"Second place is just the first-place loser." - Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Monday, March 7, 2016
Jerry and Bobby
I wrote this story in 2013 for the Hickory Daily Record.)
remembers his day with his hero sadly
Punch and Bobby Isaac weren’t blood kin, but Jerry called him Uncle
son, Randy, went to Newton-Conover High together, Punch explained.
“(Isaac) was Junior Setzer’s uncle, and Junior took me to the
races when I was a kid,” Punch added. “So we both called him
Jerry was a huge fan of the 1970 NASCAR champion, who was a native of
biggest memory of Isaac was Bobby’s quick exit after a race.
be out of his (race) car and gone,” Punch said with a laugh. “He
was the best escape artist before (Dale) Earnhardt came along.”
August of 1977, Punch was a second-year medical student at Bowman
Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, and Bobby was planning to
run a Late Model Sportsman race at Hickory Motor Speedway.
didn’t have help that weekend, and he didn’t have tools. He’d
given his tools to some crew guys,” Punch said. “I went to Cattle
Sale and bought a rusted toolbox with some rusted tools.”
remembers that most drivers were racing Firestone tires, but Isaac
was insistent on using Goodyears. It meant he’d lose a 10th
of a second or more, but he didn’t care. He wanted Goodyears.
Butch Lindley pulled in; Mike Beam was his crew chief,” Punch said.
“Mike said they had an extra set of Firestones that we could put on
was a humid day — no big surprise in August — and Isaac wasn’t
feeling well. He wound up lying down in the back of the hauler.
big problem for Punch is that Isaac had no help, and Jerry normally
helped track owner Ned Jarrett in the tower. He’d handle the
scoreboard, keep notes and do some announcing when Jarrett was away
from the tower. It wasn’t a lot of money, but a second-year medical
student needed all he could get.
was torn, but Isaac told him to go up to the tower.
race started, and Isaac was running fifth or sixth, Punch recalled.
was running with Butch (Lindley) and Harry (Gant), and on the
backstretch, he got erratic, like he’d forgotten to turn,” Punch
said. “He almost stopped on the frontstretch, and the caution came
was sitting in the tower, watching the race, and they restarted in
and ran five or six laps,” Punch said.
race stopped again for Isaac.
carried him behind pit road, and restarted the race,” Punch said.
“Then they called from the pits and said, ‘We need an ambulance.’
I told Ned, ‘I gotta go; I’m the only one with him,’ and he
said to go.”
Punch rode with Isaac in the ambulance to Catawba Memorial.
was pale lying on the stretcher.
didn’t think it was a heart attack, since both of his arms hurt,”
Punch said. “But, in hindsight, it probably was
a heart attack.”
started an EKG, and Isaac told them that his arms hurt, and he was
exhausted. Suddenly, he began shaking.
was sitting on him, doing CPR,” Punch said. “We worked 30 or 45
minutes and never got a (sinus) rhythm going again. He was my racing
hero, and it was to be a special day. I was going to spend it with
one of my heroes. He was gone, and I was the last one to see him, to
talk to him.”
around 1:30 or 1:45 in the morning, Punch called Jarrett, and wife
Martha answered. She got Ned on the phone.
said, ‘Ned, we just lost Bobby. We just lost Bobby Isaac,’”
made arrangements for the funeral, and Punch says “everyone was
crying like a basket case” at Isaac’s wake.
(Yarborough) was a tough man, but he broke up,” Punch said. “It
was a tough few days.”
finished at Bowman Gray and became an emergency-room doctor in
Daytona Beach, Fla. His racing background led him to doing radio
broadcasts. He went on to doing auto racing and college football with
ESPN, and he eventually quit trying to doing medicine and TV at the
says that Isaac’s death haunted him for a while.
did a lot of soul searching after that,” he said. “I felt
responsible for what had happened; I couldn’t save my hero. I
didn’t know what to do.”