Formula One
 Thursday, July 13
Irwin died 'doing what he loved'
 Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- The images that touched the mourners were not so much the ones of Kenny Irwin with his race car, his eyes covered by slick dark glasses.

They were the ones of an awkward-looking, blue-uniformed boy posing for a baseball picture and a wild-haired child grinning ear to ear.

Tony George
Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George, right, and his wife enter the funeral of Kenny Irwin in Indianapolis on Wednesday.

That's how Irwin, his jet-black casket draped in red roses, was remembered at his funeral Wednesday. Not so much as a rising NASCAR star, but as a son, a brother and a friend.

Irwin's youngest sister, Korrie Irwin, choked back sobs as she read a poem: "Don't grieve for me because now I'm free."

Irwin, 30, crashed into a concrete wall and died of a crushed skull Friday while practicing for the New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, N.H.

More than 600 people attended the service at Abundant Life Church, spilling out of the sanctuary into a gymnasium to watch on closed-circuit television. On Tuesday night, people waited as long as six hours to pay their respects to the Indianapolis native during a visitation.

Irwin, who was living in Charlotte, N.C., was born and schooled in Indianapolis and learned to race here as well. It was the center of his life, and as family friend Pat DiMarko recalled, Irwin always cherished the chance to return to Indianapolis to race.

DiMarko talked about the Brickyard 400 in 1998, when Irwin, rather than parking his motorcoach with the other racers in the track's infield, set up camp in the yard of a friend who lives a couple blocks from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That allowed him to spend more time with friends and family.

DiMarko also told of how Irwin spent the eve of the new millennium.

"He could've flown to Vegas, Europe, the Bahamas or any other exotic location," DiMarko said. "Instead he chose to go to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, ringing in the New Year around the campfire in the middle of nowhere. But he was surrounded by his sister, Kelly, and his friends. That's all he wanted."

Irwin also wanted to race. All his life, his competitive edge kept him racing, whether it was on the track or just trying to beat his father from the car to the front door.

The Rev. Peter Bosworth recounted a recent conversation with Irwin in which he said the driver told him, "You know what, I'd drive for free. I'd race for free. That's my passion. That's my passion."

"He died doing what he absolutely loved," Bosworth said.

Hundreds of floral arrangements stretched across the front of the church and down two hallways. A video tribute recounted Irwin's life in pictures, from childhood to his recent racing success.

He was just 6 when he entered his first car race in quarter-midgets, pint-sized race cars that spin around tracks at 40 mph. He became the 1996 National Midget Series Champion, and in 1997, his only full season with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, he was named Rookie of the Year. He was the Winston Cup rookie of the year in 1998.

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