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
1978 INDY 500 CO-ROOKIE OF THE YEAR RICE DIES AT 63
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
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
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.