Local racing legend Dale DeFrance remembered

Dale DeFrance

The names DeFrance and Gustin are well known in the world of auto racing, particularly in the state of Iowa. The patriarch of them all, Dale DeFrance, passed away Monday morning at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. He was 81 years of age.

Anyone who knew him has some type of recollection they will never forget, both on and off the track.

Local resident Denny Grabenbauer had the chance to announce some of the races DeFrance took part in.

“I referenced him as ‘The Leader'”, Grabenbauer said. “Both a leader on the track and off the track, it was an accurate name for him.”

One of the more impressive things to watch was how well DeFrance handled his car, a yellow Pontiac. His car was never out of shape, constantly being maintained in the garage when not on the track.

“He got everything out of that car,” Grabenbauer said. “He got more out of it than could ever be expected out of somebody at that time.”

In addition to calling races from the booth, Grabenbauer had the opportunity to race against DeFrance. He ended up getting spun out, but it was still thrilling to race against such an iconic racing figure.

“He said his foot slipped off the brake pedal,” Grabenbauer said. “Maybe I should have been happy with him spinning me out.”

DeFrance had an impact on the community of Marshalltown, being selective in who he chose to help. Mike O’Lear was brought under his wing early on in his life, spending much of his time with DeFrance.

O’Lear began as just another neighborhood kid who wouldn’t leave DeFrance alone.

“He tried to get rid of me at first by being brash and grouchy,” O’Lear said. “I saw through that and eventually he began to like me.”

Over the years the two began to grow closer, spending time in the garage working on cars and going to races at the track. O’Lear even started attending family events, becoming an extended member as time wore on.

“When I turned 16 he built me my own car for all the time we were together,” O’Lear said. “It was the only thing that meant everything in the world to me, coming from a father like figure that was special.”

O’Lear became an extension of the lineage of racers in the DeFrance family, many of whom still dominate the sport.

Darrel, Dale’s son is just one example of the living legacy.

“He was always my hero, I wanted to be like him when I grew up,” Darrel said. “I thought every boy would want a dad like mine, one who owned and raced cars.”

Darrel began his racing career close to the time when his father wrapping his own up. The two still had a chance to race against each other, Dale getting the better of his son.

“I wanted to beat him of course,” Darrel said. “I probably wanted that a little too hard and he ended up driving right past me.”

Dale had a daughter, Judy, who made him proud by racing and winning.

“Judy is one reason why the family is known state and nationwide,” Toby Kruse of Marshalltown Speedway said. “She raced during a time when women weren’t even considered as competitors.”

Her son Ryan is part of the Gustin side of the family, which is also well known.

Gustin started his career racing nearer his family throughout Iowa. Dale was present for most of Gustin’s races, including his first victory.

“Looking up at my grandfather’s face and thinking ‘I made him proud of me’ is something that’s very special and unexplainable,” Gustin said.

Today he travels around, continuing to be successful.

“He was the best grandfather you could ever ask for,” Gustin said. “It’s going to be tough going forward, but we will all put in 110 percent and do the best we can”

“That’s what he would have wanted.”

The last race Dale attended was just over a week ago, in the Quad Cities to watch his son compete. Darrel ended up winning that race, his first victory since 2012.

“I believe there’s a God that helped Darrel to victory that night,” Kevin Yoder of the IMCA (International Motor Contest Association) said. “Who’d have known that his father would end up passing away about a week later.”

Yoder added the last image he saw of Dale was him wandering away with a trophy in hand, an accurate representation of his life.

“He will be greatly missed by the racing community and his family,” Yoder said. “His legacy will continue to live on for generations.”

In remembrance

A public visitation for Dale DeFrance will be held from 5-7 p.m. today at Mitchell Family Funeral Home in Marshalltown. The family encourages visitors to wear casual dress or racing attire.

Funeral services will be held on Thursday at 2 p.m. at the Mitchell Family Funeral Home. DeFrance will be interred at Turner Cemetery in rural Garwin.

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Contact Mike Burvee at (641)-753-6611 or mburvee@timesrepublican.com