The dirt-track-racing community will gather for a big night in Barberville Saturday, Sept. 28, in memory of one of their own: veteran racer and two-time track champion Dennis North, who died suddenly in 2011, leaving behind his wife, Julie, and their 5-year-old son, Cole.
“We call it Cole’s Night to Remember,” Volusia Speedway Park operator Tom Whipple said.
The Action Graphix Dennis North Memorial is a popular stock-car race that draws drivers from across the Southeast to the half-mile dirt track. It makes for a memorable evening.
And, Cole, now 13, has the chance to bask in the memory of his father and in the continuing love and support of his father’s friends.
“The community has adopted Cole, and has done a lot for him,” Whipple said, adding, “We really come together as a community.”
You’re invited to be part of it. Gates open at 4 p.m. at Volusia Speedway Park, and racing begins at 7:30. General admission costs $15.
Julie North said those who attend are urged to wear red, the signature color of her late husband’s Low Buck Racing team.
“We want to see a sea of red in the grandstand,” Julie North said.
Dennis North died of a heart attack while he was attending a racing event in Daytona Beach, his friend Bobby Peterson said. He was 36.
Now Peterson is one of a few dozen people who organize the annual race in his memory. This is the eighth year.
“Me and Dennis were really good friends. … We went to the races together and drank beer together,” Peterson said. “It was sad that he left us so early, but it’s so great that we have his son that’s just like him. He’s the spitting image of his dad.”
The racing community built Cole a car that’s a replica of the No. 88 car his dad raced. Cole and that car, on a trailer, will ride in the Taylor Middle-High School Homecoming Parade Saturday morning in Pierson, before the race.
When the drivers presented the car to Cole at a previous Dennis North Memorial, Julie North said, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Cole looks forward to racing the car someday at Volusia Speedway Park. He can drive it, he said, but not officially.
“I can drive it; they’re not letting me race it yet. They want me to get a little bit of practice in.”
The drivers who were his dad’s friends now allow Cole to assist in the pits and around the track.
“They’re taking him under their wing,” Julie North said. “He loves it, and they love him, thank goodness.”
Dennis North was born in Pierson and lived in the rural Northwest Volusia community all his life.
His parents, Janie North, and Ellis and Jackie North, still live in Pierson, as does Dennis’ brother Greg North. Cole’s maternal grandparents, Marybel and Tim Dennis, live in DeLand.
Julie North’s boyfriend, Robert Anderson, is part of the family now, too, teaching Cole to drive a stick shift, she said, and taking him hunting, which he used to enjoy with his dad.
“He’s been like a huge help,” Julie North said.
Julie and Cole North have a special feature planned during Saturday night’s race.
In years past, Cole and Donald McCormick of DeLand, a former racer and car owner, have staged a bicycle race during intermission at the Dennis North Memorial.
This year, Cole and his mom will be giving bicycles away as prizes to children in attendance. The race-car drivers have provided a dozen or so new bikes, Julie North said.
“It’s just a way of us saying thank you,” Julie North said.
Cole, too, appreciates all the racing community has done for him.
“It’s awesome that they’re doing this,” he said. “It really shows how much they care.”