NASCAR’s Hamilton dies of cancer at 49


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Bobby Hamilton, the longtime NASCAR driver who won the 2001 Talladega 500 and was the 2004 Craftsman Truck Series champion, died Sunday of cancer, said Liz Allison, a family friend who co-hosted a radio show with Hamilton. He was 49.

Hamilton was at home with his family when he died, said Allison, the widow of former NASCAR star Davey Allison.

“The thing I loved about Bobby Sr. so much is that he treated everybody the same,” Allison said. “It didn’t matter if you were one of the drivers he competed against or a fan he’d never laid eyes on before.

“He didn’t have a pretentious bone in his body. I think that’s why people were drawn to him. He was just very real and had a way of relating to everyone.”

Hamilton was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in February. A malignant growth was found when swelling from dental surgery did not go down.

“NASCAR is saddened by the passing of Bobby Hamilton,” said Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president of communications. “Bobby was a great competitor, dedicated team owner and friend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the Hamilton family.”

Hamilton raced in the first three truck races of the season, with a best finish of 14th at Atlanta Motor Speedway, before turning over the wheel to his son, Bobby Hamilton Jr. The senior Hamilton then started chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

By August, he had returned to work at Bobby Hamilton Racing in Mount Juliet, about 20 miles east of Nashville, and doctors indicated his CAT scans looked good. But microscopic cancer cells remained on the right side of his neck.

“Cancer is an ongoing battle, and once you are diagnosed you always live with the thought of the disease in your body,” Hamilton said in an article posted on NASCAR’s Web site last month. “It is the worst thing you could ever imagine.”

Hamilton, born in Nashville in 1957, drove in all of NASCAR’s top three divisions, making 371 starts and winning four times in what is now the Nextel Cup series. He won 10 truck races and one Busch Series race.

“I love what I do; I love this business,” he said in March 2006 when he disclosed that he had cancer. “NASCAR has been good to me, and I just don’t feel comfortable when I am not around it.”

Hamilton’s Nextel Cup wins, in addition to Talladega, came at Phoenix, Rockingham and Martinsville. His best season was in 1996 when he finished ninth in the points standings. He won his first Cup race that year, at Phoenix.

Hamilton drove in the top-level NASCAR series from 1989-05, earning $14.3 million and racing to 20 top-five finishes.

He became a full-time driver-owner in the truck series in 2003.

The news of Hamilton’s death caught friends by surprise. Nextel Cup driver Sterling Marlin, a fellow Tennessee native, said a lot of people didn’t know Hamilton well even though he was generous enough to give someone the shirt off his back.

“He always had a good vision,” Marlin said in Daytona where testing begins Monday. “He always wanted to do things his own way, so he became his own boss, got into the trucks, and it worked out well for him.”

Another NASCAR favorite, 1973 Winston Cup champion Benny Parsons, was diagnosed with cancer in his left lung in July. He was checked into intensive care last week at a North Carolina hospital.

In addition to Booby Jr., Hamilton is survived by wife Lori and a granddaughter.