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FREMONT - If this Saturday night was like that on any other summer weekend, Alex Burkett would be in the pits at the Sandusky County Fairgrounds, supporting local racing. It's just what he did.
Burkett would be following the sprint cars as they slid through the turns here at Fremont Speedway, and teetered on the edge of mayhem on the grease-slick surface of the one-third mile oval. He would be serving as crew chief for his grandson, nurturing the next generation of racers.
And he would be living it and loving it.
Alex Burkett will be the focus of this Saturday night's racing, but he won't be there in his usual place in the pits, offering encouragement to a participant frustrated by an equipment failure or quietly providing financial assistance to other struggling racers.
He died about a week ago, a victim of a rapid and aggressive pancreatic cancer, so the Racers Racing for the Cure event that was to be a fund-raiser highlighted by Alex's fight, now shifts gears and becomes a memorial to the longtime local racing icon.
"It was inevitable that we would lose him, the way the cancer was going, but I hoped we'd have a chance to just have him around a little while longer," Jim Burkett, Alex's son, said. "He took me to a race at Eldora when I was four months old, and it seems like we've been around racing together ever since."
In 1965, Alex drove a Ford Galaxie 500 convertible pace car at Fremont Speedway, then bought it from a local dealer when the season ended. He owned a dirt track late model car in the 1970s and raced it a couple of times before having someone else drive the car for him. He did timing and scoring at the now defunct race track in McCutchenville.
"He was always involved," Jim Burkett said. "He sponsored a car for his son-in-law, he'd give somebody a battery for a tow truck or their rig, and he'd buy a tire for someone who was having a run of bad luck. In terms of figuring out ways to help people, his imagination was very vivid."
Alex loved NASCAR and was a big fan of A.J. Foyt and USAC racing. He worked at Crown Battery in Fremont for 37 years and was one of 10 employees who bought out the company about a decade ago. Burkett retired at the end of November, then learned in January about the cancer.
"Our racing community over here has just been ravaged with cancer the last couple of years, and we lost some big-time names, and it broke dad's heart," Jim Burkett said.
"When he found out about his illness, he asked me if I'd help him get this fund-raiser off the ground, but he made it real clear he did not want anyone feeling sorry for him. He wanted to do something to keep this disease from taking more lives."
During the course of his treatment, Alex went through 50 units of blood, so a blood drive was organized recently in the Fremont racing community. They collected more than 70 units of blood, and an auction and chicken barbecue raised $5,600.
During the course of Saturday night's racing program, the drivers will go up into the stands to collect money for cancer research, in the name of Alex Burkett, who was 63 when he died.
"If someone in the plant was going through a tough time, dad would go around and collect money to help them out, and always give plenty out of his own pocket," Jim Burkett said. "He was always very giving, and he was satisfied with just a wink or a smile in return. I know everybody's proud of their dad, but this man was just exceptional. He was a big part of racing here in Fremont."
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