AKRON – On what was scheduled as a normal race day Sunday at Akron Speedway had a unique and somewhat somber feel to it.
Just up the road to the northwest of the track as part of a beautiful October dressing, the tears, smiles and heavy hearts for one of the community’s own, Scott Bibler, was pouring out at Tippecanoe Valley High School. Bibler’s impact on the area is well-documented, and Sunday was the time to honor his legendary status as an eternal part of the Valley community.
Down SR 19, another form of honor took place as the coping process continues in the wake of the plane crash in South Carolina.
Tony Elliott will be laid to rest this morning in Warsaw. A local hero, a regional icon and a national figure in the auto racing community, Elliott had that same appeal as Bibler did. Always smiling, always approachable, and a man who wore more than just one hat. He wasn’t just a star race car driver, but a businessman. His focus – like every athlete in any profession – was to win while competing, and Elliott was as fierce a competitor as there was. But Elliott was just as famous for helping the younger generations learn the sport of auto racing, and he wasn’t above showing up at the local tracks despite having a national following.
At Akron Speedway, a small group of those local drivers who spend their time racing for the love of the sport, paid tribute to Elliott in the only way they knew how. A memorial lap in the 57 kart driven by Randy Brandon, who had Elliott as his best man at his wedding, made the slow march around the track. At first solo, the kart adorned with photos of Elliott and all of his racing glory, along with the checkered flag fluttering behind. Brandon was then joined by the entire race lineup as the group took their turn just behind the 57 as the national anthem played over the loudspeaker.
Kevin ‘Tiny’ Williamson’s 57 cart was later driven in races as normalcy settled back into the humble getaway.
“I’m still in shock with the whole thing,” Brandon said, surrounded by nearly a dozen friends. “I would never have imagined Tony would die in a plane wreck.
“One thing I will always remember about him is just how generous he was for the kids. You always have to earn what you get, and Tony earned that. He was so good with people, and always smiling. He helped my son learn how to race.”
Added Williamson, who owns the 57 cart, “We have a lot of respect for what Tony did as a racer. He was one of those drivers who you stopped what you were doing and watched. He was so important to so many of us out here, and we all have nothing but love for him.”
With Elliott’s memorial set for this morning at Warsaw Community Church (click here for the live feed of the service), the track wanted to make sure one of their own was paid the proper respect. Sue Barton, who has helped get Akron Speedway back on its feet after the track fell on hard times, felt honoring Elliott Sunday was what all of the drivers would – and did – want.
“There’s just a lot of memories,” Barton said from the observation box above the track. “We used to sit on the back stretch at Warsaw for years and watch him race. We saw him in Kokomo, all over. He started in go karts just like these, heck, he might have raced here.
“The thing is, we could have another Tony Elliott-type here with all these little kids that are here. You never know. But there will never be another one like him. Never.”