Tony Elliott spent a racing career taking care of fans. On Friday, they returned the favor.
That’s when a handful of racing legends came together with Elliott’s family and others to pay homage to the late sprint car star, who died along with three others in a plane crash in 2015.
With a big crowd in attendance, representatives of Indiana Racing Memorial Association helped unveil a large self-standing plaque honoring Elliott during a Rotary meeting at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds, where Elliott’s career began just a few hundred yards away.
Shortly afterward, the plaque was installed during a small ceremony at Funk Park along Lake Street in Warsaw.
Among those at the fairgrounds were Donald Davidson, historian of the Indianapolis 500; Tom Bigelow, a nine-time driver of the Indy 500; and Brad Winters, representing the Indiana Racing Memorial Association.
“It always struck me that he was just a very pleasant guy,” Donaldson said. “Always smiling. Always grinning.”
Bigelow, a close friend of Elliott, shared some stories about Elliott during the Rotary meeting. He said he sometimes would be found in the pits helping other racers because, as Bigelow recalled, he’d rather have them on the track “so he could whup ’em.”
He directed some of his comments to Elliott’s widow, Cindy Elliott.
“You should really be proud of what he done,” Bigelow said. “He done a lot for everybody. He was a good ambassador for racing.”
Elliott’s connection with fans, though, stood out among many of the comments Friday.
“The fact that he made himself available to everyone at the track is something not every driver does,” said Bob Lemons, historian for the Winchester Speedway, where Elliott’s career gained plenty of traction.
“Tony’s appreciation of the people who came to watch him was his greatest asset,” Lemon said.
Elliott won United States Auto Club sprint car championships in 1998 and 2000, and is among the top 20 in USAC career victories. He also won eight Kokomo Speedway track championships in the 1980s and ’90s.
Elliott was 54 when the plane he was taking en route to a Notre Dame football game crashed in South Carolina. Also killed were Warsaw City Councilman and Tippecanoe Valley state champion football coach Charlie Smith, Smith’s son and local attorney Scott Smith, and former Valley football coach Scott Bibler.
Cindy Elliott spoke at the Rotary event and talked about her late husband after the memorial was installed at Funk Park.
She and Tony were high school sweethearts at Warsaw Community High School when Tony’s career was just beginning.
Elliott named his first car the “CB Special,” coined after her maiden name, Cindy Boling.
Cindy recalled how they strived to put together enough money to pay for parts so he could race while still in high school.
The couple split up, but rekindled their affection after seeing each other at a high school reunion in 2001.
She said she was humbled by the turnout and sense of community.
“I thought it was awesome,” Cindy said. “He certainly wouldn’t have expected it, but he would have been overjoyed.”