Former NASCAR Driver Johnny Ray Dead At 82

Twitter / Talladega Superspeedway

A truly loved member of the Talladega Superspeedway family, John Ray was known all over for roaring down the track in a massive diesel rig and flying an equally-huge American flag while a performer sang the National Anthem.

According to NBC Sports NASCAR, John “Johnny” Ray passed away at the age of 82 on Monday, January 27th, 2020 and the news was announced by Talladega Superspeedway.

From 2001 on, Ray could be seen flying his flag down the raceway as it trailed behind his huge gold and brown Peterbilt diesel big rig with chrome accents. The nearly 20-year-old tradition began after 9/11 and the death of his close friend and NASCAR icon, Dale Earnhardt Sr.

“National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” Talladega Speedway President Brian Crichton said in a statement posted to their website. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated. He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

In an interview just a few years ago, Ray himself reveled in the popularity of his salute to America, saying “I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”

Beyond his diesel-rig salute, Ray was also a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Cup Series for a few years in the mid-1970s with his best finish at Talladega in 1974. Sadly, an accident ended his career, but he continued on maintaining close ties to the sport as a car owner. He fielded the car for Dale Earnhardt and helped kickstart his career.

Funeral arrangements for Ray have not yet been announced. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of Ray’s family, friends, and fans during this difficult time.