If one wants to know what motivated the late Donald "Butch" Palmer in his active yet very short life, all they have to do is ask Palmer's son Bob Palmer. Bob is opening his racing season at Holland Motorsports Complex Saturday, a season he is dedicating to the memory of his late father.
For the last several years, this close father-and-son tandem shared their love and desire to race in Holland's Hornet division. How different it will be when Holland begins its 58th season Saturday.When Bob enters the pit area and begins to unload his race car, his father will not be there doing the same with his own racing machinery.
Donald Palmer died last Nov. 22 at the age of 49 from complications from diabetes. Now his son will race in his honor in 2017. The elder Palmer, who sometimes drove despite serious health issues, which included losing part of his right foot to diabetes in 2011, rarely finished near the head of the pack. Simply he just enjoyed being part of the activity.
"My dad just loved being out there," said Bob Palmer, 25, of Buffalo. "He just loved to entertain the crowd, to be part of things and to have fun with everyone."
This was true in whatever endeavor Donald chose. While his racing career brought him notoriety in recent years with Holland's fans, it was not the first time in his life that he earned celebrity status of sorts. In the 1980's he gained fame as "The Butcher," entertaining the crowds as the celebrity bat boy for the Buffalo Bisons. He retired from the Bisons in 1991. He was at one time also a stick boy with the Buffalo Sabres and enjoyed involvement in local hockey.
He also added a career at a race driver to his sporting resume.
"This will be my fifth full season at Holland,"Bob Palmer said. "Going back to Holland will be emotional Saturday. My dad took me to the races when I was younger and it took off for me right after that. My dad started driving in the Hornets when I was 14 years old.
"At the beginning of last season, he was on dialysis and the first race of the season got rained out and he was in the hospital," Palmer said. "The second race week in the morning he did a dialysis treatment and that night he was in the car and racing on the Holland race track."
Palmer recalled how his father's Hornet race career began with the Dice Racing Team.
"My dad wanted to race so he and our buddy John Mueckl, who is known as 'Jammer,' started building a car to race and something fell through and Jammer introduced us to Dice Racing. And after that it just took off from there with Dice."
The Palmers drove for the Dice team for several seasons, with Donald's last race at Holland taking place last September at the track's 2016 finale. He drove his last race altogether in October at Wyoming County International Speedway.
Now the younger Palmer returns to Dice Racing this season and will look to build on his racing career, albeit with a heavy heart.
"The first couple of years it wasn't the greatest as far as results," Palmer said. "Last season was my best season so far. I won one heat race last year but I'm still looking to win my first career feature race this year."
Donald's last event at Holland produced a special moment -- a win in the heats.
"I remember at the last race at Holland last year in his heat race there was a restart and my dad was on the front row with our teammate Michele Maltby and he got a great restart on her and my dad won," Palmer said. "When they came off the track everyone was picking on Michele in a good-natured way because she got beat by 'The Butcher.'"
Bob mentioned what great parents he has had. His mother Suzanne Palmer has been very supportive of Bob and Donald's racing endeavors.
Palmer outlined Dice Racing's plans for 2017. This season Jeff Szafraniec will split time between the Hornets and the NASCAR Chargers. Ben Russo will be running part time in Mandie Orr's backup Hornet car. Orr has a new Hornet machine for this season. Maltby's car is up for sale. Josh Schosek will remain in Hornets and Kenny Hejna will move to the Six-Cylinder division.
The younger Palmer has heard stories of his father's role with the Bisons.
"He was with the Bisons just before I was born," Palmer said. "I hear a lot of stories from a lot of people about my dad's days as the 'Butcher.' He talked to me about those days and what it was like."
Bob also took the time to recall what his dad meant to him.
"I loved my dad," said Palmer. "My whole season is dedicated to him. Instead of running my car this year, I'm going to run his and hoping I can bring home a championship for him this year.
For "The Butcher" life was never about whether you won or lost but rather the fact that you were in the game and having fun that mattered most.