(originally published in 2013)
“He was Superman, he wasn’t supposed to die!” Those words still echo in my mind today. They were said to me by one of my dad’s competitors who was crying almost uncontrollably while hugging me at my dad’s visitation. I had no response. That moment struck me in so many ways.
Was my dad really Superman? To some competitors and fans he may have been. He was their superhero. I suppose maybe he was a Superman of sorts. Sometimes he drove like he had a cape on his back and a big S (for Shear of course) on his chest. But just like Superman when the cape came off he was a person just like everyone else.
We used to go watch the midgets race at Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, WI whenever we weren’t racing. It almost never failed, the announcer would see him or find out he was there and announce it to the entire crowd. My dad would just sit there with no expression on his face. He didn’t want to be a big deal. He was a normal guy who did normal things.
When we went to the movies he laughed hysterically at the stupid humor ones like Dumb and Dumber. He loved to play cards. We used to play on the way to the race track all the time. He once flipped an entire deck out the window going down the road because he lost a game. He loved to play basketball. We played, snow or shine, all winter long on our driveway. He had a heck of a hook shot but played push and shove defense. He loved to watch football. Unfortunately he was a Bears fan, but I still loved him anyway. He loved to play golf even though he stunk at it. He stuck spaghetti up his nose just to gross us out. He hated weddings and other social events. See…a regular guy.
Do all of the things I’ve shared in these stories about his life make him legendary? In a sense, no. The word legendary means, “someone who has become famous or well-known as a result of a unique characteristic or skill.” Technically I could have summed up this entire series of “Why Joe Shear is a Legend” in one sentence. Joe Shear is a legend because of his skill and success as a race car driver. His success on the track may fit the definition of legendary, but there was so much more to him than that.
As I’ve mentioned before, you can look up all the legendary stats and stories you want about my dad on the internet. But there’s something about being at the track that builds a connection and brings it all to life. Some even say it feels as if Joe Shear is still there. Whether it is talking to those who remember him or have a story to share about him, seeing fans wearing their old Joe Shear T-shirts and jackets, overhearing exaggerated racing stories about him, there is nothing like being there and being a part of the atmosphere that racing brings.
I have no idea if he would still be racing today. I’d like to think so. Either way I know that he would still be a major player in short track racing, not trying to be anyone’s superhero, but doing whatever he could to continue to build the sport and help new legends rise to the top.