Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Max Lagod 1969-2011

Most of the folks reading this post have likely never heard of Max Lagod, as he was a race car driver who never hit the "big time" (NASCAR, IndyCar, F1, etc.), but nevertheless, he was one of those guys who I followed whenever I saw results online or in magazines for big bore sedan racing, or on the off chance that a TransAm or SCCA GT-1 race managed to make it on to TV. I never met Mr. Lagod, but he was one of those guys who struck me as a scrappy, underfunded underdog, who was able to drive a race car to the exact speed that it was absolutely capable of. With all of this in mind, and knowing that he was somebody that I stumbled across early on in my race fandom, I was extremely saddened to hear that he died on March 12 of lymphoma.

The first time I was aware of Lagod, he was in the process of absolutely demolishing the GT-1 field at the SCCA June Sprints at Road America, a race that my parents took me to in lieu of a high school graduation party (they gave me the choice; I thought about it for about 0.042 seconds before picking the Sprints). In qualifying for his race, I distinctly remember the track announcer excitedly exclaiming that on Road America's brand new pavement, Lagod had just broken the all-time GT-1 track record. Given the speed and quality of the equipment that this class contains (ex-TransAm cars), I knew that this was no mean feat. Race day was no different. Lagod sped off into the distance, and left the rest of the field in the proverbial fight for 2nd.

So, among the amateur racer set, Lagod was obviously incredibly quick, but was he professional material? As I'd find out a few years later, the answer was definitely "yes". Lagod made periodic appearances in the TransAm series in his family-prepped Camaro over the years, with a little success sprinkled in here and there, but I managed to cross paths with him again at Cleveland in 2003. Most folks will remember this race weekend as being the world's first major road race held at night, but I also remember Max Lagod's run in the TransAm race that year. The race was won by Scott Pruett (who I'm sure said hello to his kids at home afterward), and was notable for Paul Gentilozzi hitting pretty much every car within a mile of Burke Lakefront Airport, but Lagod largely kept his nose clean and finished on the podium, only the second of his career. In such storied company, this was no mean feat. After the race, I took my pit pass and headed toward the padddock to see if I could congratulate Lagod on such a great finish and mention that I'd last seen him race eight years before in that demolition job at Road America. Well, between my crippling bashfulness around real, actual race car drivers and the fact that the ChampCars were being pushed toward the grid before I could spot Lagod wandering around his paddock spot, I never got a chance to say hi.

Anyway, this is a far cry from a real eulogy, and of course, I never even met the man, but I just couldn't let this piece of news go by without saying a little something. Thanks, Max, for giving this race fan some thrills on the track, and Godspeed.


Todd Hendrickson said...

That was a very nice tribute to a great guy. I just returned from his funeral.
I new Max from way back in 1981 when he was 11 years old racing a YZ-80 in Mini-Jr Motocross races in northern Illinois. My brother Kyle and he became fierce competitors and great friends. Our racing families spent a lot of time together over those racing weekends.
Over the last 25 years we didn't see each other as much, as I now regret, he was a great man with a big heart, but I will always remember him as that 11 year old kid who was so modest and sincere and always had a great smile.
I am sorry you didn't actually meet him, but I can assure you he was one of those few guys who would have made you feel like a friend from the word 'Hi'.
Godspeed Max!
Todd Hendrickson

Unknown said...

Thank you Speedgeek! You are spot on!

Unknown said...

Todd is correct. I met Max at Byron in 1981. It was to be my second and final season as a Mini-Jr. Based on the competition coming out of the previous season, I began the 1981 season with the expectation of at least a 2nd place season finish overall. Who knew there would be a new kid competing - number 44, Max Lagod? For the entire season, Max endeavoured to foil my plans. Instead of an easy path to number 2, I found myself constantly being schooled in both passing and pass blocking by this "newcomer". Our first meeting off track took place in the earlier part of the season when during the first moto of the day Max broke my right pinky toe in a collision while passing me in the first set of sawdust whoopdedoos. Of course it wasn't his "fault". Such things happen in the heat of competition, but these were not the thoughts running through my brain after the moto was over. With my right Malcolm Smith containing a burning fury of pain, I limped to his pit in a righteous rage to give him a piece of my mind. We immediately became friends. There was really no other choice with him. He was impossible to not like - eventually love.

Thank you so much for sharing such kind and respectful words about him. Though you haven't met him, I sense that you were compelled to share your thoughts because you felt deep in your heart that you knew him. You did.

Kyle Hendrickson

Unknown said...

Max was always my favorite Racer at Road America.Always love watching him take it to the big teams in T/A. Was just looking up the entry list for the June Sprints and didn't see his name for the second year in a row. It's sad to now know why. Thanks for the great article

Reid said...

Thanks for posting that. I just stumbled upon this from a little Google search. Written like you knew him for sure. My friendship only went back about 4 years, but with Max he mad everyone feel like you were a childhood friend....even if he broke your pinky toe ;)

Michael said...

I was saddened to learn of Max's passing this weekend. I never met him in person, but over the last 6 years I spoke to him many times about the diesel performance industry and diesel racing. We typically chatted once a month, and he was instrumental in giving me feedback on new products we were conceiving. It's interesting that in the hours we spent on the phone, he never mentioned his illness, and he only mentioned in passing that he raced SCCA (and I never knew his level of success there). I had wondered why I hadn't heard from him in a while. RIP Max.