Rod Mullins: Remembering Eric McClure
Regret. That’s what I am filled with as I write this for AFP in regards to former NASCAR driver, Eric McClure, who passed away unexpectedly on Sunday at his home in Washington County. He was 42 years old.
Immediately after reading the news, confirming his passing and posting for Augusta Free Press via my Facebook page and news feed, I began to think about Eric McClure and thought to myself, I should have made that trip to see him, talk Morgan-McClure memorabilia, life and his future outside of racing.
One thing kept me from making the trip out to Abingdon and the old Morgan-McClure Motorsports race shop on Interstate 81 outside of Abingdon.
All of the demands of life kept me from getting to know better, the 42-year-old former NASCAR driver Eric McClure a little better.
Oh, and dId I mention he was just 42 years old?
Yes, 42. That’s two years younger than my wife’s father who died of a massive heart attack while playing basketball at the age of 44. So the shock of someone dying at that age doesn’t make it any easier or get easier.
McClure raced locally in Southwestern Virginia at legendary Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Kingsport Speedway in the Tri-Cities and yes, Bristol Motor Speedway, among others, supported by his crew chief/ dad, Jerry and other family members, banging quarter panels with Wade Day and others while learning the racing ropes.
The Chilhowie native eventually worked his way up to NASCAR’s top two series, first in the Xfinity Series where he made 288 starts while driving from 2003-14.
In 2012, he suffered a concussion at Talladega when his brakes failed and he could not stop from slamming into the infield retaining wall, striking it and bouncing off the wall like a bullet off the chest of Superman. McClure missed six races after having his bell rung at Talladega, but still finished 16th in the Xfinity standings, which was a career best for him.
He topped that year ending performance with a career best eighth place finish in the 2013 season opener at Daytona International Speedway. As a driver on the Cup circuit, McClure made three starts in the Cup Series and posted a best finish of 26th at Talladega in 2004.
By 2014, McClure chose to hang up the helmet and the fire suit and concentrate on the business end of racing.
Teaming up with fellow racer Hal Martin, the Martin-McClure Racing Team started making some waves on the NASCAR K&N Series circuit with their Toyota entry driven by Knoxville driver Chad Finchum.
The assemblage produced a win at McClure’s home track of Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016 as Finchum piloted the team’s Toyota to the lead, claiming 112 of the race’s 125 laps. The team also scored wins with current Roger Penske driver, Austin Cindric winning at Virginia International Raceway and also at Watkins Glen.
The racing life seemed to be finally paying off for young McClure.
But recent events such as a domestic violence charge and a health scare had put a lot more bumps on the road McClure was traveling.
I started following Eric on Facebook before the domestic violence charge and his trying to rebuild his life. I had also talked to Eric just a few times before the big Morgan-McClure memorabilia sale. When I messaged him in October of 2020, we chatted briefly about life and the things still available at the old Morgan-McClure shops.
In between, I would catch some of Eric’s videos on Facebook, talking about various things and events going on in Eric’s life and see his faith on display.
This past Saturday, I was on Facebook and caught his latest video, one of him sitting on the porch outside a home and simply discussing the recent events taking place in his life. Little did I know that Eric would produce his last personal testimony.
Then on Sunday morning, we got the news on Facebook; Eric McClure was gone.
I thought to myself, someone has made a mistake or maybe I didn’t read that right.
Then, I went to his Facebook page.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. On Saturday, smiling and saying that he’s pushing forward in his life. On Sunday morning, we’re saying goodbye.
Although no official cause of death has been released at this time. The Washington County, VA Sheriff’s Department stated that McClure’s body has been sent to Roanoke for an autopsy.
His family released the following statement.
“The family of Eric Wayne McClure, former NASCAR driver, announces with great sorrow his passing on Sunday, May 2, 2021. They would like to thank everyone for their prayers and support during this very difficult time.”
His fiancé, Kiera Tibbs, also posted the news on Facebook and later, NASCAR released a statement offering its condolences.
After all of this, the speculation begins to rise as to what happened and I’m filled with a lot of emotions about Eric McClure.
If there was one thing Eric and I shared was following the Virginia Cavaliers. Although he was a product of Emory and Henry College, he supported the ‘Hoos through thick and thin; winless and at the bottom of the standings, to a National Champion in basketball. He had liked and commented to me about a few of UVA’s wins and losses.
He had a rough go of it with the charges of domestic abuse brought against him by his wife. There were a lot of claims, counter claims and more, many aired out on social media. Eric never claimed he was perfect and he admitted on more than one occasion that he had made mistakes.
I have to say that I’m going to miss those “life coaching” videos, those videos with the princess, the ghost and also shedding your skin to reveal a very humble man.
I’m still trying to wrap my finger around your unexpected death. The race here is over for you. Now, a new one begins as we try and pick up the pieces and put this puzzle together of life without you.
Calling it as I see it from the infield, you exited the race before halfway. We can only speculate now about what could have been.
Thanks, Eric…for everything. You’ll be missed.
By Rod Mullins | Augusta Free Press