A tribute to Tony Feil
Hank Dinger is the longtime announcer at Island Dragway. He wrote this poignant tribute to Tony on the Island Dragway website.
A TRIBUTE TO TONY FEIL BY HANK DINGER
Like that late night phone call we all fear, the news recently of the passing of Tony Feil comes as a shock to our psyche and our hearts. There are some people we just seem to expect to be around forever, like some sort of mathematical constant that keeps our universe spinning in its proper orbit. The knowledge that we all will pass at some point in time is something we keep buried deep within ourselves, the unacknowledged elephant in the room. If we don’t think about it, it won’t happen. But we know that life is not like that, and yet bad news catches us by surprise and brings us back to an unwanted reality.
I did not know Tony that well, except by reputation and our contacts when NETO came to race with us. I remember Tony Feil’s reputation from many years ago, but I remember his personality much more vividly. Tony would bring the data books to the tower so that we had background information on those in the club, making it easier for us to inform and entertain the fans who came to see what racing looked like decades ago. We would have a short time to talk about a variety of things, old times and old friends from before and what was happening with the circuit and the racers of NETO. If there was a more engaging and knowledgeable person in this sport, I have yet to meet him. Some people can walk into a room of friends and never be comfortable while others can enter a room full of strangers and within minutes are talking with friends. Tony was an example of the latter type of person.
Tony’s abilities as a racer and builder were legendary, and I had the utmost respect for his ability and his accomplishments. But he was most impressive in how humble he was and how the little things meant so much to him. I found an old snapshot of his gasser from the old modified eliminator days and offered it to him. I also had salvaged a trophy from the Jimmy Riley benefit meet in 1966 a race that honored a friend of Tony’s who lost his life in a crash at Indy that year. He told me he had won a trophy at that event but it had been stolen from his shop. And while the one I had was not pristine, when I gave it to him you would have thought it was a Wally. The little things meant so much to him.
That last time I saw Tony was after the final NETO event last year. We talked briefly after it was over and we said we both looked forward to seeing each other next season. I looked forward to that occurring and was anticipating the upcoming nostalgia meet next week. I will miss being able to talk with Tony and enjoy his warmth and humor.
Tony’s family and friends are trying to cope with a tremendous loss and I feel for their sorrow. I hope it can be a little comfort for them to know how much Tony meant to so many people in the sport. While the hole in our lives is a bit smaller than the one in theirs, it is a void which can never be filled.
The best we can do is remember Tony for all the things he was; husband, father and grandfather, engine builder, racer, leader. But most of all we can remember him as one of the best examples of what it means to be a great human being. We are all the better off for having known him, and for that we are grateful.