MACON – The youngest of 10 kids, Macon native Kerby Damery followed his idol to become a Dirt Squirt.
His family helped build the concrete walls at Macon Speedway, and Damery took advantage of season passes from former track owner Wayne Webb. The Damery family regularly attended the fifth-mile high-banked oval down the street from its home.
The youngest Damery became captivated by the Dirt Squirt, a popular late model driven by multi-time track champion Jim Ater that was smaller than most of the cars in the field.
Decades later, one former track champion salutes another when Ater throws the green and checkered flags for the KerbySTRONG 100, a memorial to Damery, who died following a long battle with cancer. The evening is a benefit to raise money for cancer patients and their families.
“As a little boy, Kerby grew up watching Jim,’’ said Damery’s widow, Nikki. “It inspired him to be a race car driver.’’
While the night will also serve as the final tuneup for super late models prior to the rain-delayed Herald & Review 100, the program is special because of Damery. After first watching the races as a child and serving as the pit crew for Ater’s son, Brian, Damery eventually developed into one of the top racers at Macon Speedway.
He began racing at 21 and won the Sportsman title at Macon Speedway before moving to the late model division. He took the prestigious Macon Speedway track championship in 2004. In 2007, Damery was diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away in February.
“Macon Speedway has been about drivers and their families for generations,’’ said Macon Speedway promoter Bob Sargent. “When we watch Jim Ater throwing the green flag, it symbolizes one generation saluting another.’’
Damery grew up just blocks from Ater.
“When you have somebody like the kind of guy he was to look up to me, that’s pretty humbling,’’ the 78-year-old Ater said. “He was a great person, dad, husband and friend. He was just a little boy back when I was racing.’’
The KerbySTRONG 100 consists of a 50-lap Big Ten Series Late Model event plus 25-lap modifieds and sportsman features.
The KerbySTRONG 100 is a natural way to remember Damery and raise money by heading back to the race track, Nikki Damery said. Her first date with Damery took her to Macon Speedway. The wedding was scheduled in the fall after the Macon Speedway season finale.
Just the other day, she found a bumper sticker she used to hang on the refrigerator every spring. It reads, “We interrupt this marriage to bring you the racing season,’’ Nikki Damery said.
For the Damery family, Kerby’s death won’t stop the racing. Sons Luke and Blake spend weekend nights racing go-karts.
Another generation of Dirt Squirts.