Ed Watson, a Northern California auto racing pioneer who built and owned cars that carried top racers to victory, died March 4 of a heart attack, his family said. He was 77.
Mr. Watson was a master at building, modifying and repairing cars for speed from jalopies to modifieds to sprint autos. He also had a skill for matching them with the right driver and helped propel the careers of many Northern California Auto Racing veterans.
He fielded cars for new and established drivers, including Mike Andreetta, Larry Burton, Jac Haudenschild and Jimmy Sills. He partnered with Burton the "Roseville Rocket" for a series of wins in the 1960s and 1970s, including 25 consecutive main events and back-to-back championships at West Capital Raceway and All-American Speedway.
"Ed would make you do things that you would only do because he believed in you," Andreetta said. "The first sprint car I ever drove on dirt was for him at West Capital. I had the fastest time."
Sills took the wheel of a Watson supermodified in 1973 to be the first newcomer to win a main event at West Capital Raceway. Also named rookie of the year in 1973, he went on to be a top competitor at many levels of racing, including United States Auto Club championships.
"Ed was one of the top car builders in the area," said Sills, who owns a racing school in Marysville. "Everybody wanted to drive his cars because you knew that they were going to be fast."
Besides competing throughout the United States, Mr. Watson was one of the first owners to race and sell his cars in Australia in the 1970s.
He was also a founding member of World of Outlaws racing and entered his pink No. 78 sprint car in many Outlaw contests.
In 2008, he was inducted into the West Capital Raceway Hall of Fame.
"Ed was one crafty car builder," Chico raceway owner John Padjen said. "His stuff was always beautiful and ready to go. He was an exceptional mechanic."
Edward Biddle Watson was born in 1935 in Fresno and moved as a teenager to Bakersfield. He painted ships in the Navy at Mare Island before moving to the Sacramento area, where he owned a series of auto repair shops and wrecking yards.
He owned and restored many classic vehicles, including Camaros, Mustangs and Thunderbirds. He entered custom cars in shows and won many awards at the annual Autorama at Cal Expo.
An intense competitor with a colorful personality, Mr. Watson devoted himself to cars and racing. Married and divorced several times, he shared his passion for auto racing with his family at tracks and fairgrounds throughout California.
"My father put me in a go-cart when I was was 12," said his daughter Cyndee Reed. "He taught me to drive on the freeway at 13 a one-ton car hauler, in case he fell asleep coming home from a race in Calistoga. He was a get-it-done kind of guy."
Born: July 26, 1935
Died: March 4, 2013
Survived by: Wife, Shirley of Roseville; daughters, Cyndee Reed of Granite Bay, Lynda Walker of North Highlands, and Ruth Talancon of Orangevale
Services: Celebration of life, noon Saturday at Tim's Hot Rods, 6312 W. Second St., Rio Linda Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.