Powered by
  • WheelsWheels
  • 4X4 Australia4X4 Australia
  • Street MachineStreet Machine
  • Trade Unique CarsTrade Unique Cars

US speedway champ Larry Rice passes

By Peter McKay, 22 May 2009 Motorsport

US speedway champ Larry Rice passes

Larry Rice was a smooth racer, a rare gentleman and probably didn't have an enemy in the world.

USAC midget champ and 1978 Indy 500 co rookie of the year Larry Rice, a frequent tourist to Australia and New Zealand in the 1970s, has died after a long battle with cancer, aged 63.

Ex chalkie Rice made and kept many friends in Australasia after several successful summer seasons in this part of the world.

He formed a strange travelling duo with Californian wild man (and one-time lay preacher) Gary Patterson in what was called The Preacher and The Teacher show.

Last summer he was brought back to Australia one last time by car owner and enthusiast Phillip Christensen as a special guest in a vintage speedway meeting held at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground.

Though in ill health, Rice was his usual charming and warm self.

He turned some spirited laps at the wheel of Christensen's restored Shannons Buick Special, a car he raced back in the late 1960s

Mike Raymond, the standout speedway promoter who brought Rice to Australia in the 1970s and who remained a great friend, commented sadly that Larry's death reunites the Preacher and Teacher double act. Patterson died in a race crash in the 1980s.

Official obituary from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway


    INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, May 21, 2009 - Larry Rice, a two-time USAC
    Silver Crown champion and USAC Midget car champion who was co-rookie of
    the year in the 1978 Indianapolis 500, died on Wednesday, May 20. He
    was 63.

    Rice, who enjoyed a distinguished second career as a racing
    broadcaster, had two starts in the "500" (1978 and 1979) and was the
    answer to a popular racing trivia question in that the driver with whom
    he tied for the 1978 "500" rookie honors was eventual four-time race
    winner Rick Mears. Rice finished 11th in that race, blowing an engine
    while running in 10th place, just as Al Unser was about to take the
    checkered flag.

    The genial Rice had been in ill health for some time but had continued
    through life in his remarkably bright and breezy style—even as his
    situation worsened—shrugging off any concern over his well being.

    Rice raced with the United States Auto Club for 24 seasons, taking the
    green flag in more than 650 feature events. He won five Silver Crown
    races, three sprint car features and 15 midget car main events,
    combining for a total of 100 finishes within the top three. He won the
    Silver Crown championship in 1977 and 1981, the Midget car title in
    1973, and was runner-up in the Sprint car standings in 1983.

    He managed to win all of USAC's short track classics, including The
    Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the Pat O'Connor/Joe
    James memorial for sprint cars at Salem, Ind., the Hut Hundred for
    Midgets at Terre Haute, Ind., and several events at Rossburg, Ohio's
    4-Crown Nationals. He also made several annual winter treks "down
    under" to race Midgets, the Australians and New Zealanders calling them
    "speed cars." In 1993, he was inducted into the AAA/USAC National
    Midget Hall of Fame.

    At the time of his passing, Rice was serving his second year as
    president of the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Club.

    For almost 20 years, Rice was paired with anchor Gary Lee in providing
    analysis for a variety of television and radio broadcasts, including
    many seasons on ESPN's "Thunder" series, in addition to numerous other
    television and radio broadcasts, including the ESPN International
    telecast of the Indianapolis 500, racetrack public address announcing
    assignments and guest appearances. He was also a member of the
    Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network crew from time to time.

    Born in tiny Linden, Ind., near Crawfordsville, Rice's senior year in
    high school was shared with only 11 other students. He attended Ball
    State University at the same time as David Letterman, and graduated
    with a master's degree in marketing. Although he would later enter the
    racetrack liability coverage business with K & K Insurance, his early
    years out of college were spent teaching fifth- and sixth-grade pupils
    in a Crawfordsville school.

    Rice began his USAC racing career in 1968, and as serious as he was
    about his participation, he delighted fans for several years by showing
    up at each race meet wearing a different choice of headgear. Stocking
    caps, Trilbies, Homburgs, bowlers, deerstalkers, Mickey Mouse ears -
    anything was fair game.

    There are a number of facets about Rice's life that were quite
    remarkable, one being that he attended the very first Hoosier Hundred
    in 1953 with his family, and either as a fan, driver or broadcaster, he
    never missed a single one through to the time of his passing. He won
    the 1981 edition, leading all 100 laps.

    In spite of his total number of races - which, to include heats, would
    have numbered literally in the thousands - he was very rarely involved
    in any kind of an accident and probably could have counted on one hand
    the number of times he was "upside down."

    But perhaps the most remarkable of all was that in spite of his many
    years as a race driver and the potential for on-track and off-track
    disputes; his many years as a broadcaster, occasionally being placed in
    the position of having to offer opinions on controversial subjects; not
    to mention his long-time occupation in the challenging and
    less-than-rosy world of racetrack insurance, friends generally agree
    that Rice never had an enemy in the world.

    He is survived by wife, Beverly, and sons Robbie and Zachary.

    Friends and colleagues are invited to a celebration of Rice's life from
    2-6 p.m. Saturday, May 23 at Brickyard Crossing.