On Sept. 2, 2017, retired seven-time Holland Speedway NASCAR Late Model champion Rick Wylie again stood in the fabled Victory Lane of the Southern Erie County oval like he had so many times in the past. On this occasion, however, he did not wear a driver's suit.
On this nice summer night, one he would later refer to as his finest trip to Holland's winner's circle, he arrived with his wife, Karen, to enjoy double Holland victories achieved by their sons, Scott and Jake Wylie.
In a rare racing feat, the Wylie brothers won their respective feature races that night, capping a huge celebration of family and racing. Rick also got to share it with Karen, whom he called the love of his life. It was perfect as both racing and family where what Rick Wylie was all about.
Those memories are now all the more precious as Rick Wylie, 59, died Friday from health complications. His family through the generations has been involved in local racing for almost 70 years. Rick, the son of a successful driver, the late Ron "Pops" Wylie, was a big part of his family's racing legacy.
Rick Wylie won numerous races throughout the local auto racing footprint but his greatest success was at Holland. His seven NASCAR Late Model titles are second only to Art Clark, who amassed 11 premier Holland division titles in his long career. Rick chalked up a whopping 60 career NASCAR Late Model feature race wins at Holland and won the most prestigious race at the time, the Bud 100, six times. Ironically, his final NASCAR Late Model victory at Holland came on Sept. 2, 2000.
In recent years, Wylie poured all his racing ambitions, hard work and moral support into the driving careers of his two sons.
"I thought that I could never have been happier than when I was in Victory Lane when I was a driver, but I think seeing our two boys both in Victory Lane at the same time, I feel I'm even happier than when I won," Wylie later said about the double victory night. "It's great. What a family memory."
Every bit an important part of the Wylie racing legacy is Karen. In the late 1970s, she befriended the Wylie family and became a race car driver. Rick helped Karen and he did such a good job that eventually Karen was beating him to the checkered flag. The racing relationship blossomed into something more.
"We have been married for almost 40 years," Karen said. "We met at the racetrack. When my car was ready to race, I followed him around the racetrack and he helped me. We became good friends and later much more than that. We've been together ever since. We've raised a family together.
"He was the love of my life, my everything. It was just wonderful racing back then. I actually won my first race by beating him and then in 1979, I finished first in the Perry Speedway Charger points championship and he was second. It's been quite a story for most of our lives. He was a blessing."
Both Scott, 35, and Jake, 28, spoke about their dad, stressing that they not only received much support from him in racing, but life in general.
"As much as my dad ever won in racing, I think it all came second to what Jake and I were able to win and accomplish," Scott said. "He seemed more proud of that than anything. He was a great dad. He took care of us and our mom. He worked long hours working at his regular job. Then leaving to come to our games. When we started racing, we were up until three in the morning and he was up with us. He pretty much sacrificed his whole life so we could have what we wanted."
Jake echoed his brother's thoughts.
"He made sure we had anything that was needed, whether it was for the cars or just life in general," Jake said. "He just wanted to be the best dad and husband and he was. That's for sure. He enjoyed his family and friends. He is our family hero for all of us. There's so many memories of him that it's hard to pick any out but that night that Scott and I both won on the same night at Holland was a great one."
Over the history of Western New York auto racing, there has been few car owner-driver pairings more successful than Rick Wylie and car owner Vince Fullone. All seven of Rick's Holland NASCAR Late Model championships came behind the wheel of the familiar Fullone Trucking No. 48. Championships were earned in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998.
Both Wylie and Fullone are members of the FOAR Score Hall of Fame.
"Our relationship is so great that we continued to be great friends long after we stopped racing together," Fullone said. "I talked to Rick a couple days ago, and we talked about his health and he told me a few things. I told him that I was going to visit him in a few days and, unfortunately, now I'll never get that chance, but I'm extremely grateful that we had that last phone conversation. We were friends to the end and I believe we still are. We were a great combination on and off the track."
Ron Bennett has been a track co-owner of Holland ever since he and partners opened it in 1960. Bennett acknowledged Wylie's importance to the history of the track.
"I remember that the Wylie family in general, through Pops and others started at Holland right from the beginning in 1960," Bennett said. "When it comes to Rick, who of course came along later, he was the best. He was a talented and tough racer.
"With the Fullone backing, he won many championships and he earned every one of them. He never held his thoughts. When he had something to tell you, it was coming straight at you because he cared about the sport. His name in well etched in Holland's history."
Wylie also is survived by daughter-in-law Kathy (Scott's wife) and two granddaughters, Paige, 8, and Kaylyn, 10, and many additional relatives.
Services will be held from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Friday and from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Saturday at Lakeside Memorial Funeral Home, 4199 Lake Shore Road, Hamburg, with a service to follow.