WARSAW — A celebration of the life of Tony Elliott was held today in the sanctuary of Warsaw Community Church. Family members, friends, schoolmates and fellow race-car drivers gathered to remember the life of a man not easily forgotten.
Warsaw Community Church Pastor Denny Wilson officiated over the second of four funeral services of community members lost in a plane crash Friday, Oct. 2. He will preside over funeral services Tuesday morning for Charles Smith and his son Scott Smith.
Those hoping to remember Tony’s life started arriving 45 minutes before the service began, and the pews of Warsaw Community Church filled as the morning progressed. Memorial flowers were placed around the stage, surrounded by pictures, helmets, trophies and Elliott’s very own racing suits.
The life of a man who lived so fully was remembered through stories shared by Tom Lowe, his childhood best friend, and Pat Sullivan, a longtime motor sports public address announcer.
“I struggle to write a condensed version of a life so fulfilled,” Lowe said as he began to speak. He began with tears, speaking of his mother’s love for Tony, which helped mold “the successful, hardworking, no-obstacles-too-great, mindset that shaped all of his future victories.”
“Tony was a faithful husband, father and worker … Tony never let success go to his head. He was comfortable in all types of settings … he loved his wife Cindy from an early age … although they had their share of trials, they learned to love [their children] in all circumstances.” Lowe went on to speak to each of Tony’s children individually, telling each one of them “your father loved you deeply.” Lowe finished by having those gathered partake in one of Tony’s “signature pranks,” tapping someone on the opposite shoulder.
“In closing, I would like to share the greatest tribute and gift everyone should find comfort in. Tony came to know the Lord in his lifetime. I look forward to seeing him again. God bless, and godspeed.”
Pat Sullivan shared memorable times from Tony’s experience as a sprint car driver.
“This past week, I am sure that I have been joined by many of you, by spending many moments in the past in reflection, memory and reminiscence,” Sullivan began. “That process has been aided by the hundreds of photos and videos that have been shared on social media.”
“There are images of Tony in victory lane, and there are plenty of those to be found. Others show a great artist at work. Others are of family, and show another one of Tony’s greatest talents: having fun.”
“These pictures have done exactly what they were trying to do: they pull our emotions in every imaginable way … yet if there were any images that moved me the most it is … Jim Elliott in victory lane here in Warsaw, and standing next to him, little Tony is beaming right along with him. This picture told so many stories.”
“What is it about Tony Elliott in photos that always grabs your attention? First, in that photo, it as if the young man had electricity running through his body that reflected his actual mind that is always working … Then, there is the Tony Elliott smile. Was there anything quite like it? It said so much … It was the mischievousness and deviousness that only added to his charm.”
He went on to share of Tony’s mischievous nature, telling the story of one of Tony’s pranks that he had played on Sullivan.
“That was Tony Elliott, until he put his helmet on. Then it all changed. When Tony was in race mode, he would fight you for every inch and every position on the racetrack until the final trigger flag had fallen in the evening. This was not joke time, it was business. And for any of you who don’t know this, know it now: Tony Elliott, from Warsaw, had moments in his remarkable career where he was not only one of the best, he was the best Sprint car driver in this land, period … few turn such dreams into reality.”
Sullivan went on to note all of Elliott’s achievements in racing, listing the numerous championships he had won over the years.
“Next to the name Tony Elliott, will forever be the words champion and hall of famer. If there is any solace to this day, it is the actual images we have all seen, as well as the ones we have in our heart and mind, will never change. His lasting legacy is the imprint he left in our hearts and minds.”
In the spirit of Sprint racing, Sullivan closed his time by exhorting those in attendance to applaud in honor of the legacy left by Tony.
Wilson, who was out of town when he was notified of the accident, shared that on his five-hour drive back home the next day, he thought, he prayed, he wrestled and he argued with God.
“Knowing that I would be standing up here doing these services, not only trying to honor their lives, but in some small way, make sense out of what seems like a senseless tragedy.”
I would love to tell you that I have answers that are easy to digest and make perfect sense this side of heaven, but I don’t. What I realized during the agonizing five-hour drive, was that I had developed this odd love-hate relationship with tragedy, loss and even death.”
Wilson went on to explain that “there is nothing like this, that brings the best out of people. It really does something to us that nothing else does.” He said that seeing the community come together in remembrance was an incredible sight. “We will remember this day like we will remember other important days in our lifetime.”
“Every time I would see Tony, it was always the same smile … he didn’t know a stranger … Tony is the kind of guy who would be impossible to replace … there is no question that Tony lived life to the fullest.”
Wilson closed by in prayer, thanking God for the life that Tony had lived.
A burial service followed in Oakwood cemetery after the service.