Great Race Legend Rex Gardner Passes Away

November 5, 2019

Rex Gardner, two-time Great Race Grand Champion, lost his short battle with cancer Monday night in Oklahoma. He was 81. Rex started competing in the Great Race in 1985 and was a mainstay in the event. He was best known in the last decade and a half for combining his love for vintage car rallying and raising funds for the fight against Autism. He founded the Vintage Car Rally Association in 2005 and by the time the 2019 Great Race ended in Tacoma the total amount raised by VCRA through the years was around $970,000 – just $30,000 short of his original goal 14 years ago when about 20 cars participated in a weekend rally in Grove, Okla., and raised the first $20,000.

“Rex Gardner and Jim Menneto kept the Great Race style of vintage car rallying alive in 2008, 2009 and 2010 with the Hemmings Challenge five-day cloverleaf rallies prior to Coker Tire buying the Great Race,” director Jeff Stumb said. “And in typical Rex fashion, he raised almost $1 million in the process to help schools and centers help kids with autism – including almost $50,000 last year to my son’s school here in Chattanooga.”

Rex joined the Great Race in 1985 with navigator Vic Thompson in a 1935 Ford Coupe – the same car he drove in the 2019 Great Race. Rex and Vic had several top 10 finishes, but when Rex joined Gary Kuck as the driver of Gary’s 1917 Hudson racer they won the Great Race twice – in 1998 and 1999. He was also a renowned engine builder for rally cars, specializing in flathead motors.

The VCRA rally scheduled for May 6-10, 2020, in Springfield, Mo., will go on as planned, the family has announced. “Rex touched the lives of just about every Great Racer for the last 35 years, but more importantly he touched the lives of thousands of kids with autism around the country,” Stumb said. “And I am sure VCRA will surpass Rex’s ultimate goal of raising $1 million next spring.”

Funeral arrangements will be shared as soon as we have them.

15 comments about “Great Race Legend Rex Gardner Passes Away”

  • Rex Gardner was a champion among champions! His love of life, his down-to-earth commitment to a cause in which he truly believed and his love of family will be lasting tributes to the man he has been. It was my honour to welcome and introduce him and to speak of the great work that VCRA was doing, at hundreds of venues across America and Canada, during Great Race events.
    To his family and extended family of Great Racers, my sincere condolences.
    “ If you remember anything of me after I leave this world, remember that I loved even when it was foolish, that I cared even when it was unwanted. When my body is gone, remember my heart.”

  • I Was seeking opinions from Rex on vintage cars as late as October 18th- always willing to help and mentor, and wished him the best on the 25th when I heard he was ill. Always loved Rex, his family, and the VCRA. Love goes out to his family, the VCRA, and Great Race extended families. I will truly miss my friend. Godspeed Rex.

  • Rex was my hero. I was a fan of the race well before we could enter ourselves. I was convinced that building a car and rallying it this way was the coolest thing you could do with an old car. It is, but its the people that make Great Race great. And Rex was a character, funny as hell and a top mechanic. The real trophies from Greatrace are not made of wood or a check, but the stories you carry with you for a lifetime. I loved being around Rex; I can’t imagine him not being there. Big gut punch. I will forever be grateful for the time I did get to spend with him.

    • Well said, Steve. Participating in Great Race, whether as crew or competitor, the real trophies are the memories and the friends made. Rex was a big part of those memories.

  • Rex was a special person that was always there and always committed in everything he did. His smiling face and warm personality will be greatly missed. Yes, we all will look forward to making 2020 VCRA an outstanding event and a tribute to the man that had the will to keep vintage car rallying alive. Judy and family my prayers are with you that God will help comfort you at this most difficult time. To a dear friend, Rex rest in peace knowing that you did all that you could do here on earth.

  • Words cannot express how saddened I am by Rex’s passing. My deepest sympathy to Rex’s immediate family and to his Great Race family.

    His dedication to fundraising for Autism was second to none. Thanks to him, VCRA donated $13,000.00 to our local Learning Center. They were able to purchase 21 i-Pads with cases and 1 Smart Board with necessary accessories, which benefited 21 autistic and learning disabled young people. Whether or not he knew it, he had a positive effect on many grateful people. Thank you Rex!!

    Godspeed!! You will be greatly missed.

    Car #83

  • He touched so many people in such a positive way. A Champion in so many ways.
    He let some of us take the 35 from Boston to Grand Island about 20 years ago. My daughter Julie, 12 at the time, Eddie Kreig, Ace Erickson and Richard Riddell. The most giving person you will ever meet.
    We miss him so much!!! Prayers to the entire Gardner family.

  • The entire Hudson family will be keeping Rex’s family and friends in our thoughts during this difficult time. Rallying has given our family something to really bond over for the past 15 years, and the sport wouldn’t be the same today if it weren’t for everything Rex has done. We will certainly remember him for his generosity and great spirit!

  • I remember Rex’s first year in the competition, 1985, the race stopped in Albuquerque, the year I was leaving there. I recall one of Rex’s sponsors was Interstate Batteries. He had a mechanical problem west of Albuquerque. The portion of the oil system that sits in the bottom of the oil pan broke loose and he wasn’t getting sufficient oil to the cylinders. They had no option while on the road other than to fill it with more oil and hope they could make it to Albuquerque. They made it and immediately went to a garage for repair. Don’t recall how long they worked that night, but were able to fix it and continue the race.

    I also recall the year he entered the Demolition Derby in the Lyon County Fair.

    Rex loved anything to do with cars.

    Rest in peace, Rex.

  • In the short time of knowing Rex I knew his heart. A true heart for children with autism and the need for their specialized education. We’ve had several conversations over the past few months and I am so honored that Rex was seriously considering a donation of this year’s funds to Lake Pointe Resource Center and Academy in Granbury, Tx. His gift this year would have made a pivotal difference in our ability to continue to keep our doors open to families and children in need of specialized therapeutic education programming. Without great folks like Rex, small non-profit programs like ours just don’t have much chance due to the high costs of maintaining these programs. REX, Thank you, sincerely for all you have done and will continue to do through your heart, passion and genuine interest in seeing a better world for kids through education funding. Because of you this organization will continue to make a difference for many years to come. God bless and may angels be singing praises for the Lord’s continuous hand through your vision and work.

  • As the headmaster of a small school for students with learning disabilities, you spend a lot of time on your knees for God to supply you with the resources necessary to serve your kids. You pray for miracles. Brother Rex was one of those miracles.

    Last year, without even an introduction, Rex and his incredible organization adopted our school and paid to have a STEM lab built for our students. The miracles that have occurred out of this lab are too innumerable to tell. Students lives are being changed every day.

    Brother Rex, your legacy continues even as I type. We are grateful you chose to make such a profound impact on our lives. We are forever changed, because of your life. May God grant your family peace and strength during this time. You made a difference brother. We testify.

    Dr. Josh Yother
    Skyuka Hall
    Chattanooga, Tennessee

    • The Rex I knew was a mover, shaker, great organizer and knew how to get things done with the least amount of trouble. What a mentor and teacher, someone who could and would pass his knowledge and skills onto anyone wanting to learn. He did all he could and probably some more in getting younger people interested in the old car movement. Rex, all the angel and archangels are caring for you now, just as you cared for everyone here on earth. Godsspeed Rex.

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