Dan Gurney’s first employee and then spent 25 years at Gurney’s All-American Racers.

William A. Motta, who, after graduating from the Art Center College of Design in 1957, was hired in 1959 by John and Elaine Bond at Road & Track, where he would work his way up to Art Director until, in 1989, he was promoted to Art Editor, a position he held until his retirement in 1999.

Pete Argetsinger, who as a racing driver enjoyed success ranging from Formula Ford racing in Europe to Formula Three, sports cars, sedans, as well as IMSA and Daytona prototypes.  He became a highly sought-after driving instructor and coach, and served on the governing council of the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen.

Clive Cussler, best known as the best-selling author of a series of “Dirk Pitt” adventure novels but also an active car collector whose cars could be seen at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and elsewhere.  Cussler’s fictional hero Pitt was also a “motorhead.”

David Rogers, a Florida-based racer who won multiple track and series championships, and the 1994 NASCAR Whelan All-American asphalt late model national championship.  Felled by cancer, Rogers’ last race was less than a month before his passing.

Kenny Rogers, the internationally-known country music star who in 1979 lent his support to C.K. Spurlock’s sprint car chassis-building company, creating the Gambler chassis brand.  Spurlock was Rogers’ concert manager as well as the public relations director for International Raceway Park in West Virginia.  Rogers also sponsored NASCAR Cup-series cars for Geoffrey Bodine and Tim Richmond, and starred in the racing-themed movie Six Pack.  Rogers, in case you did not know, also sold more than 100 million records worldwide during his career.

Larry Rathgeb, a retired Chrysler engineer who played a key role in the development of the dramatic winged Charger Daytona.  Rathgeb’s work included supervising an on-track session at Talladega which succeeded in setting the first 200-mph closed-course record.  Rathgeb’s passing at age 90 was one of the many attributed to the COVID-19 virus.

Kirk F. White, who, as a Philadelphia-area Ferrari dealer who provided cars for Roger Penske’s early racing efforts and who lent his personal Ferrari to Brock Yates and Dan Gurney for the original “Cannonball” coast-to-coast road race.  White is credited with establishing the template for today’s collector-car auctions, and in recent years had been active in the hot-rod segment.

Rod Campbell, a pioneer in the melding of business and motorsports, whose career behind the scenes saw him working with everyone from Sterling Moss to the Ford Motor Company.

Bill Yoder, a racing photographer who enjoyed a nearly 70-year career shooting for regional and national publications.  Yoder served as treasurer for the Eastern Motorsports Press Association for over 30 years and had been given a lifetime membership in the Indianapolis 500 Old Timers Club.

Gene Nolan, a highly successful car owner in USAC Sprint Car and Silver Crown racing, who, with the late Glen Niebel, helped popularize the use of the Chevrolet V-6 engine in short-track open-wheel racing winning often against V8-powered competition.

Sir Stirling Moss, often referred to as the greatest driver who never won a world championship.  Moss first gained notice by winning the British Formula 2 championships in 1949 and 1950.  Moving to Formula 1, Moss experienced great success but in seven consecutive seasons, he finished either second or third in points, but never first.  Overall, Moss won sixteen Formula 1 Grands Prix and the entirety of his racing career encompassed 527 races of all sorts, 212 of which he won.  Moss suffered a brutal crash in the early 1960s, and following a lengthy convalescence, he returned to driving, but found that the edge was gone.  He retired from the cockpit in 1962, but enjoyed subsequent success in business and real estate, and remained an iconic figure in the racing community.

Hank Steinbrenner, co-owner/chairman of the New York Yankees, and father of George Michael Steinbrenner IV, co-owner of Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Racing, for which Colton Herta won two NTT Indycar Series races in 2019.  The oldest son of George Steinbrenner, who purchased the Yankees in 1973, Hank Steinbrenner and his brother Hal took charge of the team in the late 2000s, and the family continues to oversee what is one of the world’s most famous sports franchises.

Bob Lazier, the 1981 CART Rookie of the Year and father of 1996 Indy 500 victor Buddy Lazier.  Bob Lazier finished 19th in the Indy 500 in 1981, then placed fourth at Watkins Glen and Mexico City to finish ninth in the season standings and earning Rookie of the Year honors.  But he retired from the cockpit at the wishes of his family the following year.

J.J. Lane, a third-generation racing photographer from New Jersey (and a contributor to, who followed in the racing photography footsteps of both his father and grandfather while earning legions of friends at speedways throughout the northeast.

Marty Smith, a motocross racing pioneer who won the first AMA 125CC National Motocross title in 1974 at the age of 18 and then repeated a year later. He won the 500cc division in 1977 before suffering a dislocated hip in a crash in Houston in 1978.  Smith returned to racing following the crash but retired shortly thereafter. Smith and his wife, Nancy, lost their lives in a dune buggy crash.

Gale Halderman, the last surviving member of the original design team for the Ford Mustang.  At Ford, he contributed to the design of such cars as the 1957 Fords and the 1961 Thunderbird, but it was his 1962 sketch for a studio competition to come up with a “sporty personal car” that became the production Mustang.  Following that he took over all Mustang design work through the 1971-1973 generation, and later was promoted to the head of the Ford design studio before retiring in 1994.

Larry Curry, a veteran Indycar mechanic and team manager whose career might best be described as successful and hapless.  Working for John Menard, he helped guide Scott Brayton to an Indy pole in 1996 and Tony Stewart to an IRL championship in 1997, but Curry spent two years in a federal penitentiary in 2001-2002 for embezzling $1 million from Menard.  Following his prison stint, he returned to IndyCar racing, working first for Tony George’s Vision Racing, then with Dreyer & Reinbold, and most recently with Mike Harding’s operation.

Ray Lee Wood, who joined his brothers Glen, Clay, Delano, and Leonard to form Wood Brothers Racing in the early 1950s, an organization that would go on to become an iconic and successful NASCAR team and its most enduring team. He was 92 years of age at the time of his passing.

Don Orosco, a staunch supporter of traditional rods who backed the restoration of iconic cars such as the Dick Flint roadster, which won its class and the coveted Dean Bachelor Trophy at the 2001 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.  Orosco also invested in efforts to reproduce vintage speed parts including Ardun heads and Elco twin-plug heads.

Hans Mezger, a Porsche engineer credited with the design of the six-cylinder air-cooled engine that made its debut with the 911 in 1963.  The basic engine design remained in production at Porsche through 2012.

Vicki Wood, one of the first women to compete in NASCAR racing and a successful racer regardless of gender.  She raced from 1953 to 1963, collecting 48 trophies along the way and setting several speed records.  One of those records, set in 1960, still stands: A speed of 150.375 miles per hour for a one-way run on the beach at Daytona. Vicki Wood was 101 at the time of her passing.

Dr. Rose Mattioli, who along with her late husband, Dr. Joseph “Doc” Mattioli, founded the Pocono Raceway in the late 1960s.  The Mattioli family still owns the track, one of the few superspeedways in the US not owned by either Speedway Motorsports, Inc. or International Speedway Corporation.

Yoshihiko Matsuo, credited with much of the concept, design, and execution of the original Datsun 240Z.  An iconic sports car then and now, more than 85 percent of the first-generation Z production was sold in the United States.

Ron Tauranac, who co-founded the Brabham Formula One team with racer Jack Brabham in the early 1960s.  The team won the F1 world championships in 1966 with Brabham driving and again in 1967 with Denny Hulme at the wheel.  From 1972 onward Tauranac remained active in F1 and other open-wheel categories through the 1980s.

Robert Hamke, a short-track racer who enjoyed success as a driver throughout his home state of Florida, and whose Hamke Racecars & Parts supplied racers nationwide.

Chuck Hulse, a four-time Indy 500 starter and at the time of his passing the oldest living driver to have run both a front-engine car and a rear-engine car at Indianapolis.  His best Indy finish, seventh, came in 1967.

Ralph Liguori, nicknamed “Ralphie the Racer,” competed in NASCAR’s early years before moving to USAC competition in 1957.  Liguori raced everything from short-track Midgets to Indycars over the course of a more than 50-year career and won his last race in 1992 at the age of 65.

Bob Bahre, who purchased Bryar Motorsports Park in Loudon, New Hampshire, and completely rebuilt the facility, opening it as New Hampshire International Speedway in 1990.  Bahre, a self-made millionaire, was then successful at bringing NASCAR and its top series to the track.

Maurice Petty, a builder of racing engines credited with 212 NASCAR victories.  Among the drivers winning with engines he built were Buddy Baker, Jim Paschal, and Pete Hamilton, as well as both his father, Lee Petty, and his brother, NASCAR icon Richard Petty.

Don Edmunds, a successful west coast race driver in his youth who made it to the Indianapolis 500, but who is best known for his Edmunds AutoResearch race cars.  Don Edmunds’ Midgets were both fast and beautiful, but he also crafted Sprint cars, sports cars, Super Vees, speedway bikes and had his hand in Indy cars as well.

Bruce Flanders, for more than 40 years the public address announcer at the Long Beach Grand Prix.  Immensely popular with both fans and competitors, Flanders was a prolific short-track announcer as well and did a brief stint on ESPN’s “Thunder” series.

Ralph Hudson, holder of the world record for the fastest non-streamliner motorcycle at 297 mph.  His passing came as a result of injuries suffered in August at Bonneville.

John Lamm, a well-known and well-respected automotive journalist and photographer who was also a member of the organizing committee for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.  Lamm worked first at Motor Trend and then Road & Track for a total of over 40 years, and served as a judge for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance as well.

Laura Salvo, a 21-year-old Spaniard, as a result of injuries suffering in a crash during the Rally Vidreiro Centro, a round of the Portuguese Rally Championship. Salvo was co-driving with Miguel Socias, when their Peugeot struck a tree.

Don Hayter, first hired as a body draftsman at MG’s Abingdon works in 1956, and through the course of a 30-year career at MG rose to become the company’s last chief engineer.

Joe Heitzler, a former CBS Sports executive who in late 2000 became just one in a string of Presidents of the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) series.  Heitzler’s reign during the course of the 2001 racing season was beset with problems, not the least of which was the organization’s long history of letting the inmates run the asylum.  Heitzler was fired by CART in December of 2001.

John Campion, an energy technology entrepreneur who amassed a collection of championship-winning European race cars.  Among Campion’s collection were Alfa Romeos, Ferraris, Lancias, and Porsches.

Rolf Eppinger, a scientist who performed and led fundamental biomechanics research that resulted in the development of crash test dummies, the interpretation of their measurements, and the advancement of the prevention of crash injuries.

Jim Pace, a successful and well-respected IMSA sportscar racer who in 1996 earned the overall victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, one of the few to accomplish the two victories in the same year.  59 years of age at his passing, the cause of death was among those attributed to the  COVID-19 virus.

Milt Schornack, whose work in performance-tuning Pontiac engines for Royal Pontiac in Royal Oak, Michigan, put him on a path that led ultimately to a job with Pontiac engineering.  At Pontiac Engineering Schornack worked on special projects such as the 1989 Turbo Trans Am.

Corey McClish, a mechanic with the Andretti Autosport team, responsible most recently for overseeing the preparation of the team’s race cars and formerly as a member of the team’s IndyCar pit crew.  McClish was claimed by Stage 4 lung cancer.

William Oursler, automotive writer and photographer, and longtime sportscar correspondent for the National Speed Sport News.  Oursler worked on the PR side for Porsche North America, Audi, Volkswagen, Toyota, Michelin/BFGoodrich Tires, and IMSA.  A dyed-in-the-wool Porscheophile, Oursler authored several books on the iconic cars.

Al Hamilton, an active Sprint Car owner for more than four decades and an inductee into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.  Hamilton’s racing team was a powerhouse in the Sprint Car racing hotbed of central Pennsylvania and won more than 40 main events on the World of Outlaws circuit alone.

Bill Marvel, a tireless worker on behalf of the United States Auto Club, of which he was a charter member, and countless other racing organizations ranging from the Indiana State Fairgrounds to Pocono Raceway.  Marvel was a writer and broadcaster as well, and in the field of public relations Marvel represented sports figures as varied as A.J. Foyt and O.J. Simpson.

Daniel Patten, known as “Dano Live”, a popular figure in the southern California car hobby and a car show videographer.  Patten died on Christmas Day as he was recording an illegal street racing event when one of the cars lost control and ran into the onlookers at the roadside.  Patten was killed and several others were injured.

Oscar Koveleski, founder of Auto World near Scranton, Pennsylvania, retired sports car racer and dyed-in-the-wool “car guy.”  Koveleski, along with Tony Adamowicz and Brad Niemcek, founded the tongue-in-cheek PRDA (Polish Racing Drivers of America) but also served on the Board of Directors of the Motor Racing Safety Society the SCCA, and promoted SCCA races at Pocono Raceway.

Jack Miller, former President of the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum in Michigan as well as having led the annual Orphan Car Show in Ypsi for many years.  Often referred to as “the last Hudson dealer,” Miller sold Hudson parts through 1996 and then pivoted to operating the museum. The YAHM highlights Hudsons as well as other marques with connections to Ypsilanti including Tucker, Kaiser-Frazer, and Corvair.

John Paul, Jr., who achieved nearly instant success in both sports car racing and Indy car racing, but whose career was derailed by his role as a teenager in his father’s drug-smuggling enterprise.  After serving a prison sentence Paul returned to racing and won, but the onset of Huntington’s Disease forced his retirement from the sport.

Aldo Andretti, twin brother to Mario and every bit as passionate about the sport of automobile racing.  Aldo and Mario started racing together and were following virtually identical career paths until a 1969 racing injury ended Aldo’s days as a driver.  He remained active on the sidelines and his son, John, enjoyed a standout career in Indycars and NASCAR.