When I got word that his health was failing, my personal emotions shut off and went into work mode because this was basically the first time in my 15 years of auto racing writing that I would have to write about someone passing away. My mind was focused on what to write, get some research, etc.
The day before Lumpy passed away, I was at the Wisconsin Collegiate DECA conference in Delavan, Wisconsin when I got word that he was not responding to his family. I went to my Notes app on my iPhone and started typing what became the announcement on the ARCA Midwest Tour website. Bob Abitz talked to me that morning and really helped me with information on his early days. The rest I basically knew from our times together.
That announcement was done by noon that day. A friend suggested that I reach out to the family and get their blessing on the announcement. I sent it to Lumpy’s sister Kim, who responded back thanking me and that the family gave their blessing to it.
Then…like everyone else…we just waited for the news that none of us wanted to hear come out from the hospice.
About an hour after I completed that article. Ricky Brooks texted me and gave me the sad news that another friend, Kim Brown, General Manager of New Smyrna Speedway, lost her battle with cancer.
Needless to say, my afternoon and evening was full of emotions in my head. Losing one friend and knowing that soon, I would lose another one.
At 1:30am, Kim (Lumpy’s sister) messaged me with the news.
This wasn’t a story that needed to be posted right that minute, the family and close friends needed their private time. When the family posted of his passing on social media, the article was sent to be posted and shared on social media.
A few days later, the family asked me if I would write the obituary. It was an honor to be asked to do that and it’s something that I will am forever grateful to do for my friend. Along with being part of his celebration of life party.
Lumpy and I had a great professional relationship. As many of you know, he really didn’t share much about his personal life. He was always focused on his business and being a tech director or consultant for anyone who asked for his expertise.
For me, Lumpy was a teacher. He taught me a lot about why some rules are this way and why others are that way.
A common thing I heard from him was that he was always trying to find ways to keep the cost down for the racer. If he ruled the racing world, rules would have only been changed every three years, so teams weren’t spending too much during the off-season.
I remember asking him about why he kept the Super Late Models he wrote the rules for, using two-barrel carburetors over four-barrel.
He told me a story that a few years ago when he was at the Winchester 400, he was in a conversation with engine builders and other tech officials about motors. He told me that engine builders confessed that motors using 2-bbl carbs didn’t need to be refreshed as often as those running 4-bbl carbs. Again, he was looking out for ways to keep the cost down for the racers.
He was doing what he could to keep short track racing alive for the future.
As a PR/media/writer he was a value in helping me explain different technical things in order for the average fan to understand, not just the technical ones.
At the same time, he taught me something that I will always continue to use in the future. That is to be understanding and respectful to the engine builders, tire manufacturers and part manufacturers. Because they do everything they can to support racing from providing parts for the teams to providing contingency awards for tracks and series to pass along to their competitors. Especially when It comes in my role as a PR director for a track or series.
He even reminded me when my role went to be a reporter that those same engine builders, tire manufacturers, and part manufacturers advertise with who I am writing for and that same respect needs to be given there.
A week before he passed away, I went with Gregg McKarns and Tom White to visit with him in the hospital. He and I didn’t get a chance talk one-on-one, but with the help of Joe Nemechek and John Hunter Nemechek, I was able to bring a smile to his face and witness the classic Lumpy I knew one last time. Both Joe and John Hunter sent me video messages for me to play for him.
I showed him Joe’s video and he grinned from ear-to-ear. Then I showed him John Hunter and as soon as John Hunter called him “Sir” he let out a classic F-bomb and commented on why he was calling him “Sir.”
Lumpy was also a gracious host if anyone ever stayed at his “white house.” He loved his steak with fries, seven and seven and beer.
One example of what kind of a guy Lumpy was to me…Lumpy, Tom White and I were to fly over to South Africa on a Sunday night. Lumpy and Tommy were going out of O’hare and I was going out of Milwaukee. A severe thunderstorm was over Atlanta and our flights got cancelled. I was trying to get on the flight the next day to Johannesburg. I was having a rough time getting booked on that flight when all of a sudden, Lumpy calls me and told me that I was all set. I was like…huh? He said that when he went to Delta customer service to get him and Tommy re-booked, he also included me.
That was a friend looking out for a friend.
One trip to the RPM workshop in Reno, Lumpy and I had a flight that took us from Milwaukee to Kansas City to Oakland to Reno. As we were coming into Oakland, the plane made a left hand turn and all of a sudden, I was looking out the window and noticed the ocean and then I looked down and realized we were about to fly over San Francisco.
Lumpy admitted that he had never been to California and I was amazed to know that about him. As I was leaning over him and looking out the window, I started to see the Golden Gate Bridge. I pointed that to Lumpy and then showed him where Alcatraz was, then the Transamerica building.
He was like a kid looking out the window at all of this. He then said, “Well, I can say I saw all of that now.”
From our trips to Norway Speedway to our weekend adventure to I-44 Speedway in Lebanon, MO and then our trip to South Africa. We did a lot of memorable things together.
Even putting together a few Tech Seminars and Promoter Roundtables with Five Star Race Car Bodies, which to this day, made positive advances for all who attended those one-day seminars.
It may not hit me until the season opener on May 6th at Madison International Speedway when I walk in the tech building and realize he isn’t there. But, I am already missing our phone calls, his posts on Facebook, or comments to other posts.
I am going to miss his stubbornness. I am going to miss his bluntness. I am going to miss his advice. I am going to miss watching how he interacted with race teams and how he addressed issues at the driver meetings. I am going to miss his overall unique personality.
I am going to miss my friend.