It’s been 20 years since Stan Fox of Janesville was killed in a head-on traffic crash in New Zealand and 25 years since his racing career ended in a horrific first-lap crash in the 1995 Indy 500.
“It’s still hard to believe he’s gone,” said his long-time racing rival and close friend Kevin Olson of Evansville. “I still catch myself thinking I need to contact Stan to make arrangements for the next race. Then it hits me that those good old days ended years ago.”
Fox started racing USAC sprint cars and midgets while attending Arizona State University, where he graduated with a degree in marketing. He barnstormed the country for years racing anywhere he could. The gritty, hard-nosed USAC racing—mostly on dirt oval tracks—instilled in Fox a desire to succeed.
“He once shared with me his motto,” said Janesville’s Charlie Cottam, who crewed for Fox on the USAC circuit. Cottam was also a racer, driving stock cars and trucks locally.
“Stan said, ‘Charlie, you need to win, crash or blow up but never finish second,’” Cottam said. “I told him I would try that if he would pay the bills.”
Fox eventually created a super USAC team when he brought together owner Steve Lewis, chassis genius Bob East and engine builder Earl Gaerte. The No. 9 team won every major race with Fox driving.
“Stan was best when there was a lot of money on the line,” East said. “Those are the races he wanted to be at.
“When Stan wanted to be there, it was a great day. If it was a minor race with not a lot of money to be paid, Stan didn’t want to be there, and it could turn out to be a miserable day.”
While Fox excelled on the USAC circuit, his goal was always to race in the Indy 500. He finally achieved that goal in 1987 when Indy legend A.J. Foyt offered him a ride.
Fox earned a top-10 finish when he brought the Foyt car home in eighth place. He drove for Foyt in the Indy 500 the next two years before switching to the Jonathan Byrd team and then eventually connecting with Ron Hemelgarn, who owned a team sponsored by Delta Faucet.
“Stan, of course, was a very good race car driver, but what I remember was what a great guy he was,” Hemelgarn said. “I never do anything unless I can have fun with it, and with Stan around, everybody was having fun.”
The 1995 Indy 500 crash was a huge setback not only for Fox but for the entire Hemelgarn team.
“We were able to come back, and we won the Indy 500 the next year,” Hemelgarn said. “Stan could no longer drive, but we included him in everything we did, including the races and appearances. He remained a part of our team.”
The Indy 500 purse is the largest in racing, and it was no surprise to his friends and associates that Fox ended up where the big money was.
“If you wanted Stan to pay attention, offer him a big payout for winning,” East said. “He was always up for that challenge.”
Fox won the last race at the famed Ascot Park race track in Gardena, California. The event, the Turkey Night Grand Prix, paid well and car owner Lewis offered Fox a bonus for every lap he led. Fox won the race, led all but a handful of laps, collected the cash and set a track record that will never be broken.
Cottam said other drivers wondered why Fox was not particularly fast during practice sessions but always ran up front in the race.
“I remember when a very good driver, Chuck Gurney, questioned why Fox was slow in practice,” Cottam said. “Stan told him that when practice starts paying, he’ll start going faster.”
Fox was never without volunteers to serve as his crew on the USAC trail. Jeff and Sonja Mucks of Middleton were long-time crew members along with Cottam.
“When I look back, I’m not really sure why we took off work and gave up our weekends to volunteer for Stan,” Jeff Mucks said. “Stan just had something about him that made it so much fun to be on and off the track with him.”
Fox’s racing career ended May 28, 1995, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His car slammed into the wall coming out of turn one on the first lap of the Indy 500.
The impact sheared the front of the car off before stopping near turn two. Fox’s legs were dangling out what was left of the car, but it was a brain injury that ended his career.
“I have always wondered where Stan would have landed had he not had the crash at Indy,” Olson said. “And, I’ve wondered what he would have done after the crash had he lived longer.
“We’ll never know what life after the crash would have been for Stan, but I know he would have been involved in racing, and those of us around him would still be creating great memories.”