Stan Fox Dies In Car Crash

In May of this year, Stan Fox returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to officially say goodbye to racing and his fans.

Five years earlier, Fox’s racing career came to an end when he was involved in a first-lap crash during the Indianapolis 500 in which he suffered severe head injuries. He eventually overcame those injuries and made a near complete recovery.

On Monday, however, Fox was unable to recover from an automobile accident in New Zealand. The Janesville, Wis., native died as a result of his injuries.

According to The Janesville (Wis.) Gazette, Fox was visiting friends for the holidays in New Zealand and was driving a borrowed car to visit other friends when he was involved in a two-vehicle crash, said Jeff Fox, his nephew.

USAC spokesman Dick Jordan also confirmed the news, saying Fox was killed in a head-on collision on a stretch of highway about 200 miles south of Auckland known as "The Desert Road."

Fox was in New Zealand working for head-injury support units.

"His recovery from critical injuries at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was an inspiration to us all," Jordan said. "A great representative of our sport, he will be deeply missed.

"We remember his many significant triumphs but will most of all remember Stan the man, whose presence was always joyous."

Fox drove a car owned by Ron Hemelgarn in 1995, the year of his career-ending crash.

"Stan never knew an enemy, Stan never knew a stranger," Hemelgarn said. "The guy was always upbeat, always jovial, always cutting up with anyone. He just had that natural ability to be with people, and people liked him.

"When he had his accident (in 1995), it was very hard on him. He wanted to drive, and he wasn't able to drive. It was very hard to see a guy who wanted to do something and couldn't for medical reasons. And then for him to take that energy and turn it into Friends of the Fox and still be around racing and the racetrack, it was pretty neat how that all worked out. He could enjoy racing and be part of racing, and share that with people and keep the celebrity status that he had."

In a bit of irony, Hemelgarn driver Buddy Lazier -- in another No. 91 car -- would go on to win the Indy Racing Northern Light Series title in 2000, the same year Fox made his "retirement" official.

That surely didn't bother Fox, though. He remained close to Hemelgarn Racing and even celebrated with the team in Victory Lane after Lazier won the 1996 Indianapolis 500, and he was at Texas Motor Speedway in October when Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing clinched their first Northern Light Cup.

"I have so many memories of him," Hemelgarn said. "All great memories. All the fun times, jokes and laughter. Stan was Stan. He had a way about him.

"People loved him. Sponsors loved him. He was always cracking jokes. He's got fans all over the world who followed his career."

Fox, 48, was an accomplished racer with eight starts in the Indy 500 and three wins in USAC’s Copper World Classic.

At Indy, Fox finished a career-best seventh in 1987, his rookie year at the Speedway. In 1991 he finished eighth.

But it was his first-lap crash in 1995 that most remember. As he headed into the first turn, Fox went low, touched the grass and shot back across the track into the first-turn wall.

Fox’s No. 91 car got into the air and began to fly apart, exposing his feet. In a famous photo, Fox’s legs are shown touching the rear wing of Eddie Cheever Jr.’s car.

Surprisingly, Fox’s feet were not injured in the crash, but his head injury was severe. He was in a coma for five days after the accident and spent 10 weeks in the hospital.

Last year, Fox and friend Jack Kerwin began Friends of the Fox, a head-injury support group. The group works with care facilities nationwide, taking people with head injuries to see races.

This year, Friends of the Fox brought more than 300 people to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to meet drivers and tour the track.

Pat Ireland was among the visitors. Ireland was shot twice in the head during the deadly rampage at Columbine High School in April 1999. He escaped from the school by tumbling out of a library window and into the arms of the police, a rescue caught on live television.

Ireland was in the pace car that took Fox on his ceremonial retirement lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway during a practice day in May.

"It's good to do," Fox said afterward. "To run around the racetrack, wave to everybody and say goodbye, it was a great thing to do."

Before returning to Indianapolis in May, Fox made his first trip to New Zealand this year to be the first driver in the world to turn a lap in the new millennium at Pukekohe Park in a pace car.

Fox’s other racing achievements include wins in the Belleville Midget Nationals in 1979 and 1980; the Copper World Classic in 1980, 1990 and 1993; the Turkey Night Grand Prix in 1990 and 1991; and 19 USAC National Midget features. In addition, he is a member of the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the Belleville High Banks Hall of Fame and National Midget Racing Museum, and the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame.

"Stan was a pretty fun-loving guy, with not too many cares," said Bob East, who raced against Fox in short-track events and then built and maintained midget cars driven by Fox and owned by Steve Lewis. "People liked being around him.

"As a driver, there was probably none better. He was always a threat to win, but he never took it that serious (because of business success outside of racing). Who knows how good he could've become? He was as tough as they came."

Fox also competed in CART, the American Racing Series and Super Vees.

He is survived by two children, Marie Margaret and Alex Cole, and the children's mother, Jean Fox.

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