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Fallen drag racer was special to family, friends

This Christmas, the member of the Gannon family who hands out the presents will not be there.

Jerry Gannon, 50, a resident of Franklin Furnace, died at 2 a.m. Sunday morning at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta as a result of injuries sustained in a crash while driving a jet-powered funny car at Atlanta Dragway, according to a press release. The cause of the crash is being investigated.

Gannon’s wife Shonnie and daughter Alisha were by his side at the hospital.

"He was a dream come true,&uot; said Roger Gustin, Gannon’s team owner. "There’s no one better than Jerry Gannon.&uot;

Gannon had been driving jet funny cars for the Gustin Racing Team since 1993. Pro Jet, the jet car racing sanctioning body, recognized him with Rookie of the Year honors that year.

However, Gannon’s personality -- particularly his kindness to others -- is what others seem to remember the most about him.

Gannon’s mother Henrietta said her son was a good man who was kind and helpful to his family. She added that he always liked handing out the gifts when his family would celebrate Christmas.

"To us, he was so special. He was the son we never had,&uot; said Alfreda Ritchie, Gannon’s former mother-in-law.

She added Gannon was born and raised on the same hollow where her family resides and once helped her husband build a racecar.

Even when he was a teenager, Ritchie said, he used to race in and out of hollows.

"Jerry was one of the sweetest men,&uot; said Gustin. "Racecar drivers have a reputation for being tough and hard. Some don’t think you can get to the top without being a tough guy. Not Jerry.&uot; Gannon received compliments on how cordial he was with children, Gustin said.

Gustin added that despite Gannon’s talent, he was not a show-off and wasn’t enamored by the media.

Gannon’s daughter Alisha celebrated her 21st birthday with her father just last week.

"She was still his baby,&uot; said Ritchie. "They were so close, you wouldn’t believe it.&uot;

Alisha Gannon crawled in her father’s bed when she returned home, Ritchie added.

Henrietta Gannon said she wasn’t exactly thrilled when she learned her son wanted to be a race car driver.

"I was so glad every time he made his trips and got back,&uot; she said.

Alisha Gannon would also get nervous every time her father would take to the strip, Ritchie said.

"She’d wring them little fingers and hide her eyes when he’d take off,&uot; she said.

Nevertheless, Gannon accepted the risk that came with his line of work.

In 1992, while Gustin was still a racecar driver and Gannon was a crew member, Gustin said he had a horrible accident which ended his career. Gannon wanted to drive in Gustin’s place, he said.

Gustin said he explained to Gannon the risks involved with driving, but Gannon wasn’t wavered.

"He wanted this opportunity more than anything,&uot; Gustin said. "It was worth it to him.&uot;

Family members and co-workers are still reeling.

"It’s the awfulest thing that could have ever happened,&uot; said Henrietta Gannon.

"The whole team is family,&uot; Gustin said. "We spend all our lives together.&uot;

"Our hearts are ripped out,&uot; Gustin added. "This is absolutely devastating, but we gotta get through this.&uot; Amelia A. Pridemore/The Ironton Tribune