Larry Rice was one of the finest men in auto racing, but I never quite understood why he always wanted to drive my rental car.
It was 1999 and Larry and I were co-hosting what then known as the Championship Off Road Racing series (CORR) on EPSN2 for racing announcer extraordinaire and motorsports entrepreneur Marty Reid. I was in awe of Larry. In addition to his twin USAC Silver Crown titles and USAC national midget championship, he had also won the co-Rookie of the Year award for his 11th place finish in the 1978 Indianapolis 500 mile race. He had made his career racing midgets and had been inducted into the Midget Racing Hall of Fame in 1993. And everyone knew that Larry Rice was one of the nicest guys in auto racing.
We frequently drove together in a rental car from our hotel to the race track, and this weekend was no different. After grabbing breakfast, we walked to my rental car to make our way to Wisconsin’s Crandon International Off Road Raceway to prepare for the day’s TV production. As usual, Larry asked, “Hey, do you mind if I drive us to the track?”
I told him it was no problem and handed him the keys. But this time, I asked why.
“Because I want to hear you,” Larry responded.
He went on to explain that the upturned exhaust pipe on his midget race cars came within inches of his left ear. Unconcerned about the future, he had never worn hearing protection of any kind while racing. Meanwhile, three and four nights per week the engine blast rang into the left side of his helmet.
Larry was stone deaf in his left ear. “I wanna talk to you,” he explained. “I need to drive so we can chat. I can hear you with my good ear.”
Larry warned me to take good care of my hearing and wear ear protection in every type of race car I drove. He said it was a certainty, not a possibility, that I would eventually suffer hearing loss if I didn’t.
I was running late model stock cars in the original CARS series at the time and my use of hearing protection was hit and miss at best. My family would poke fun at me after a race because I couldn’t hear anything until the next morning. I took Larry’s advice and have worn hearing protection faithfully since then.
Sadly, Larry passed away in 2009. Auto racing lost one of its kindest and gentlest souls, and one of its greatest drivers.
If you drive a race car, please allow me to pass along the advice of Larry Rice, midget champion and Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. Protect your hearing. If you want to listen to your grandchildren play or enjoy a movie date with your wife in the years to come, you have to start now. Share this article with your racing friends.
Auto racing is full of tough guys who are too cool to wear ear protection. Don’t be one of them. They won’t look so cool in a few years when they have to read the closed captions on a racing telecast because they didn’t listen to men like Larry Rice.
Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions
Driver, FIA EPCS Championship & Super Cup Stock Car Series
Co-host, Mecum Auctions on NBCSN