ZEELAND, MI – Blog by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online – Janet Hall photo – I always thought that growing up entrenched in the sport of auto racing would have taught me how to be prepared for death in any capacity.
Instead, what I’ve learned over the past six days is that no matter what you do in this world, you can never be truly prepared for the death of a family member.
Losing my step-grandfather Ray DeWitt this past Thursday was a shaking blow. Not so much that he passed away, but because of how sudden it was. No one expected this to happen at all; Ray was in good health and a heart attack was far from his and my whole family’s minds.
I’ve kept in mind all week that life goes on, and he would want us to keep talking about racing. I’m sure he’s up there with all the crew members and drivers who went before him having a high time right now. But before I close this book one last time, there’s just a couple things I have left to say.
First, myself and the racing community say thank you, Ray. Whether you realized it or not while you hovered around that garage area in that way only you could, you taught your team, your drivers, your family and those who watched on what true passion for a dream is all about. Not just passion for the sport you were involved in, but passion for the goal you set for yourself, which was building a top-flight NASCAR operation that could contend even when it didn’t have the budget of the top flight teams.
I’d say mission accomplished. Putting drivers second in the rookie battles in both the Cup Series (1991) and what was then the Busch Series (1993; now the Nationwide Series) was no easy feat, especially against the competition level he was battling in those days. On a shoestring budget, it was nearly unfathomable. But my granddad pulled it off. Through pure grit, determination, and the will to succeed, he turned heads and made people realize that even though the team didn’t look like much, they weren’t going away; if anything, they kept getting stronger.
Second, I hope that win keeps you smiling. I know how important and how special that Busch Series win at Nazareth in 1995 was not just to my granddad, but to his driver Tim Fedewa and the entire D-R Racing team that helped to make that day happen. It was a breakthrough for Ray as an owner, it was the spark that Tim Fedewa needed as a driver, and it was the launching pad for so many other industry names as well; Scott Diehl, Annamarie Strawhand, my dad Brent; the list goes on and on. If you can ever call a single event a turning point, the Meridian Advantage 200 that day in 1995 was for a ton of people.
And last, I owe you a personal debt of gratitude. I don’t know if I would be where I am today if it weren’t for having been immersed in the motorsports world from my earliest days because of my granddad’s race team. ARTGO, ASA, ARCA, NASCAR, he did it all, and it allowed me to find a love for many, many different types of racing. Because of those early memories sparking a love for the sport in my heart, I’m here today not only writing these words, but from this day forward, hoping to carry on my family and my granddad’s legacy in the sport, and that is truly something that I will always be grateful for.
Tomorrow, we lay my granddad Ray to rest here at his home in Michigan, but I can just hear him now chuckling at us and saying “Don’t y’all mope around here. Go and keep going fast; there’s not enough time to spend standing still and off the track!” I’ll never forget that enthusiasm, nor will I forget his passion and wish to help as many people as he could, whether it was someone in Vermont in need of a motor, or a driver or crew member looking for a chance. That was Ray DeWitt and his heart of gold.
Not just up here, but even back home over this past week, people have been asking me why I always sign off my broadcasts and from the racetrack with my signature call: “Keep it off the wall until we meet again, and we’ll see you at the racetrack.”
I do so, because to say good-bye carries with it a sense of finality, a sense of completion, an implication of forever. To say good-bye is to admit the journey is over, and that is something that is always so difficult to do unless it is truly time to make that admission.
Now, as we lead into tomorrow, we remember the good memories, but also realize that Ray has taken the checkered flag and he has finished his race. And that does mean that good-bye has at last become final.
Good-bye, Grandpa Ray.
If you missed it, here is the tribute segment that aired on Monday night’s episode of Motorsports Madness honoring the life and accomplishments of former NASCAR and ARCA team owner Ray DeWitt, produced by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman: