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Inaugural memorial race honors late drag strip racer Charlie Betts

May. 23, 2013 @ 11:50 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Races finish, engines stop and lives may end, but it takes a rare breed of man to remain as well-loved as the late Charlie Betts. Though the legendary drag strip racer and lifelong Huntington resident passed away in 2010, friends and competitors alike found a way to honor legacy left by "Charming Charlie."

The inaugural Charlie Betts Memorial Race will hit pavement at noon Saturday, May 25, at the Kanawha Valley Motorsports Track in Southside, W.Va., but the man behind the memories left more than just trophies and accolades.

Sitting among armfuls of awards, pictures and newspaper clippings, Charlie's son Jeff Betts of Cincinnati recounted his father's no frills, no questions demeanor.

"One word that could describe my dad is 'integrity'," Betts said. "He lived his whole life doing the right thing."

Born and raised in Huntington, Charlie Betts was a certified master mechanic and plant manager of the now-defunct Owens-Illinois facility. Betts was a fierce drag racer and built a career sparkling with thousands of wins, including the 1967 NHRA Spring Nationals. Following retirement from the strip, Betts became a world-renown engine builder for drag racers and shipped them as far away as Australia and Japan.

Although Charlie's secrets to global success from a small Westmoreland garage were never fully revealed, Jeff Betts attributes his father's "incredible intelligence and sheer determination" to a life of winning.

"There were a lot of people in the community who had pride in him," Betts said, "This was a local, little guy who beat everybody in the country repeatedly."

Off the track, Charlie Betts still strove for nothing but excellence and passed the desire to achieve on to his son. After graduating from Vinson High School, Jeff completed 15 years of medical training and is now a surgeon in Cincinnati. Although repairing engines and humans are not comparable, Jeff took his father's wisdom to heart in his practice.

"He told me, 'No matter who you're working on or what you do, that person is the most important person in the world to somebody,'" Betts said. "'Treat them like they're the most important person in the world to you.'"

Mike Stowers of Huntington considered Charlie Betts his best friend and calls his namesake race well-earned.

"He was the Dale Earnhardt of this area," Stowers said, "The creation of the race is a testament to how much Charlie valued friendship."

Stowers said the Charlie Betts Memorial Race is the brainchild of friends, colleagues and competitions in the Tri-State racing community wanting to honor Betts with what he loved best.

"He was loved and cared about even by the people who couldn't outrun him," Stowers said. "He was the type of guy that if he told you it was raining apples, you believed him."

The competition will feature a $500 guaranteed purse for Jr. Dragsters. Gates will open at 2 p.m. and time trials begin at 4 p.m.

Follow Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.