Iconic patriotic big rig driver and NASCAR racer John “Johnny” Ray passed away at the age of 82 earlier this week.
Ray owned the John Ray Trucking Company in the 1970’s and drove in the NASCAR Cup Series from 1974 until 1976, when a crash in Daytona halted his racing career – but that didn’t stop Ray’s love of NASCAR or trucking.
In the fall of 2001, shortly after 9/11 and the passing of Dale Earnheardt, Ray, who lived just down the street from the racetrack in Eastaboga, Alabama decided to put his big rig to use on the race track.
“We just had the 9/11 attacks and Dale (Earnhardt) had also passed away earlier that year. I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back. It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale,” Ray said in an interview several years ago according to NBC Sports.
“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”
My hero; best friend; Dad.— Kevin Ray (@kevinray77) January 26, 2020
Johnny Ray, as most people called him, was more than a successful business man, lover of racing, trucks and aviation. Most importantly to me, he was my Dad. The bond I experienced with him was simply amazing.
Rest easy, Dad! Til I see you again. pic.twitter.com/y9JtrZOVVy
Eventually, Ray handed the Talladega big rig driving duties over to his friend Roger Haynes, who then passed it on to Ray’s son, Johnny.
“National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” said Speedway President Brian Crichton in a press release.
“What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated. He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”
Funeral arrangements and plans for a memorial service are still pending.
Our hearts are heavy as we mourn the loss of one of our most cherished friends. John Ray was a racer, trucking legend, and a treasure in our community and Talladega family.— Talladega Superspeedway (@TalladegaSuperS) January 27, 2020
Our love and prayers are with the entire Ray family.
🔗 https://t.co/QpnsskQnz5 pic.twitter.com/1QWW39IRx6