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Local racing champion Laymon Utsman dead at 81

August 3rd, 2014 9:29 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Local racing champion Laymon Utsman dead at 81

Laymon Utsman, one of five brothers from the famous Bluff City racing family, died late Saturday night. He was 81.

Utsman and his younger brother, John A., dominated action at local dirt tracks during the 1970 season. Driving Ford Torinos that particular year, the duo won 27 of the 47 races they entered. Laymon won 18 races that season and swept track championships at Johnson City’s Sportsman Speedway and Kingsport’s Appalachian Speedway.

“Laymon, that year, had an exceptionally good year,” John A. Utsman said. “The first race of the season at Appalachian, my brother Sherman won it and I ran second. Between Sportsman and Appalachian, I won two of the next three races. After that, Layman got going and he won 18 races.”

Brothers Cecil and Gerald were also involved in racing, and two sisters, Dorothy and Linda, were big supporters as well.

Laymon Utsman, whose driving career spanned from 1955-78, made three starts in NASCAR’s top series.

He drove two races in 1959 for Johnson City car owner Jess Potter at Asheville-Weaverville and North Wilkesboro Speedways.

He also was one of three members of the Utsman family, along with Sherman and an uncle Dub, to start the first NASCAR race at Bristol.

“It’s special to think our family was a part of it,” John A. Utsman said. “I remember sitting up in the stands watching it and Sherman ended up ninth.”

Although best known for driving the No. 29 Ford, Laymon Utsman drove a Dodge in the first Bristol race. He was also the last driver to drive Jess Potter’s famed 1958 Chevrolet before the car was retired.

He later won in Modifieds at Kingsport Speedway and raced a Chevrolet at Sportsman Speedway for Walt Carpenter where he was briefly a teammate to Johnson City driver Walter Ball.

Regardless of the car he was in, Utsman was well respected throughout the local racing community.

“Laymon was a skillful race driver,” said Johnson City’s Paul Lewis, a former NASCAR Cup Series winner. “I never had any trouble racing with Laymon or any of the Utsmans for that matter. They were good friends and good race drivers. They have to go down as some of the top drivers ever in our area.”

Lewis, who passed along his condolences to the family, was grateful for the support Utsman gave to the local Racers Reunion group long after his driving days were over.

“He was a key member of the community,” Lewis said. “He had good skill in racing, but he was just an everyday, down-to-earth guy. You can’t help but have a ton of respect for people like that.”

Mike Potter, a veteran of 60 Cup Series starts and the son of Jess Potter, also remembered Utsman as one of the best drivers ever to race in the Tri-Cities area.

“I remember him and John A. in those Torinos and they ran up front all the time at Sportsman,” Potter said. “Laymon was the last one to drive that ’58 Chevrolet that my brother Gary owns. They had three races one Sunday at Chinquapin Grove. Laymon won two races and Tiny Lund won the other one.”

John A. Utsman also believes his brother was one of the area’s top wheel men. He remembered a race at Appalachian Speedway when Laymon, who had been ill all day, came from the back of the pack to win the race.

“Laymon started about 14th and he was sick enough where he didn’t need to be running that night,” Utsman recalled. “He told me recently in the hospital that he didn’t even remember starting that race or passing anybody. He just remembered running over one driver to get to the front. I started laughing because it was me. He hit me when he passed me.

“We raced together and got into each other a few times, but we never had words over anything.”

His brother also remembered a competitive nature that Laymon had from the start of his career at the old Tri-City Airport track in 1955 until his final race in Wytheville, Virginia, in 1978.

“Laymon told me one time about us racing, ‘Never let me win because if you did, I didn’t win it,’” John A. said. “He was competitive the whole time he raced. In 1978, Laymon was driving a car that Herb Parks owned. He was leading the race when the shocks broke on it. That was the last time he raced. I never remember him running after that.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

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