Beloved stock car driver Jerry “Big Jer” Mudd died last week at the age of 64. He met his end appropriately behind the wheel, during a charity race in his home state of Tennessee.
Mudd is survived by his two daughters, Maisie and Christine. Such was his love for them that, late in life, he could be heard proudly bragging to friend and stranger alike that his “best girls” were an accomplished lawyer and an author. He claimed never to have raced without their pictures on his dashboard.
It was an altogether different kind of superstition that initially gained Mudd notoriety in his racing career. While he was still competing in smaller circuits, he began racing with a capuchin monkey strapped into a car seat on the passenger side of his trademark Number 71 vehicle. The affectionately named Lil’ Jer was said to bring good luck to its chauffer, who swore that he could not win without his “Lunkey Munkey.”
And win he did. After a meteoric rise to prominence, Big Jer became a sensation on the track, racking up a record-setting number of rally wins over a career that spanned nearly a decade. His sudden retirement, citing personal reasons and wanting to spend more time with his family, shocked the racing community. Two lawsuits brought him back into the spotlight soon after, as he prosecuted journalists who alleged that drug and alcohol abuse had forced him off the track. Winning these cases and solidifying his place in the hearts of the racing world, Big Jer was a staple at professional and fan events across the country for the following three decades.
His passion for children, both in his charitable life and meeting young fans, was well known. Mudd got behind the wheel for the last time as part of a race raising money for children’s education. During a ceremonial lap around the track, unforeseeable catastrophic mechanical failure caused Mudd to lose control and crash his vehicle into a partition, killing him instantly.
True to his trademarks till the end, Mudd’s final words before entering the vehicle were: “I just wish Lil’ Jer was here. It just doesn’t feel right without him.”