ARCA Legend and Icon Joy Fair Dies at 81
ARCA Legend and Icon Joy Fair Dies at 81
(PONTIAC, Mich. - December 11, 2011) - Joy Fair, the winningest driver in ARCA-sanctioned history, died Saturday morning, December 10. With more news regarding the Michigan racing legend on the way in the coming days, we begin our coverage of the ARCA icon with the following very nice piece written by Jimmy Hehl for ARCA's 50th anniversary book.
Joy Fair, No. 1 Forever - By Jimmy Hehl
A legend is defined as: A person who achieves legendary fame, Joy Fair fits that definition to perfection. Fair is widely accepted as one of the greatest short track drivers to get behind the wheel. His winning started early and often as he compiled over 700 feature wins in all types of cars during his long and illustrious career. Weaving a storybook career which spanned 6 decades from the Beach and high banks of Daytona to the fast ¼ mile oval of Flat Rock Speedway and everywhere in between, Fair was the man to beat in his familiar school bus yellow number 1.
Joy, a strapping man in his prime, resembled an NFL defensive tackle with his imposing 6'4, 225 pound frame. Carrying his intimidating stature, Fair never worried about his uncommon first name, which came from his uncle Joy McLaphlan, an airline pilot who helped the Fair family during the dark depression era. Fair's intimidating presence was actually a facade, as Fair's calm, pleasant demeanor and warm smile made him well liked by his fellow competitors, fans and especially children. Introduce a kid to Joy Fair and a new lifelong fan was created as he always had time for an autograph or picture.
The Joy Fair story is one of triumph, determination and teamwork. The Joy Fair story is one of charm and charisma of this big man. But most of all the Joy Fair story is one of domination of the Midwestern racing ovals as never been seen and is likely never to be witnessed again.
Joy's journey to the wheel of a racecar started at the age of 13, working in a local garage during World War II. While attending Pontiac High School, Joy took an automobile vocational course with a three hour welding course. Fair would become well adept with working with his hands but ironically; Joy wanted to become a schoolteacher. He attended Western Michigan University for two semesters before calling it quits and returning to his home in Pontiac, Michigan. Joy and his brother Floyd opened a service station and got the bug to go racing. They promptly built a modified (Hardtop) racecar to compete at the local bullring of Parkington Pastures. Joy having no interest in driving was comfortable maintaining the ride. As fate would have it, Fair and his driver Dick Price would have a disagreement and Joy took the wheel and promptly won his first race, which paid whopping $ 13.50-big money! The rest they say is history, as the Joy Fair juggernaut was set in motion.
In the early 1950's, Fair would join forces with the late Russell Wainscott. Grumpy to some, serious to others, Russell supplied fiscal and mechanical competence along with a dry humor. The Fair/Wainscott combination was rolling through the 1950's racing six to seven nights a week, ruling the action at the defunct Motor City Speedway along with tracks throughout the Midwest and Canada. Fair's early rivals included Mickey Katlin, Felix Brooks, George Cooper, Rusty Kelly and "Wild" Bill Niada.
In 1956, the team got the bug to try their luck nationally and headed for the sandy beaches of Daytona. Fair received some factory backing from the local Dodge boys, so they fashioned a 1954 Dodge for the Grand National event and also hauled down a "hot" 1937 Ford for the sportsman race. They came up empty on the Grand National debut with mechanical problems, but started dead last, 75th in the sportsman event and battled the rough terrain to a sixth place finish. Fair made another NASCAR start at the historic Chicago Bears Soldier Field, finishing a respectable ninth. The funding was not available to run nationally and Joy was most comfortable back home in Michigan, so that's where he would stay throughout his fabled career.
Super Modified racing was the "buzz" and at its height of popularity, so Joy and Russell decided to move in that direction. The Fair team went to work over the winter and the end result was 315 Dodge D-500 little hemi, complete with fuel injection and quick changes. Fair set out for Sandusky Speedway, OH, which packed the house weekly and paid sizable purses. From the late 1950's into the early 60's Fair was nearly unbeatable in the Dodge racing again Super Modified stalwarts Al and Rollie Beale, Jack Conley, Gordon Johncock, Leo Caldwell and Dick Good.
In the early 1960's the full bodied ‘Old Models/Semi-Lates' transformed into the LateModel division as we know it today. The downward spiraling decline of the Super Modified division, and the long weekly tow to Sandusky were reasons the Fair crew wanted to race closer to home. The ¼ mile "bullring" of Flat Rock Speedway would become Fair's new home for years.
"There were about 4 or 5 races left in the season after we sold the super modified," said Joy. "Hugh Hans was winning in the Late Models at Flat Rock and his owner, Jay Shapiro had a second car, we had a Pontiac motor with high compression stuff, so we bought a manifold, and 4-barrel carburetor and put it in that car. Of course it was a tiger, and we also cut the top off. Cause you were use to running no top with the Super Modified, it made it light and we ran down there and were an instant winner. So that was fun to just drive to Flat Rock instead of Sandusky every week. So instead of building another Super Modified, we built that Falcon thing which was one of my favorite cars."
While the Falcon was being constructed, long time ‘Hard Top' competitor Bob Gillelan (Gilley) decided if you can't beat em, join em and he did just that collaborating with Fair and Wainscott. Gillelan known as an absolute genius creating crankshafts, for years supplied crankshafts to many NASCAR Grand National teams. With Gillelan's motor prowess, Fair's chassis wisdom, and Wainscott keeping the books, the triumvirate set out to establish themselves in the record books all across the Midwest.
The 1960 Cobra Falcon would be one of Joy's most victorious rides. The ultra light, highly controversial set-up was nearly unbeatable. The team ran the successful Falcon when and where they were allowed to compete. Many nights the car would have to be trailered do to track official's interpretation of the then "loose" rules of that era. The car was finally ruled illegal and cut up and converted into a 1958 Ford. Fair would continue with Ford power and be "First on Race Day" throughout the middle 1960's. The wins and championships started piling up at home tracks Flat Rock and Toledo against regulars Dick Mitchell, George Cooper, Wayne Bennett, Hugh Hans and Dick Simmons. The racing circle also included capturing big dollar invitationals at the 1st annual Hoosier 200 at Baer Field Raceway, IN, and the 200 lap Dixie Classic at Dixie Speedway, MI.
With Joy's fledgling garage business and raising a family, he wanted to settle into a racing routine that would keep him close to home. Joy settled into running ARCA founder and President John Marcum's weekly circuit, this consisted of Flat Rock Speedway on Saturday and Toledo Speedway on Sunday nights. The Mt.Clemens Race Track was later added to the circle, along with frequent visits to Baer Field, Spartan Speedway MI, Heidelberg Raceway PA, and the familiar Sandusky Speedway OH for special events.
During this period, Joy would form a long-standing relationship with the ARCA leader. Marcum was at the top of his game running his local programs along with the traveling ARCA "New Car" division. Marcum's ace in the hole and most valuable commodity was Fair. He was the reason the fans packed the stands. It was a love-hate relationship for the fans. Most cheered him on, while others wanted to see him end up in the fence, as he made winning look so easy. There were often times when angry fans would storm the pit gates after Fair completely dominated a race, many never knowing just what a special guy Joy Fair was and what impact he had on those around him. John Marcum did, and he would let Boy Scout troops and baseball teams into the races free and introduce them to Joy Fair. Fair would buy them all hotdogs, tell some stories, share some laughs, and then proceed to go out and whip their tails in the feature. The awestruck youngsters would go home and beg their parents to return to see that special guy. It was a win, win situation for all.
Marcum and Fair's relationship believe it or not dictated the outcome of some feature races in the early years. "John Marcum use to come down on the infield, when we had such an advantage on them cars. He'd come out there and signal me to slow down. He'd tell me ‘Now Joy if you run second, I'll still pay you for first. Don't worry about that.' John would want to make it a good show." Explains Joy. With the 1967 season upcoming, the Fair team made a switch to General Motors power. The choice was a 1964 chevelle, which was the car of choice in the Late Model division and it would remain so for the next few years. The Chevelle's appearance would take on a persona all of its own, with the school bus yellow paint and a bright red number 1 on the doors, the combination would become one of most recognizable cars for decades. This number was only fitting for Fair; at this point in his career, he was one of most feared drivers in the nation. The cars also depicted cartoon drawings of Gilley and crankshafts; these colorful renditions would grace the sides of Fair's machines for years to come.
The Chevelle was dominate throughout the 1967 campaign as Fair would raise the bar in which all other competitors would seek. Fair captured his first of many season sweeps of track championships at Flat Rock and Toledo Speedways along with taking 23 of 34 feature wins. As the season wound to a close Fair would claim one of his biggest wins to date. The annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial at Illiana Speedway IN, this would be his first of two wins in the classic.
The following seasons would be a repetitive theme of wins and championships. Another feather in Fair's cap was capturing the first annual Glass City 200 at Toledo in 1968, which would become an annual prestigious event for years. As the decade closed Fair's winning was now one of legend. His race to race winning percentages were calculated as high as 80% against tough competition as Ed Howe, Bob Senneker, Dave Sorg, Moose Myers, Danny Byrd, Dick Mitchell and rising stars Joe Ruttman and the late John Anderson. Six total track championships were posted between the two ARCA tracks.
As the 1970's were ushered in, the landscape of Late Model racing was in flux. Many track owners and promoters were working towards a common set of rules. The cars themselves were becoming safer and with the advent of Ed Howe's chassis business, anybody could purchase an out of the box competitive racer. Each year it was harder for Fair to top the previous successful seasons. The team, however, never rested on their laurels and continued to develop new innovations, something the competition didn't have. The trio continued on a relentless search over the long winter months for something they could dream up in the garage which would prove advantageous on the track come summer. Late in the 1971 season, Fair would shelf the trusty Chevelle in favor of a Camaro. Some laughed at the choice of this smaller sleeker ride. However, the smaller Camaro would eventually replace the Chevelle in the Late Model division.. Fair was one of the first drivers to make the switch, but it was never his choice as to what he would be chaffering. "It was always Gilley and Russell making the decisions on what to build. Gilley would convince Russell. It mostly evolved around what kind of motor Gilley wanted to play with." Explains Fair.
The swift Camaro would guide Fair to his first ARCA "New Car" win at Toledo on August 18, 1972. Fair had them all completely covered winning the pole and breezing to a half lap win over Joe Ruttman and NASCAR star Bobby Allison in his Coca Cola sponsored Chevelle. Fair finally got the bug off his back after years of frequenting the ARCA "New Car" circuit. The Camaro was so strong that season, especially at Flat Rock where John Marcum started Joy on the pole one night at Flat Rock one lap down. He ran an amazing 31 laps to win the feature!
With the Camaro, Fair would experience some of his all-time highs, but unfortunately one of his careers lowest moments. The calendar showed June 17, 1973, and Joy Fair's season would come to an abrupt end in a nasty accident on the Toledo backstretch. Joy landed in the hospital for two weeks with a broken vertebra and severe facial lacerations. Joy was convinced this was the end, as flowers and letters poured into the hospital. This mountain of man would not be down for long though, as a stringent physical therapy schedule helped get him back on his feet. While Joy was occupied with his rigorous recuperation schedule, a freshly completed 4-door Ford Maverick was sitting in the garage waiting to pound the pavement of the local ovals.
The Fair team acquired the services of Joe Ruttman. Ruttman, noted for his aggressive often controversial driving style would work under the tutelage of Fair for the remainder of the 1973 season. Joe relished his opportunity to work with his idol and he wanted to prove worthy of the appointment behind the potent number 1. He was flat-out unstoppable during the late summer in the speedy Maverick. Joe would win an incredible 15 of 16 events including the prestigious Glass City 200 and the Wisconsin Dells 200 over legendary Wisconsin driver, Dick Trickle. With just a few events remaining on the calander, Fair was ready and anxious to back behind the wheel. Ruttman reluctantly turned the reigns over to his teacher and Fair buckled in at the annual Sandusky Cavalcade and went the 100-lap distance unchallenged. This would be one of Joy's must gratifying wins as he proved he could still do it. And was looking forward to the next couple of seasons with renewed enthusiasm.
The decade progressed into the middle 70's and Late Model racing was at its absolute peak of popularity. Weekly shows or special events, the stands were always packed at the local ARCA ovals. Travelers ran rampant making weekly visits to the local ovals, names like Bob Senneker, Tommy Maier, Randy Sweet, Jim Bickerstaff, and the late Rick Knotts were mixed in with regulars Anderson, Ruttman, Byrd, Harold Cook, Dick Crup, Ed Hage, Ray Barnard and Ed Cooper. Every week was a who's who of Late Model racing during this magnificent period
Fair would keep up his frenetic winning pace during the Late Model glory days. ARCA started sanctioning the weekly activities at the freshly paved Mt. Clemens Race Track. This would become Fair's neighborhood playground. He was untouchable on the flat half mile, claiming nine feature wins and the first of four straight track championships in 1974. The season also brought Joy his most satisfying win in the grueling 1st Annual Ohio State 500. "The Ohio State 500 was quite a chore, 5 tracks, 5 days. We won Sandusky and did good at the rest of them, it was very satisfying," says Fair.
Over the course of the next three seasons, the victory parade would march on, as the famous Mustangs and a Pontiac Ventura would be the vehicles of choice. 64 victories at the three ARCA ovals including back-to-back legs of the Glass City 200, the 1st Annual Toledo Cancer Race and Howard Williams Memorial along with big wins at Spartan, Sandusky and Dixie. Fair would also land his second ARCA"New Car" win at Anderson Speedway IN. The Sun Valley 250 was a co-sanctioned ASA/ARCA season final for the 1975 season. By now, Fair was known as the top ¼ mile driver in the nation and made it look easy besting ARCA and ASA's best on the tight high banked oval.
"That was a storybook weekend," explains Joy. "We went down to my sisters Doris' farm in Pendleton IN, which is the home of ASA. We went and stayed all night, practiced on a Friday and the race was the following day. She is the typical farmer who prepared a big supper and breakfast and off to the racetrack and wiped their tails in the race. It might have been the only race she ever went to. To her racing is stupid, why you ever do it! She says I'm ashamed you raced so many years, I don't tell anybody. None of my farmer friends know you go around a circle all night and get yourself hurt! Well, I say how about Elmer your neighbor they found under his mower dead? Well he was just trying to earn an honest living! And that was her thoughts on racing, you know how stupid it is."
As another decade wound down, Fair had an itch to run the high banks of Daytona. "The year was 1978 and it was Kit Wright's car, Ric Kargle's father in law, of K&M engineering. Marcum would do things. Cause I expressed some interest to drive Daytona. So I think, I never did hear, John bought the car from somebody. Kit Wright took it, and him and Kargle made it pretty. Then Gilley built a 454 motor for it and I went down there and drove it, which I think was due to John Marcum. He's (Joy) doing a good job for me at Flat Rock and Joy wants to drive Daytona, I'll arrange it. It about that simple how it happened." Says Joy. Fair fortunes at the famed speedway would however be short, as mechanical woes would sideline the run early after qualifying well and running up front.
The highly successful 1970's came to a close, an astounding 14 track championship were collected as Fair looked forward to new challenges of the 1980's. Fair was now in his 50's and had to contest with a new crop of drivers. Dick Barker, Chuck Roumell, Junior Hanley, Mike Eddy and Jim Terrill made winning tougher than ever. The new young lions of the Late Model division came after Fair wanting more than anything to beat him. Fair hung tough during the 1980 season, although the win total was his lowest in years, Joy captured his second Howard Williams Memorial, another Dixie Classic and yet another Sandusky Cavalcade.
The Fair gang realized the advent of buying speed was upon them, Howe was churning out his fabulous chassis, add Port City and Dillon into the mix and the competition level had never been higher. The crew worked hard preparing for the 1981 season. John Marcum became displeased with appearance of exotic fiberglass bodywork, so he decided to mandate sheet metal only at Flat Rock. He also wanted to break up the Camaro parade so he offered incentives for non-Camaro bodies. Fair installed a Pontiac Grand Prix, which never really resembled such, however, it was not a Camaro. He went to work early at the "Rock" winning both 50-lap championship races in route to an unprecedented 10th track championship, a total which will probably never be equaled. He also returned to Mt. Clemens and battled Canadian legends Don Biederman and Junior Hanley to his fifth track championship. Fair topped it off with an early season 1982 win in style as he was invited to race in the NDRA dirt Late Model race at the Pontiac Silverdome. Fair teamed up with renowned car builder C.J. Rayburn for the celebrity event. Fair had the luck of draw and drew the pole, fighting off the "silver fox", legendary Nascar champion David Pearson, throughout the event for the popular victory. The Fair machine was rolling again, but nobody could have predicted what he would have encountered the next season.
The 1982 season was marked with early misfortune; Fair would experience a devastating accident at Mt. Clemens Race Track. A brake rotor broke as Fair entered turn three at full throttle. The car spun around and smacked the wall flush, breaking the seat and sending Joy's head careening off the wall. His helmet broke causing major head injuries along with fractured ribs, a severely broken leg, broken shoulder and injuries to his chest. Fair was placed in intensive car at St. Joseph's East Hospital in Mt. Clemens. The racing community was saddened to hear the news, as letters and flowers littered the hospital room. Things looked bleak at first, but Fair would again pull through and recover.
While Joy set off on another long recuperation journey, early accounts of Fair retirement were whispered in the racing community. The reports were unfound as the "man" would be back again, this time it would take a little longer. The car was repaired and Joy's son Mark, who had success in the Street Stock division, took the wheel for the remainder of the season under Joy's guidance.
Fair would return the following season and fittingly capture his first season win in front of many of his old rivals during the Flat Rock Speedway 30th anniversary celebration. The "Fair One" still had it and he would continue to win regularly throughout the 1980's against another new crop of youngsters including Royce Cornett, Lance Olson, Mark Johnson, and Rick Sheppard. Fair and Gilley continued to experiment and a V-6 powered Chevy Cavalier was their next project. The V-6 power would be the motor of choice throughout the 1980's as Fair would battle a new rival Dave Kuhlman. Kuhlman, a four time Flat Rock track champion, was super smooth and a threat to win every night.
One such epic battle between the two speedsters occurred in the 1986 DST Industries Mid Season championship race. Kuhlman spun early and had to battle from the back while Fair built a comfortable lead. A determined Kuhlman was passing two to three cars a lap, and it was just a matter of time until he would catch Fair. As Fair got the five to go signal, Kuhlman was on the cagey veterans bumper. The fans were on there feet expecting Kuhlman to pass with ease. The two champions battled door-to-door Kuhlman high nearly scraping the wall and Fair low kicking up dust and dirt, for five breathtaking laps side-by-side neither giving an inch. As they came off turn four for the win they banged together with Kuhlman slipping and Fair taking the popular win by inches in front of the joyful crowd. In one of the most exciting races ever witnessed at the "Rock", the old pro in his mid-50's still had it!
The following year with confidence brimming the "Fair One" returned to the high banks of Toledo to compete in Sonny Adams' Iceman series. Sporting a polished new Huskien car, Fair was fast right off the trailer. He would capture several Toledo wins including a 100 lap Iceman victory slipping by the "Iceman" himself Tim Ice in turn four. Fair was back at the track he so dominated. His stay would only be brief as his vision would give him problems and he would settle back into his Saturday routine at Flat Rock throughout the remainder of his career.
In the early 1990's, Joy was now in his early 60's, but spry as ever and still enjoying the thrill of competition. He had no thoughts of slowing down and he set his sights on a record 11th track championship. Steve Bunge, who for years was the perennial "third heat king," was now a regular winner and championship contender.
The two combatants battled down to wire for 1992 championship, with Bunge edging Fair by a scant 50 markers. The same results occurred the following year. Bunge would go on to capture three straight track titles. Fair continued to win his share of features up until 1995 when he would capture his final win at Flat Rock. Current records indicate an incredible 159 feature wins dating back to 1962. That number is thought to be higher as records from the early years at Flat Rock are incomplete.
In 1997, Fair started experiencing some health problems in the off-season. The doctors checked him over and admitted him for open-heart surgery in the early spring. Incredibly, Fair's recovery was again resilient. The doctors gave him the "okay", and he was back in the saddle later that summer. He ran a few weeks until he unfortunately joined the "up side down club" which totaled the car ending the season. The following year Gilley purchased a new Howe car. "If it wasn't for Gilley all these years, I wouldn't have been able to continue in racing" explains Joy.
The team gave it one last shot with the new car spending most of the year working the bugs out. Close to winning on many nights, mechanical problems or other drivers over exuberance kept Fair from his home in victory lane. The following year it was time to call it quits after a disagreement over an official's decision. Joy, team manager Cheryl Schalm and Gilley decided they had enough; they had nothing more to prove. Joy had accomplished everything a short track driver could have ever dreamed of and then some.
Huge retirement ceremonies were held at Flat Rock where the pits were emptied as drivers, crew members and officials lined the track to say goodbye. The following week at Toledo before the resurgence of the prestigious Glass City 200, the "Fair One" drove the famous school bus yellow # 1 one last time around the oval, as his legion of fans choked back the tears knowing it was over after all these years. The number 1 was officially retired, the first and only number ever retired by ARCA. Long time car owner Bob Gillelan and Joy received lifetime ARCA Gold memberships, and Joy received a proclamation from the State of Michigan.
A fitting tribute to a man among men, Joy walked away from his stupendous career on his own terms. He was never intimidated by his rivals, never cocky, just confident in his amazing ability to drive a racecar. The all-time best ¼ miler was a joy to watch, as nobody did it better at Flat Rock and Spartan at slicing through traffic. He was pure poetry in motion. Equally adept on the flat mile tracks of Sandusky and Mt. Clemens where he could out wiggle the driver in front of him and on the high bank half-mile oval of Toledo where he just drove around them and was gone! No matter where the track or distance, nobody was tougher, and his decades of dominance will never be duplicated. Many new champions will come and go, but there will never be another Joy Fair. A friend, hero and champion, for those of us who were fortunate to have watched him run for so many years, the memories will forever be etched in our minds and in our hearts. His incredible feats will never be matched; his stories and records will live on, as does Joy Fair the legend!