BRISTOL, Va. - The NASCAR family says a heartfelt good-bye to a local legend.
Ed Whitaker passed away Friday morning. He spent more than 50 years in stock-car racing. Those around him say he sacrificed so much to see the sport survive.
"Ed Whitaker was the guy who had the most mechanical, common sense knowledge and ability to fix anything," NASCAR crew chief Chris Carrier said.
Whitaker leaves a legacy of operating some of the best cars in the business.
"The thing was everybody wanted to drive Ed's cars. The cars he had had a reputation of I know if I go drive Ed's cars, I'm going to run good. I'm going to have the best out there," Carrier added.
Maxine Whitaker told us her husband's passion for racing started in Bristol in a small two-car garage behind their house.
"We had two race cars one year at the Bristol track that he had built motors for in the little garage up back, and they qualified first and second on the pole. That was one of his biggest achievements. He thought that was great."
He was as generous as he was talented. He frequently opened up his home to a whole team.
"He was like everybody's dad," said Jim Harmon, another one of Whitaker's former crew chiefs.
Whitaker's mark on the sport spans more than half a century.
"People like him paved the way through his sacrifices and his commitment and his love for this sport, so that other people down the way like myself could make a really good living at it and a lot of fans could enjoy it," Carrier said.
He ran cars for NASCAR greats like Harry Gant, Mark Martin, and the Earnhardt family, but his greatest joy was in sharing his knowledge.
"He would bring the best people in and train them, and then send them on to other race teams," Harmon said.
He had a presence that old school NASCAR fans will never forget.
"It won't be the same without Ed, and it won't be," Maxine Whitaker said.
Bristol Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Caldwell released the following statement about Ed Whitaker's passing:
"Bristol, Va. native and former NASCAR Nationwide Series car owner Ed Whitaker passed away this morning at the age of 76.
Despite never fielding a team for a full-season schedule, Whitaker-built cars won 28 times in 246 career Nationwide Series races, a ratio of more than one in every 10 races they entered.
The list of distinguished drivers who drove for Whitaker is long and includes: Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Harry Gant, Jimmy Hensley, Alan Kulwicki, Butch Lindley, Mark Martin, Tim Richmond, Hermie Sadler, Morgan Shepherd, Mike Wallace and two drivers in tonight's Food City 300, Brendan Gaughan and Regan Smith.
"Ed Whitaker proved you can have big success with a small operation," said Jerry Caldwell, Bristol Motor Speedway General Manager. "The term 'throwback' gets used a lot but Ed was a true definition of it. We are proud of the achievements he had in a sport we all love. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Whitaker's greatest success came with Gant behind the wheel for 20 of the team's 28 wins. Shepherd collected the remaining eight.
Three of those victories, Shepherd in 1983 and 1986 and Gant in 1992 came at Bristol Motor Speedway."
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