Drivers and reporters alike had many stories to share of the late David Rogers over the last two days since his passing Sunday morning. We here at Speed51 are honored to share many moments with the Florida racing legend over his career that spanned six decades.
Monday’s episode of “The Bullring” was dedicated to the life and legacy of “The Gentle Giant,” with several current and former Speed51 employees joining to share their memories with Rogers.
Speed51 President Bob Dillner began the show with a fitting tribute to a man who he also considered a friend.
“His car number 11 touched the lives of many in America, but for those who knew him personally, the coming days will be difficult. We here at Speed51 have often struggled as to what to do in times like this. Most recently with Ted Christopher and Mike Stefanik, you never feel like you can do enough. Today, we honor and pay tribute on this show to the man, the myth, the legend, the Gentle Giant David Rogers.”
Alan Dietz, co-host of The Bullring, had the pleasure of getting to know Rogers better over the last few years, starting with his first Snowball Derby as a pit reporter in 2016.
“You hate to say that you were caught off guard by something, but yesterday when I first started seeing the news on Facebook that prayers were needed you knew that something was going wrong,” Dietz said. “It’s kind of a shock because we were at New Smyrna a month ago talking to him and watching him drive race cars. I’m very honored that I got to know him a little bit in the last couple years through the Snowball Derby and the World Series. I’m also honored that we could do this for him today.”
Speed51 Operations Manager Mark Keeler spent several years as the lead announcer at New Smyrna Speedway before working for Speed51. His tenure at the half-mile started around the time Rogers returned from injury after a wreck at Orlando Speedworld.
“He is synonymous with New Smyrna, the side of his car is painted on the elevator shaft for as long as I’ve been going there. I remember seeing it for the first time and I asked Kim Brown, ‘Is he really that big of a deal?’ She turned around and I thought she was going to slap me for a minute,” Keeler remarked.
“She said, ‘Mark, it’s David Rogers.’ This was back in I think ’05 and it was only a couple months later he came back from that big wreck at Orlando. When he pulled that car out on the track, the atmosphere at the track and the grandstands just changed. He was the reason they did away with the Super Late Models on a weekly basis at New Smyrna for a while, nobody could touch him. I think the biggest thing that always got me was how humble he was. David would never let you brag on him and he wouldn’t brag on himself. Even the 22-0 season, he told me probably about 15 different ways that season went down and never once gave himself the credit for doing what he did.”
He remembers a conversation he had with Rogers at Five Flags Speedway after departing New Smyrna for Speed51.
“The one constant in Florida racing is David Rogers. You always knew he was going to be there or the car was going to be there,” Keeler said. “When I first met David, I didn’t think he liked me because he never talked to me a whole bunch. I was this new kid at New Smyrna, I think I was maybe 30, but I had bleach blonde tips and earrings and piercings and all that. It was after I left New Smyrna and I was at Five Flags one time with (Speed)51 and he came up and asked me how I was doing and I was a little surprised and taken aback by it. I told him I never thought he liked me when I was announcing at New Smyrna and he said ‘No, I just wanted you to grow up.’ He saw the best in everybody and he brought it out, that was just David.”
A video clip of Rogers taking a rental car around New Smyrna Speedway with Speed51 resident “Stat Boy” Elgin Traylor was shown during today’s episode, with Traylor recalling the experience in-studio.
“We didn’t record that second lap. Let’s just say, he tested the durability of the rental car agreements and gets the car back and goes yeah, car’s fine, everything’s good, it’s full of gas, bye,” Traylor said. “He actually made me a little sick to my stomach, even in the rain. He pulled into the pits and did a 360, believe it or not, in the pit area. I had to pretend I was okay but it took a few minutes after that ride.”
It wasn’t often that Traylor brought his wife Kim to the race track, but Rogers was the one driver that always stuck out in her mind.
“My wife used to come with me to a couple races. She’s not a big race fan but she does remember coming to New Smyrna and she does remember meeting David Rogers. She said, ‘He was that nice guy that had the horse on his race car, you talked to him for a long time. Actually, he talked to us for a really long time.’ That’s just David, that’s the way he’s always been. He’ll give you a minute and then it’ll be five minutes. The stories of yesterday and the accomplishments and you can throw out the stats all day.”
Bob Dillner’s brother Matthew now works for JR Motorsports and Dirty Mo Media, but was at one point a co-owner of Speed51. He joined Speed51 for the 2018 Snowball Derby and was able to get a picture with Rogers on the frontstretch. He talked about that picture and conversation they had while sitting on the pit wall.
“That picture you posted is now really special to me. I look at it and it’s funny because that 51st Snowball Derby, [Bob] wouldn’t let me work. I came down with my JRM guys and I wanted to get my hands a little dirty and be down there for the 51st. When I look back on it now I’m pretty thankful,” Dillner said. “I soaked it in and enjoyed it and one of the best parts of the entire deal was we were waiting, I don’t know what the delay was but I just ended up sitting on the wall next to David and we talked about everything from racing, to the Snowball, to family. He was a kind man, someone you always enjoyed talking to, whether it was an interview. He was always gracious when he dropped out, to sitting on the wall talking about different things. He asked how things were working with Dale (Earnhardt, Jr), my job and all. He was just like a warm friend, that’s the best way to describe David Rogers.
“Just the ultimate gentleman racer. Yesterday I had posted something on social media and Mike Twist, who was with Speed51 for so long, said man you and David were so close,” he added. “I was like well if you think about it, I have a lot of racing friends. These aren’t people you call; you see them at the race track. From my point of view, going to the Snowball Derby and Speedweeks as a young, budding, trying to be a journalist back then in the early days of Speed51, no matter who you were when you walked into that trailer, he made you feel like you guys knew each other forever.”
Former Speed51 Executive Director Duke Kentfield made his way to the Snowball Derby as a rookie who grew up in Modified country. David was one of the first drivers he established a relationship with.
“That’s what I’m always going to remember about David. Only getting to see him maybe a handful times a year between New Smyrna and Pensacola, I didn’t get to see him race every single weekend. When I was able to interview him and see him on the race track, the presence and respect that he had was something I learned from the very first time meeting him down in Pensacola for my first Snowball Derby back in 2005.
“That’s why I always appreciated guys like David Rogers, and certainly now in memoriam we respect those stories that he told. We appreciated them and appreciated his candor and the way he told stories at the time, but now you wish you had appreciated him even more in moments like this,” Kentfield added. “He was the kind of guy that if you asked him a question, he would give you the answer that you wanted and he would explain it to you. He wouldn’t just say car’s good, he would tell you what the car’s doing, how the car’s good, what he’s feeling, what his emotions are that day. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of guys like that around anymore. Knowing he was such a big part of that race and in so many people’s lives that got to see him race for so long, it’s memories like that even though his racing days are in the rearview mirror now, we’re always going to have those stories to tell of David Rogers and his racing efforts.”
Rob Blount, a former Southeast Editor for Speed51, took to Twitter to express his condolences for Rogers and his family. Blount was able to interact with him ofter during his time as a Pit Reporter and a Regional Editor with Speed51.
“So sad to hear about David Rogers’ passing. Not only was he a short track legend (look up his undefeated season in Florida), but he was also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met/covered. Always had time, even if things at the track were going bad. He’ll definitely be missed.”
Fox Sports reporter Bob Pockrass also shared his memories of Rogers during his days as a reporter for the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Click here to read what he had to say about the legend’s legacy and his 1994 NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Championship.
Monday’s episode of “The Bullring” was dedicated to the memory of David Rogers, with several guests discussing his legacy. To view an on-demand replay of the full episode, click here.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo