NASCAR driver and team owner Bobby Hamilton, diagnosed just more than a year ago with throat and neck cancer, died Sunday. He was 49.
Hamilton won races in all three of NASCAR's top series, Nextel Cup, Busch and Truck. He won four Cup races, one in the Busch Series 10 races and the 2004 championship in the Truck Series.
The start of his Cup career was - literally - straight out of Hollywood. Driving a car owned by Rick Hendrick that was carrying a camera to capture footage for the film "Days of Thunder," Hamilton qualified fifth fastest for a race at Phoenix International Raceway and actually led five laps in the race.
Hamilton's Cup wins came in races at Martinsville, Phoenix, Rockingham and Talladega. He drove cars owned by Felix Sabates, Richard Petty, Andy Petree and Larry McClure for most of his 371 career Cup starts.
Hamilton announced in March 2006 at Atlanta Motor Speedway that he had been diagnosed with cancer and said he was determined to beat it and return to the sport.
By August, he had returned to work at Bobby Hamilton Racing, the Tennessee-based Truck Series team he owned. His doctors were encouraged by the results of his treaments, but later found that microscopic cancer cells remained on the right side of his neck.
"Cancer is an ongoing battle, and once you are diagnosed you always live with the thought of the disease in your body," Hamilton said in December after announcing he was still having treatments. "It is the worst thing you could ever imagine."
Published in Charlotte Observer on Jan. 7, 2007