WARSAW — One of Warsaw’s own who left an indelible mark on the racing world will be forever immortalized thanks to a marker presented to the town during a ceremony Friday, April 27.
Tony Elliott, a 1980 graduate of Warsaw High School, was the winner of 26 national sprint car races, which included two USAC national championships and a record total of 60 sprint car victories. Elliott died in a plane crash at the age of 54 on Oct. 2, 2015.
“We’re kind of doing double duty today,” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson, who was the main speaker of the event. “Tony was not only a very successful driver, but was also just a very pleasant character. It always struck me that he was a very pleasant guy, always smiling.”
Aside from Davidson, other racing officials included former Indianapolis 500 driver and sprint car driver Tom Bigelow, Brad Winters, Bob Lemons and Dick Mudd from Indiana Racing Memorial Association. The event was also attended by Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer and the Tony Elliott family.
Prior to the unveiling of the marker, Davidson entertained the audience with stories from Indianapolis in recognition for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 next month. He also paid homage to one of Elliott’s favorite races, the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway. According to Davidson, Elliott placed second once, third three times, fourth once, fifth twice and sixth on one occasion.
“It’s 500 laps on a quarter mile,” Davidson said. “The opportunity of having a moment presents itself quite frequently. There are no straightaways. You are constantly turning. Tony just seemed to have that event figured out.”
On the subject of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, Davidson found comparisons to the race’s thoroughbred counterpart, the Kentucky Derby.
“There’s a great similarity between the two events,” he said, citing that songs tied to the home states play major roles and evoke great emotion from longtime attendees. “They play ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ and people are singing along and a lot of them have their hankies out and are crying. It’s the same thing.” Davidson made the comparison to the singing of “Back Home Again In Indiana” at the Hoosier-based, motorized race.
“I went once (to the Kentucky Derby) and it had a lot of the same feel,” he said.
Donaldson, who has attended every Indianapolis 500 since 1964, told the audience he was available for questions but specified that his expertise and comfort level were both slightly restrictive.
“I’m not techy, I’m not a gear head and I don’t like controversy,” he said. “I like to talk about personalities.”
On display during the event was a display of every ticket for the Indianapolis 500 dating back to the 1950s.
Following Davidson’s presentation, Woody Zimmerman introduced Winters, who said “It’s quite an honor to do this for Tony and it’s quite an honor to do this for your community.”
Thallemer said the IRMA marker was a fitting recognition of Elliott’s contributions to racing. “They’ve created quite a tribute to his impact on the sport,” said Thallemer, who also shared humorous anecdotes of watching Elliott in his element.
Rick Dawson of Anderson Speedway recalled the first time he met the Warsaw native. “The one thing that stands out in my mind, even today, Tony walked into the gate, didn’t know me from beans, and came over and shook my hand and had a big smile on his face and was ready to race,” said Dawson. “Tony Elliott wants to be remembered for being a happy guy and a giving guy.”
Bigelow remembered the fun-loving side of Elliott.
“This is indeed an honor and a privilege,” Bigelow said. “I got to know Tony pretty personable,” he said. Bigelow told the audience that he had a memorable encounter with the Hoosier race driver at a party after the Hoosier 100 one year. “They had this big horse trough full of ice and beverages and Tony was watching me and I was watching him too,” he said. “But, on one trip up to the horse trough I didn’t see Tony. I went up there to get a beverage and all of a sudden, ‘splash,’ in I go. Well, I stand up and who do I see running out the door but Tony.”
Bigelow also recalled when Elliott won for the first time at a track in Gas City.
“Tony’s first race that he won at Gas City, you know who he beat?” Bigelow asked. “Coming out of the fourth turn for the checkered flag and I look over and there he is. I said ‘(expletive) kid anyway.’” The audience roared with laughter.
“He was a good ambassador for racing,” Bigelow concluded.
Before the unveiling of the marker, Elliott’s widow, Cindy, said “Tony’s achievements on the track are well-documented. The marker tells a brief story of his life. He started from humble beginnings and he rose to the top of his chosen sport.”
The marker will be permanently installed at Warsaw’s Funk Park on Lake Street.