It’s an iconic scene viewed by millions of NASCAR fans twice every year – a giant American flag waving in the air behind the cab of a Peterbilt big rig.
The driver of that truck was John Ray, who died at the age of 82
Ray had volunteered at Talladega Speedway for many years, but in 2001 it all changed… In the wake of Dale Earnhardt Sr’s death at Daytona International Speedway and the attacks on the World Trade Center, Ray and track Chairman Grant Lynch wanted to find a way to boost the morale of race fans and a tradition was born.
Talladega Speedway President Brian Crichton spoke on the tradition saying, “National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray. 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.”
A former race car driver, in 1975 Ray took an 18 wheeler around the high banks of the 2.666 mile track and set a new record of 92.083 miles per hour.
Ray only drove in eight races between 1974 and 1976 when an accident kept him from continuing as a racer. But like many drivers, Ray turned to being a car owner and helped the seven time NASCAR champion and legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Sr. get his start. Earnhardt drove the number 77 car in Atlanta but had a wreck and totaled the car. The duo maintained a lifelong friendship.
He was born in Eastaboga, Alabama in 1937 and still calls the area home. The only time that Ray has ever left the area was during his time in the United States Air Force traveling around the country.
John Ray’s ties to Talladega Superspeedway go much deeper than volunteering and drive the flag around the track during the National Anthem, when he was a small child, Ray’s father farmed cotton on the land where the speedway stands today.
Ray’s racing career began while he was in California with flat track motorcycle racing.
After an accident sidelined Ray’s motorcycle racing career, he returned to Alabama and driving an 18 wheeler and eventually owned his own company – John Ray Trucking.
Ray is predeceased by his parents, survivors include his wife of over 40 years Kay and son Johnny.
feature photo credit: Talladega Speedway