(photo by Leon Hammack)
Some people may not know who Larry Rice was. Some may only know him as one of the announcers on ESPN’s Thursday Night Thunder of the 1980’s. The jovial sidekick to Dave Despain and Gary Lee in the early days of Thursday Night Thunder, Rice grew as a race car announcer. But Larry Rice was a fierce competitor on the USAC midget, Sprint Car, and Silver Crown circuits. For all of Larry Rice’s successes on the dirt tracks of the U.S. and winters in Australia, he only ran at Indianapolis twice.
In his first race at Indy, Larry put his car from a very under funded team in the show on the very back row of the 33 car field. Just making the show was an accomplishment for this team. But not only did Rice make the show, he finished the race in 11th place and was named co- rookie of the race with a young man named Rick Mears! You might have heard of this 4 time Indy500 winner!
Larry Rice led a very quiet life. Rice was liked both on and off the race track, a very rare attribute for a race car driver. The school teacher, who later became an outstanding dirt track racer, was not the boisterous, arrogant, or cocky person that is so personified by many other racer car drivers of the era! Instead he was a very quiet unassuming man, stearing clear of the limelight!
A scare in 2000 with tongue cancer was a set back for the Rice family, but that later went in to remission. All the while Rice never let on that he was having health issues. In 2005 he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and in typical Larry Rice fashion, never let on that there were any health problems.
According to Robin Miller, a close Rice friend and competitor of over 40 years, only two weeks ago did Rice let anyone know of his grave health poblems. At a luncheon with Miller, Billy Vukovich, Jr., Poncho Carter, and a few other close friends, Larry Rice let out the news about his deteriorating health.
Larry Rice lost his battle with cancer today. The racing world has lost a true gentleman, competitor, and friend!
If you would like to read a very good article about Larry Rice, written by Robin Miller click here.
Robin Miller was a fellow competitor and is an author, a contributing columnist to ESPN, SPEED TV, and the Indianapolis newspaper. The tribute is worthy of reading!