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Bobby Hamilton, NASCAR Hero

Getty Images / Nick Laham

Bobby Hamilton, NASCAR Hero

Five years ago today, NASCAR driver Bobby Hamilton Sr. died. He was only 49 years old. Although it's not unusual for racers to die young – think Dale Earnhardt Sr., Dan Wheldon, and others – Hamilton didn't die in a crash like these racing greats.

It was cancer that took Bobby Hamilton's life, but his death still rocked the racing world just as much as any fatal crash would. The depth of Hamilton's fans' sorrow can be seen in the thousands of entries in his Guest Book:

"What a shock! I respect this man so much. I prayed for him all along and will miss him so much."

"Bobby was one of the last of the 'OLD SCHOOL' drivers. He found his niche in the Craftsman Truck Series and made the MOST of it. It is well known that he was a TRUE family man and he should be remembered as a true professional and FAMILY man."

"I just read about your passing and I'm in total shock. You brought a lot to the racing world and will be missed, R.I.P. Bobby. God be with you and your family."

"As a race fan here in the Pacific Northwest-I am truly saddened to hear of Bobby's passing. My son & I were screaming with joy when Bobby won the Craftsman Truck Series championship in 04--now we both have giant lumps in our throats tonight. Thank you , Bobby, for what you have accomplished in life. You were never a quitter. You will always be an inspiration to all of your fans."

Five years later, Bobby Hamilton's Guest Book still receives entries, a testament to his popularity with fans. Many of them are still remembering his 2001 Talledega win – a bittersweet victory, as it was the first superspeedway race run after Dale Earnhardt's death at the Daytona 500. Hamilton emerged from his car shaken and exhausted after the incredibly close race, but victorious.