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Daily Dirt

February 23, 2021

Finding the positives

Brian McLeod/Dirt Scenes

I'll never forget my first thought when I first saw Mike Head: "He looks more like a professional wrestler than a race car driver."

But the Ellenwood, Ga., driver was indeed 100 percent racer, one of the Southeast's best Dirt Late Model competitors for nearly two decades. | Slideshow

He was a mountain of a man. When I shook his hand, it felt like his wrapped around mine twice. He looked intimidating, but he was one of the kindest, gentlest people I've known.

Early in his racing career, which stretched more than 40 years until 2011, he was just as intimidating inside the race car as he was standing next to it in the pits. His signature orange, black and white scheme and iconic No. 54 were present from his earliest days on Georgia racetracks. Head was a staple of Atlanta-area tracks, including Dixie and Rome, where announcer Jimmy Mosteller tabbed him as “the Headman.”

I remember seeing Head's unique all-in-one orange toterhome at Dixie Speedway’s Hav-A-Tampa Shootout as a young fan. It was the first time I'd ever seen a truck like that, and I thought it was the coolest thing on the planet. Imagine how amped I was several years later when that familiar hauler rolled through the gates of Laurens County Speedway, my home track, for the first time in 1999. Working at the Laurens, S.C., track as a flagman, I met Mike Head later that night and I immediately knew he was the real deal. Little did I know on that May night just how much time I'd be spending with the Headman in the coming seasons.

I began working with Southern All Star Racing Series that same year and quickly came to know Head as one of the tour's main faces. He was a former champion, but more importantly he was an avid supporter. He never missed a race and was quick to sing the praises of legendary tour founder B.J. Parker.

As I spent more time with the series, I learned the tragic story of Head’s son Michael, who was murdered in a 1997 robbery in Atlanta. My friend Tim O'Brien developed a memorial race to benefit Michael's family, and I was privileged to be a part of the event for several years.

It quickly became one of my favorite races. Head's speeches at the drivers' meeting were incredibly emotional. Headman spoke on the microphone, his voice cracking on every other sentence, and thanked every person and company that participated. His honest raw emotion made him tower that much taller in my mind.

In the last few seasons of Mike’s career, it wasn’t a secret that he was struggling to make it to the next track. But somehow, he would always find a way. Just like a lot of other great drivers of the day, the financial burden of racing had become difficult to manage with limited sponsorship. But continuing the sport he loved, Head kept plugging along race to race along with his beloved wife Carolyn right there by his side.

In the wake of Michael’s murder, Head became a godly man who coveted family and friends more than any race trophy. Don’t get me wrong. He still wanted to win races and he raced hard.

I tell the story often that the next time the series came to my home track, all of the regulars came to my house just a few miles from the track. Headman and my dad spent all afternoon sitting in my backyard swing talking and laughing. My dad had fond memories of that day.

Later that night, Head was leading the race and broke with only a few laps left. As I was making my rounds at the end of the night, I walked over to Mike who was standing at the back of his hauler. I expected a somber greeting, but when he looked up and saw me coming, the burly Head's electric smile immediately appeared. He started thanking me for a great time and a good meal. He told me how much meeting my dad had meant to him. He didn’t utter a single negative word about how the race had gone for him. He relished in the good things of the day.

I've thought about that day many times over the years. About how that man reacted to adversity and focused on the good things. And though I fall far short of it on many days, I've tried to do that in my life: Look for the good and find the positives. That was the influence he had on my life. And he affected so many others with his warm spirit and his tender kindness.

You'll find it difficult to discover anyone with a bad word to say about Mike Head. I am truly heartbroken by the news of his passing and I have tried to find the positive. Right now, I'm only positive that I'm sad. And that is about all I have.

Comments

  1. 1.
    February 23, 2021
    9:59 am
    me and some of my friends were at a race at howenwald tn in the early 90/s and we tried to give mike some gas money as he had a bad night and was down on his funds and he did not accept our offer but shook our hand and thanked us for being fans of his
  2. 2.
    February 23, 2021
    11:02 am
    Well said Kelley Mike was such a good man! He will be missed!!!!
    -- Robin M
  3. 3.
    February 23, 2021
    12:01 pm
    54 forever prayers for the family.
  4. 4.
    February 23, 2021
    1:06 pm
    I loved to watch Mike Head race growing up and I have talked to him at Dixie speedway many times. I'm very sad that my cousin has passed away so soon. I know that everyone who has been around Mike Head from the racetrack to family and friends will miss the kindness of The Headman.
  5. 5.
    February 23, 2021
    1:10 pm
    As a lifelong dirt racing fan, growing up at West Atlanta, Dixie and Rome Speedways, Headman has ALWAYS been one of my racing heroes. This is a great piece, Kelley. Not ashamed to say that I read it with a tear streaming down my cheek. We have lost another great one! Rest easy Headman! 54 forever!
  6. 6.
    February 23, 2021
    2:16 pm
    Definitely a man who struggled through A lot of adversity.But every time you seen him somewhere you couldn’t help but want to talk to him because he was one of the best storytellers you’ve ever met in your life. Every race track you went to you would see him after the race was over holding court telling everybody about his travels and joking and cutting up with people. He will be missed. Think I may do Some art of head and some other drivers we have lost
  7. 7.
    February 23, 2021
    3:31 pm
    My positive we being allowed to meet Mike and have him be a small part of my life with a huge influence. I remember after meeting him at Tazewell I ask him to lead us in prayer. From that day forward every time he came through the gates I made the same trip to make sure I ask him to lead us in prayer. He always had the same answer. “ It would be my pleasure.”

    RIP my friend.
  8. 8.
    February 23, 2021
    4:13 pm
    Great blog about the Headman. Always enjoyed watching him race at Dixie, Rome, Senoia, West Atlanta, North Georgia, etc.
  9. 9.
    February 23, 2021
    4:18 pm
    Headman ,myself and my cousin Russell pull up at bulls gap late for everything . Qualified mid pack of field. Now this is the first time I’ve ever been to Bulls Gap Tennessee . It’s early 90s 100 laps 15000.00 to win by half way Headman passes Scott Blomquist . We leading the race and around 75 laps the right front wheel center broke completely off the hub headman comes flying in the pits and the jack wouldn’t go under the car ! Next thing I remember was the people that I saw picking up the front of headmans #54 !!! We make it back out before green. Start in rear and one lap to go and he’s 2nd place on Scott’s tale ! One of my many long weekend adventures with this man !! He will truly be missed by many many people. Prying for all family and friends god bless !
  10. 10.
    February 23, 2021
    5:10 pm
    Good stuff Kelley. ... Racing was always better when Mike Head was there. ... I saw him change a motor at what is now Boyd's Speedway on a Tuesday night for $600 to win in the early '90s. ... He was a racer's racer and will certainly be missed.
  11. 11.
    February 23, 2021
    5:42 pm
    Headman you were the man back in the day I watched him run in 1994 north Mississippi so i ask some of my buddies who is that man in the 54 car they looked at and why he from over their where you live in Georgia so i went & meet Mr Headman & was s huge fan ever day after that So sorry for his family . ED LOWE
    -- Ed Lowe
  12. 12.
    February 23, 2021
    7:26 pm
    Great article,seen mike race many times.and got to know him a little when he would come to Thunderhill at summer town tn. super nice guy,!! And a real wheel man. Rest In Peace headman.
  13. 13.
    February 23, 2021
    8:23 pm
    There was a SAS show at Lavonia in either 2003 or 2004 where my ignition went out during hot laps, Mike was having carb trouble in hot laps and I offered him the carb off of my motor since I was planning on loading up. Instead of working on his own car he, and Skip Arp, helped me put in a new box and coil in time to qualify. From his "pulp wood truck motors" comments on the radio about Randall Jordan's winning streak at Hartwell to parking with him when I was able to travel for SAS shows I thought the world of Mike as a race car driver and as a man, aside from my own dad Mike was my favorite driver. Mike is reunited with his wife and son now and they have years of catching up to do, rest easy old friend.
  14. 14.
    February 24, 2021
    7:35 am
    One of my favorite times seeing Mike race, was the 2007/2008 era at Dixie Speedway. He ran really well during that time, and picked up quite a few wins. 2 "Big city" folks who had never been to a race, sat next to me one night in a packed grandstand at Dixie, and they asked me "Is that man in the Orange 54, an outlaw or something? He seems like a hard one out there" I said "Oh my gosh no, that is a christian man in that car" They couldn't believe it. I believe they left as new fans of Mike that night. Today I am sitting here picturing a racers round table in heaven, with Mike as the "Head" speaker. Bill Ingram is there, along with Phil Coltrane, Stan Massey, Jimmy Mosteller, Mike Swims, Earl Baltes, and many others!
  15. 15.
    February 24, 2021
    12:14 pm
    I remember going to Rome on Sunday night and watching Mike and Snooks DeFoor put on a show in the B Class. This was in the early 70’s when Mike was first getting started. He always had a big crowd of folks around his car. I guess around 1971.
  16. 16.
    February 24, 2021
    6:10 pm
    Saw him race 1998 Atwood Tn. He was one of the best Late Model Drivers I have ever seen.
  17. 17.
    February 24, 2021
    7:40 pm
    I will never forget ,seeing so much steam coming from Mikes car and tires after a all stars race one night in tennessee .He literally drove the wheelers off of that orange and black 54..
  18. 18.
    February 25, 2021
    4:26 am
    Spot on Kelly! He never met a stranger and when you spoke to him he was a sincere listener.
  19. 19.
    February 25, 2021
    10:40 am
    Great tribute to The Headman, Kelley.

  20. 20.
    March 1, 2021
    1:15 pm
    1990 winner of the North South 100 if I'm not mistaken should be in his list of accolades.
  21. 21.
    March 1, 2021
    8:12 pm
    Sadly, I never got to see him race, but I have been honored and truly blessed to be his Pastor for the last 4 years. I wish that I had been given another 10 years to have that honor. I will never forget him, but I am also thankful that I have no doubt that I will see him again one day soon and we will have eternity together with our Savior in Heaven. I long for that day!

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