Leal Beattie, who built a national reputation as a motorsports writer in 25
years with Dayton newspapers, died Tuesday night at Kettering Medical Center.
He was 49.
Mr. Beattie, a native of Fall River, Wis., underwent stomach surgery Tuesday morning. He developed complications and died at 11:15 p.m.
A 1971 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Mr. Beattie lived in Vandalia with his wife, Karen.
He joined The Journal Herald in July 1972 after working at a newspaper in Owensboro, Ky. He began writing for the Dayton Daily News when the staffs merged in 1982. He was knowledgeable about all sports, but he was passionate about motor racing. He won numerous awards from the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association.
"Leal was know coast-to-coast in motor-racing circles for his knowledge of the sport he loved so much," said Max Jennings, editor of the Daily News. "To say he loved his work is not adequate.
"The story with his byline in today's paper was written Monday. He finished it at home, hours before he was to go to the hospital for surgery the next morning. His readers were expecting something from him, and he delivered such as he has done for a quarter of a century."
Mr. Beattie covered 25 Indianapolis 500s and numerous Daytona 500 stock car races. He was a frequent visitor at the midwest's short tracks. His favorite was Eldora Speedway in Rossburg.
News of his death brought tributes from Eldora owner Earl Baltes as well as other auto-racing promoters, drivers and car owners.
"I just feel like someone took a swing and hit me with everything they had," Baltes said. "Leal was one of the finest men I ever met in my life, if not the finest. Our flags will be at half mast all weekend in memory of Leal."
Barb Chrysler, who operates Xenia's Kil-Kare Speedway with her husband, Richard, said, "No other newspaper in the country has anyone with a reputation any better than Leal's was in the auto-racing world. He was a good humanitarian, too. He worked long hours year after year for DARF (Dayton Auto Racing Fans Club)."
Linda Holdeman, owner of Winchester Speedway, operated Winchester with her husband, Roger, until he died in 1996.
"This is one of the greatest losses our sport could suffer," she said. "Leal is irreplaceable. Every major paper in the country wishes it had a Leal Beattie. What he did wasn't just a job to him, it was a labor of love. Leal was a very, very good friend of our family. When I lost Roger, Karen and Leal jumped to the forefront to help with everything. That's why so many people are grieving about Leal today. This goes beyond auto racing. He was just a good person."
Veteran sprint car driver Jack Hewitt of Troy offered a tribute for Beattie before going to Terre Haute, Ind., for a race Wednesday night.
"For myself and the whole Dayton area, this is just a total loss," Hewitt said. "This wasn't a guy who was just assigned to write a story about motor sports. His work came from the heart.
"Racing was a way of life to both him and Karen. He didn't just report to the Miami Valley. He kept the rest of the country informed on what happened here. That's why tonight (Wednesday) we'll get some mention of him on ESPN2 as they televise the race."
Lee Raymond, a local stock car driver, also praised Beattie.
"They say the good go young and this is another example of it," Raymond said. "Leal was 100 percent for the sport of auto racing. He did so much for my career, and there's dozens and dozens of other drivers who could say the same thing. The thing is, Leal never wanted any publicity for himself. He loved what he was doing and that was reward enough for him."
Johnny Vance, a longtime Dayton race car owner, said, "This just breaks my heart. Leal was a guy who truly loved auto racing. He was the kind of guy who walked softly and carried a big stick. You never knew he was there, and yet he never missed a thing. And he always was accurate. There's nothing better than a good reputation, and Leal Beattie's was the best."
Another race car owner, Jack Bowsher of Harmony, said he had great respect for Beattie.
"The entire racing industry needs more Leal Beatties," Bowsher said. "He was a professional in every sense of the word and more than that, he was just a real good guy."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Beattie is survived by his mother, Dorothy Beattie of Fall River, Wisc.; and three sisters, Jane Robbins, Sally Price and Ruth Juech. His father and brother preceded him in death.