Billy Carroll Wooldridge, 61, had just completed his drive in the 24th annual Paul Butterball Wooldridge Memorial race, named after his uncle, when officials say he suffered a heart attack, causing him to lose control of his car.
“As soon as his car crossed the checkered flag it turned dead left,” said Richmond Raceway promoter Joey Tackett.
Tackett said Wooldridge’s car went over the track’s barriers and across the infield, where it finally came to a stop.
Wooldridge was taken to the University of Kentucky Medical Center with critical injuries and died around 7 p.m. Monday.
This was Wooldridge’s first time back in a race since he had taken time off for about six months, due to health reasons.
Billy Wooldridge was the owner of Wooldridge and Sons Auto Sales, located on U.S. 60 in Frankfort. He was a 1968 graduate of Franklin County High School and a retired member of the Kentucky National Guard.
Lifelong friend, Joe Driskell, said Wooldridge began racing at age 16, two years before he was actually eligible. He would lie about his age in order to enter races. Driskell, only 12 at the time, was Wooldridge’s first crew chief and would also have to sneak into the pits because of his young age.
Wooldridge shared ownership of his first car with Paul Hellard, former owner of Cliffside restaurant, who would pay Wooldridge and Driskell $100 a month plus “all the coneys they could eat.”
Wooldridge won races all over the state including Lawrenceburg, Richmond, Danville and Monticello.
Saturday’s race is named after Wooldridge’s uncle, Paul “Butterball” Wooldridge, who was recently named to the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be Aug. 14 in Elizabethtown.
Butterball Wooldridge, of Frankfort, was a champion dirt track stock racer, who won feature races and championships all over Kentucky, as well as taking important races in Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, and was one of the original operators of Franklin County Speedway.
Billy Wooldridge, who Butterball nicknamed “BC,” drove car number “XX” in honor of his uncle’s “ZZ” car.
“If you’ve ever met Billy, you never forget him,” said Charlie Sewell, who has been friends with Wooldridge for more than 30 years. “He’s just so easy going, one of the greatest guys who has ever lived.”
Racing was always a part of Wooldridge’s life, Sewell says, and he was loved in the community.
“There’s a lot of people in this town who have known Billy for years and years, and I guarantee there’s a lot of prayers going out for him,” Sewell said Monday before he learned of his friend’s death.
Family friends say Kentucky’s racing community won’t be the same without Wooldridge.
“I watched Billy Carroll race from the time I was 12 years old at the old Franklin County Speedway,” said Mike Penn, owner of Holbrook Towing.
He’ll be missed by everyone, especially on the racetrack.
“Billy Carroll had his heart in racing more than anyone I’ve ever known,” Penn said. “He lived and breathed to race.”