WINSLOW, AZ — One of the two men killed in a plane crash near Winslow last week was a famous race car driver. Bill Whittington was a former IndyCar and sports car racer. He was 71 years old.
James Patrick of Patrick Motorsports in Phoenix said Bill Whittington was a motorsports legend.
"He was a very interesting guy to get a glimpse of what it was like to race in those years with some of those famous cars I always dreamed about being around. It was legendary, to say the least," said Patrick.
Along with his brother Don -- the Whittington family became a fixture in American sports car racing in the late 70s and early 80s. In 1979, they won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the biggest motor races in the world.
"It was just a different era of racing, and it was more of a privateer --kind of local guys could go out there and race. It wasn't as professional as it is today, and the teams are sponsored by the big manufacturers and are paid big dollars. Back then they didn't pay people to race," said Patrick.
For years, Whittington raced at major raceways across the country driving high-powered Porsches.
"Drivers were known to have their hands in the engine bay with wrenches. Bill was always that guy," said Patrick.
Patrick got to know Whittington when they did work on his Porsche. He said Whittington was down-to-earth and passionate, always working on a project.
"He also raced airplanes and motorcycles and off-road cars. Just a wide span of anything that was burning fuel and going fast," said Patrick.
Whittington and his brothers were convicted of drug smuggling in the 80s.
According to Autoweek, U.S. authorities accused them of drug smuggling to help support their racing. In 1986, Bill pleaded guilty to tax evasion and smuggling marijuana, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and had to surrender $7 million in money and assets. A year later, Don pleaded guilty to money laundering and got an 18-month sentence. Dale did not go to prison. Bill was released in 1990, Don in 1988.