Thursday, August 11, 2011

Notes from Gary Nixon's funeral

I have a friend in the D.C. area who attended the memorial service for Gary Nixon, which was held in Timonium MD, earlier today. He wrote me a personal email describing the service, and with his permission, I'm posting it here. 

I hate it when journalists rewrite source material in ways that allow readers to think the journalist was on the scene. Rather than edit or rewrite my friend's account, I'm sharing it almost exactly the way he shared it with me. IE, it's not written as a 'story', just as a quick email. 

Still, I think it creates a great impression of the memorial. In life, Nixon was a guy who took racing seriously but life with a dose of humor. (In a second email, my friend noted, "Somebody at the funeral told a story of Gary Nixon taking a horseshoe crab shell and fitting it to a radio-controlled car chassis, and subsequently putting beachgoers into a tizzy. I almost plotzed when I heard that one." It sounds as if the memorial was held in that spirit. My friend's account follows...

The funeral home had about 150 seats set up, and nearly all were full. There were large poster-size photographs of Gary from throughout his career arrayed all along the periphery. They even had one of his old Cub short trackers on display, and they brought it up to the coffin area.

There were several floral arrangements highlighting the number 9.

Don Emde was the first to speak. Talked about how much Nixon hated losing (a recurrent theme throughout the service).

Steve DiGarmo(?) was next. Talked about how Gary helped a lot of young guys get their start in dirt track.

Gary's sister Peggy gave a little insight on their Oklahoma childhood.

Carrie Ann (an absolutely beautiful lady, by the way), his daughter, gave a great speech, touching on some religious aspects, and also about what kind of dad he was.

Stephanie, a young lady who worked as his secretary, talked about how he was the only person to come visit her when she ended up in a psychiatric unit.

Stephanie's brother cracked everybody up while demonstrating how Gary mumbled. Stephanie jumped in and added that she was the official office "interpreter" for customers who couldn't understand Gary at his old shop.

Jay Springsteen was obviously very upset. It was an open casket service; Gary was wearing a riding jacket; the coffin was draped with a checkered flag; Jay, before the service, went up to the casket and he said his goodbyes to Gary, and left the casket very distraught. Jay gave a short speech about how sometimes you just wanted to choke Gary, but you knew that there was no one better to have as a friend.

Erv Kanemoto nearly broke down. He was obviously in a lot of distress, and Mary had to come to the podium to support him. He could hardly speak. That was the saddest part of the whole service. He obviously was quite affected by the whole day.

There was a 15-minute presentation on two big screen monitors. An early picture on the farm in Anadarko. Gary as a kid on a small motorbike. Then a montage of about 100 racing photos. Then a series of family photos. There was a soundtrack throughout, and when the racing photos were going, that Carly Simon song "You're So Vain" started playing, and the family members were actually singing along - it was oddly funny!

I was not happy with the amount of people there from the racing community. No Kenny Roberts. No Earl Hayden. No Gene Romero, Yvon duHamel or just about anybody that he competed against. I think Gary Fisher was there, but I am not sure. Perhaps there were some industry people there, but I didn't see anybody I recognized from Kawasaki, Suzuki or any factory. Dick Mann did send a letter that he wanted read to the attendees.

Basically the whole service focused on funny stories about Gary's antics. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. Mary, before the service, had envisioned the whole thing as a "roast" - but it was not disrespectful.

Sometime in the next day or so, I'll try to reach the current national #9, Jared Mees, and ask him if his choice of the number was inspired by Nixon, or some other rider.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Mark. While I was only fortunate enough to meet, and speak with #9 one time in my life: It was enough to fully understand what your friend shared with you. I can also understand why some of the others (re; KR etc) were not there... Folks with that kind of intensity don't seem to like the reality that is mortality. Again, thank you for sharing this wonderful text with us, my friend.

    Steve D.
    Fair Oaks, CA