The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


August 22, 2011

Motorsports: Tilley remembered as smooth driver, gentleman

SELINSGROVE — Ray Tilley was remembered as a gentleman and a smooth driver by mechanics, fans and drivers Saturday afternoon at Selinsgrove Speedway.

Tilley died Friday after suffering a massive stroke earlier in the day.

He was 77.

The family announced that a memorial and celebration of life service will be held on Saturday at 1 p.m., at the Lebanon Area Evangelical Free Church in Jonestown. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, those wishing to do so can make a donation in Ray's memory to the Lebanon Area Evangelical Free Church's Missions Fund. The funeral and burial will be private.

Tilley won back-to-back "bug/sprint car" titles in 1965-66, and then again in 1968-69. His 69 wins top the division and he has more than 200 wins in his career.

Former Daily Item copy editor, motorsports reporter and motorsports columnist Dave Herrold was very close to Tilley.

"My wife, Linda, and Ray and Ruth, have considered each other our closest friends for a number of years," he said. "We would get together at our house or their place several times a year, or go out somewhere to eat and just chat. Linda and I often said to each other that Ray was one of the kindest, sweetest, Christian men we ever knew.

"When we got together, it was nothing for the four of us to discuss the Bible more than Ray's exploits on the speedway," Herrold added. "He knew the Bible from cover to cover. Late Thursday afternoon, Ray called our place and talked to Linda. She asked him how he was doing, and he told her he felt great. Barely 24 hours later, he was gone."

Retired sprint car driver Barry Camp, a two-time track champion and 25-time sprint car winner was saddened to hear the news of Tilley's passing.

"I was very sad to hear about it," he said. "Ray was a really pleasant guy, a very religious man and an excellent race car driver. He was always a pleasant individual and, at that time, it was sort of a roughshod bunch of guys around here; he was an exception to the rule. On the track, he had fast race cars and had his accident not happened, it's hard to say what he might have accomplished."

Tilley was injured in a crash at Langhorne Speedway in 1969.

"It was an honor and pleasure when Ray would visit Selinsgrove Speedway in recent years," said Steve Inch, public relations director for Selinsgrove Speedway. "He was a true gentleman and always very humble when asked about his extraordinary achievements in racing. Ray was one of the legends of our sport whose legacy was accomplished in just a few short years."

Phil Walter is in his 26th year of racing sprint cars and he understands the sacrifices the drivers made back then.

"He was definitely a classy guy and one of the guys who advanced sprint car racing into what it is today," he said. "I've always said I thought that we kind of owe it to those guys for the sacrifices they made. The safety equipment they had was really bad, so we owe it to them to leave the sport better than we found it, because that what's they did."

Roy "Check" Adams is fourth on the track's all-time late model win list with 42 and is a three-time late model champion who enjoyed talking with Tilley at the track.

"Ray Tilley was one of the easiest guys to talk to as far as a sprint car driver was because a lot of sprint car guys didn't want to associate with late model guys back then," he said. "He always lent a hand and I liked talking to Ray the same way I liked talking to Bud Grimm. He was just one of the smoothest drivers and when it was time to go, he would get going. The biggest thing he meant to me and to the race track, back then, there weren't many Fords being in a sprint car, and I think a lot of times people came to see what he could do with a Ford sprint car engine."

Ed Rhoads, the long-time owner of the Rhoads peanut stand at the speedway recalled watching Tilley race.

"It didn't matter where he started the race, he was very smooth and he never really got into accidents," he said. "You kind of knew that if Ray Tilley was in the field, Ray Tilley was going to win that race."

Late model driver Larry Hare, a seven-time feature winner at the speedway, recalled how Tilley used to help him.

"Ray Tilley was a heck of a great race car driver and he would always help me out with the set up," he said. "He was a cautious driver and he didn't take any wild chances and he had good equipment underneath him." Ralph Heintzelman Sr., father of pro stock driver Peanut Heintzleman, was the former crew chief for Jan Opperman, among others, and he fondly recalls the days of racing against Tilley.

"We were just starting out and we raced against Ray and I've seen him win many a race her," Heintzleman said. "He was running a carburetor when other people were running injection."

Tilley was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2005. His class included 20-time World of Outlaw sprint car champion Steve Kinser and Wilbur "Bill" Holland, the first-ever winner at Selinsgrove Speedway and the 1949 winner of the Indianapolis 500. A fitting tribute to be in that class for a well-respected class-act gentleman and driver.

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