Monday, January 08, 2007

So Long, Bobby

Bobby Hamilton is gone.

I’ve said it to myself a thousand times in the last few minutes, and I still can’t make it sound right.

The 2004 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion lost his battle with cancer Sunday afternoon, and the news of his passing at age 49 rocked the tight-knit NASCAR community to its core.

Bobby Hamilton, the toughest sonofabitch I ever met. The guy who quit school and left home at age 13 to live on the mean streets of Nashville, fending for himself and fighting his way to the very pinnacle of NASCAR racing. Bobby Hamilton, beaten by cancer. It just doesn’t seem right.

We hadn‘t heard much from Bobby in recent weeks. The easy explanation was that ongoing radiation treatments had left his throat too sore to talk. We know now that it was much worse than that.

It was less than 10 months ago -- March 17, 2006 -- when he announced that he had been diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Typically, he ran the Craftsman Truck Series race that night, before stepping down to begin therapy the following Monday.

"It's called head-and-neck cancer,” he said. “I don't have anything wrong with my head, but Kenny Schrader said a lot of people would doubt that.”

He had a tumor removed from his neck on February 8, and underwent aggressive radiation and chemotherapy at Vanderbilt Medical Center. From the outset, Hamilton talked like the fighter he was, saying, “I have always been sort of a survivor. I was on the street when I was 13-years old, and eventually got a chance to race with the best racecar drivers in the world.

“I am not quitting,” he said. “I am not that damn weak."

His son, Bobby Jr., returned home to drive the No. 18 Bobby Hamilton Racing Dodge last season, easing his father’s mind and allowing him to focus completely on his recovery. Unfortunately, it was not enough. Perhaps we should have known, when Hamilton failed to attend a number of races in the second half of the season. He had warned us earlier, saying, “I am going to have to be in bad shape not to be there. I feel out of place if I am not around it. It is going to have to be about death for me not to be there.”

Even with that, though, nobody imagined this as the final outcome.

Not now. Not this. Not Bobby Hamilton.

In the days that follow, there will be a lot of statistics thrown around about Bobby’s career; 1991 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year, four NASCAR Cup Series wins, over 100 top-10 Truck finishes and the 2004 Championship. They’re all true, but they don’t come close to telling the real story of Bobby Hamilton. They say nothing of the “tell-it-like-it-is-and-damn-the-consequences” personality, the quick smile and hearty laugh that combined so easily with rotweiller toughness and pit bull determination.

He was tougher than a barrel full of hammers, and if anyone could have beaten head and neck cancer, I thought it would be him. Bobby Hamilton against a speeding locomotive would have seemed like a mismatch, in favor of Hamilton. Bobby against cancer? I almost felt sorry for the tumor.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. We all were.

Bobby Hamilton is gone, and the racing world is diminished without him. I can't imagine going through SpeedWeek in Daytona next month without spending a few minutes leaning on the tailgate of his #18 Fastenal Dodge, talking racing, family, and anything else that comes to mind.

All that’s left now is to pray for Bobby, Jr., Stephanie, grandbaby Haylie and new wife Lori. Pray that God will bless them in the difficult days ahead with just a small fraction of the strength Big Bobby displayed every day of his life.

He promised not to quit, saying he was "not that damn weak." He never did, right to the end.

Rest in peace, Bobby.

6 comments:

  1. It was hard to belive the news when it came across the wire. I've been a NASCAR fan all my life and remember watching Bobby race.
    I have a few moments that really stick out with Bobby where I got to see more than what you see on TV.
    I started working for a part time Craftsman Truck team in 2003 at the September Loudon race. My driver JC was in 19th just around Bobby trying to get his lap back when the cation flew. Bobby raced JC hard into the corner battling to keep JC off the lead lap. Bobby raced everyone the same. From the young kids to the vets he raced hard through out.
    My second thought was how when we needed a part that broke at a different race he was willing to help and one of the people we would go to see if we had a problem.
    I also had the chance to listen to Bobby talk at Nashville this year to the press. He talked about his cancer and his goal of getting back in the truck. He even took the time to "beat" on Bobby Jr saying that he was going to kick him out of his truck for 2007 and that the boy would have to find his own ride cause the 18 was his.
    I know I will miss Bobby the next time we head to the track.

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  2. Hearing that Bobby Hamilton passed away is truly sad news. He was always a forthright and bold personality, never afraid to speak his mind and, most importantly, he was a hell of a race car driver. I remember seeing him collapse from exhaustion after winning the spring Talladega race in 2001, after 500 miles and no cautions.

    When Andy Petree closed shop and the marketers wanted to fill seats with youngsters, Bobby proved his worth by amping up his truck team, winning races and a championship.

    He's one of the last of the 'old school' drivers and will be sorely missed.

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  3. Nascar Jim8:53 PM

    I can remember a race when Bobby was in the #43 car and him and another driver played demo derby down the backstretch after the checkers. Bobby got out of his car and walked towards the other driver, who then drove off. When the press asked Bobby what he was going to do to him, he just flashed that big smile he had and said he was going to "talk to him about the weather or somethin". What a guy! When I heard about the cancer, I thought he could beat it, he was a hard-as-nailss driver. It was a shock to hear the news yesterday. He will surely be missed, but think of the laughd him and Dale are having right now...

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  4. filthyfrankie1:34 AM

    bobby was not just tough as nails he was a great person..never a bad word for anyone ..ill miss that smile and wish younger drivers would learn how to be a bobby

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  5. I too was shocked and saddened at the sudden passing of Bobby. Having never met him personally, but knowing his very determined nature, I thought he was going to beat the cancer. He said all along he didn't want to be a cancer victim, but unfortunately, he was. My best memories of Bobby on track were in his days driving for the Petty's and bringing them back to victory lane for the first time since Richard drove. He was a great driver, but was also very underrated. He was best at any track where you had to get up on the wheel and drive, I feel like his best tracks were Dover, Martinsville, and Rockingham, 3 of the toughest tracks in NASCAR, and he won at 2 of them and had a 2nd at Dover. He will be missed, not just because of his fierce competition on track, but also for how he was as a person: a decicated racer and family man. May God bless Bobby's family. Here's a song from my favorite band, Pillar, called "The Last Goodbye"
    I don't ever want to have to see you go
    ‘Cause I don't ever want to have to be alone
    Little did I know I wasn't on my own
    This is the only way I’ve found for me to show
    Exactly how I feel as you go

    I will never say never say die
    Forever and ever I’ll try
    Got to get it right
    Just between you and I
    This could be the last goodbye

    And I know that I will never ever find
    Another one of a kind a love redefined
    Hold on tight to the one that lights your eyes
    Cause every single day we're running out of time
    So I have got to find a way to show you how I feel

    Got to get it right could this be
    This could be the last goodbye

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  6. Bobby Hamilton will be missed. It was guys like him that made NASCAR what it is today. My prayers go out to his family.

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