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Larry Ott: Parents’ passing makes Glen race bittersweet

WATKINS GLEN – When Carl Edwards arrived in Victory Lane this past June at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ only other annual road course race, the one at Sonoma, Calif., the popular driver did not have Hornell native Randy Fuller at his side.

For a decade Fuller had been at every one of Edwards’ Sprint Cup events, assisting him with many details, arrangements and appearances and serving as Edwards’ senior media manager as well as for Roush-Fenway Racing.

Edwards starts his No. 99 Kellogg’s/ Cheez-It Ford in the 16th position for today’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. When Edwards won at Sonoma, June 22, Fuller was home in Hornell attending the services for his father, Donald, who died at age 80 on June 20. For Randy, what made the ordeal all the tougher was that his mother, Florence, died just weeks earlier on April 4. She was 75.

During his time of grief, Fuller has been aided by not only Edwards, but former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly for which Fuller is most grateful.

Fuller is here at Watkins Glen this weekend performing his duties for Edwards. Fuller’s late parents and other family members are very much on his mind and in his heart.

“I had flown to San Francisco to go to Sonoma and when I got off the airplane I was told that I needed to fly back home,” said Fuller. “So I let Carl know. I flew back to Buffalo and then traveled down to Hornell.”

While Fuller missed out on the trophy presentation at Sonoma, he did not miss out on getting his hands on it courtesy of a classy gesture by Edwards.

Edwards surprised Fuller and his family by attending his dad’s funeral.

“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Carl, but I have even more now because I didn’t have any idea he was coming,” said Fuller. “He won the race at Sonoma on Sunday, on Pacific Time, which is late, and he flew from Sonoma on his private plane to Hornell, New York, and they don’t have any rental cars or anything there. The guy at the airport was nice enough to give Carl a car, and he went to the church where we were having the funeral and he walked in and at the end of the funeral I noticed he was there and it was just a total surprise and it meant a lot to me and my family.

“After the funeral and all the relatives had left, Carl stayed and talked to everybody. He then said, ‘I’ve got something out in the back of the car here I want you to see.’ It was the winner’s trophy from Sonoma. We stood out and celebrated the victory together out in the parking lot.”

Fuller also talked this weekend about his race team’s close relationship with Kelly.

“After Carl mentioned on television that I was not at Sonoma, Jim Kelly, who is a good friend of Carl and myself, sent out a message that he thought something had happened to me and he wanted to know how I was doing,” said Fuller.” He also wanted to congratulate Carl on winning the race.

“I know Jim Kelly well. We met years ago when I was in the Air Force. He always wanted to fly in an F-15. I was at Robins Air Force base in Georgia and his wife, Jill, got a hold of me and said hey, this is something Jim has always wanted to do. She didn’t know I was from the Buffalo area, so it was like, yeah we’ll make this happen. We flew in an F-15, and Jim stayed at my house. We took him out to eat the night before, and we just had a really good experience and ever since then we’ve been good friends.

“Carl met Jim through me and they get along just great. I know that Jim is going through a lot right now. Even before Sonoma, when Carl won the Bristol race earlier this year, right after the Bristol race, Jim was still in the hospital and he texted Carl and he says, ‘hey I’m watching it from my hospital bed,’ but he wanted Carl to know he was rooting for him.

“My dad was a racer down at Woodhull Raceway and they’d come out here to The Glen for every race. They were proud of what I’ve done. This is my first weekend at The Glen ever with no parents and so it’s different. It would be huge for Carl to win the race ... because this is my home track. It’s all about family and people.

“I know both of my parents are watching this weekend from above. This race was a big deal to them. They never knew anything about NASCAR before I got involved in it. They became two of the biggest NASCAR fans and Carl Edwards fans and they lived here all their life and I miss them very much.”