With the Facebook comments rolling in one by one Wednesday evening on his page as news trickled out of the passing of Gary Goodell, the unforgettable marketing director for the now-defunct Miss GEICO Offshore Racing Team, I couldn’t help but think back to the great memories of chatting with Goodell during the Miami International Boat Show, in the race pits in Key West, Fla., and at a poker runs in locations ranging from Florida’s Tampa Bay and Georgia’s Lake Lanier to New Jersey’s Atlantic City and Louisiana’s Tickfaw 200. It seemed like everyone else, who likely knew him way better than me, was thinking the same way. The man lived and breathed Miss GEICO, which is why it was extremely disheartening to find out he passed away yesterday at the age of 71 in his hometown of Colorado Springs, Colo.
Nothing made Gary Goodell more proud than being a part of the Miss GEICO Offshore Racing team program. Photo courtesy Jay Riggs
Goodell, who is survived by his wife of 36 years, Karen, was a larger-than-life personality to say the least. Known lovingly around the race pits and boat shows as “Gecko Gary,” he loved boats, he loved horses and he loved Irish Wolfhounds. In fact, Karen Goodell told speedonthewater.com on Thursday that in lieu of flowers, she asks that people donate to the Irish Wolfhound Club of America, one of his favorite charities. She added that she’s still coming to grips with the fact that her husband, who has been battling health issues for some time, is gone and said that she is going to take some time to make arrangements and will share celebration of life service information in the near future.
“I am going to miss Gary so much and I know a lot of other people are going to miss him as well,” said Karen Goodell, who fell in love with the New Jersey-born Goodell shortly after they met in Philadelphia and moved with him to Colorado when he purchased a local radio station. “Gary loved being here in Colorado even though he was on the road a lot of the time. He cherished the Miss GEICO team and everyone involved with it. He truly loved every part about it and it crushed him when GEICO decided to discontinue its motorsports program. Gary was a brilliant man and he had the best sense of humor.”
When he wasn’t attending boat shows or offshore races, Gary Goodell could often be found running his GEICO Caveman Cigarette at poker runs. Photo courtesy Florida Powerboat Club
Goodell’s closest friends, family members and teammates fondly remember his stories about being a limousine driver to the rich and famous and his days in rock radio in the 1980s. And all of us in the performance boat world are going to remember his generosity, his welcoming attitude, his infectious enthusiasm and his “dream big” persona. He was the ringleader of the Miss GEICO program that extended far beyond the offshore racing world into air shows, poker runs, reality shows and much more.
“God bless Gary—he lived life at 1,000 miles per hour, and his health got neglected because of that,” said Gary Stray, a Miss GEICO team partner and the team’s longstanding crew chief who is now the technical director for the Huski Chocolate and Huski Wear Class 1 teams. “He still lived an incredible life—a hectic one, no doubt—and was always pushing to do things bigger and better.”
Check out the slideshow above for several more of images of Goodell with some of the people he touched throughout the years.
Stray said he and his wife, Lou, and another Miss GEICO team partner, Scott Colton, pulled off a surprise visit to Colorado in October and enjoyed spending some down time with Goodell.
“I’m glad we made the trip out to see him and his horse stables,” Stray said. “In typical Gary fashion, when we showed up at his door he joked, ‘Oh I’m glad it’s just you guys and not the IRS or FBI paying me a visit.’ That was Gary. We had some hilarious times with him throughout the years. He was such a character and an amazing partner. He could be a complete pain in the ass with some of his hair-brained ideas or expectations for the team, but he wasn’t unbearable and he always had the team’s best interest in mind. We’re really going to miss him.”
Scott Colton agreed with Stray telling speedonthewater.com that Goodell will sorely missed by so many people because he was a wonderful person with a huge heart.
“It was Gary Goodell who was instrumental in putting John Haggin and GEICO together in 2004,” Colton said. “Gary built that initial relationship into a full-blown partnership that included national boat shows, national air shows, charitable events. He also earned 14 world titles and helped make the Miss GEICO raceboat the most famous boat in the world. The entire Miss GEICO family and all its former friends and fans mourn the loss of our gentle and warm G$.”
G$, or G-Money, was another of the nicknames that stuck for Goodell, who never shied away from the attention at events whether he was hanging around with his pal and renowned custom motorcycle builder Paul Teutul, Sr., who became a celebrity as one of the lead characters in the “Orange County Choppers” reality television show on the Discovery Channel, or running his GEICO Caveman-themed Cigarette Racing Team 38 Top Gun that was painted chartreuse to match the team’s stable of raceboats.
“Last night we lost one of the most awesome people I have ever known,” said Dave Patnaude, who founded the New Jersey Performance Powerboat Club and came to know Goodell through the club and through his affiliation with the Offshore Powerboat Association. “I keep thinking about all the tears of laughter he provided over the 15 years of our friendship. This one is going to hurt beyond our friendship, too. The positive impact he had on offshore racing—and the powerboat community overall—is undeniable. His and the Miss GEICO team’s philanthropic efforts were extraordinary. He was always up for taking people in rides in his Cigarette—the man had a heart the size of Texas.”
Patnaude went on to quote the late Steve Jobs in a Facebook post, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.”
Another good friend of Goodell’s, Georgia performance boater John Woodruff, the owner of the well-known Windship 48-foot MTI catamaran (pictured with Goodell), said he truly enjoyed attending boating events and NASCAR races with his friends.
“We all loved Gary so much,” Woodruff said. “I can’t believe he’s gone. He sent me a text on my birthday 10 days ago that said, ‘Have a fabulous day, thinking of so many good times.’ Of course he added a thumbs up and a checkered flag because Gary was all about winning. He was an amazing guy with a great sense of humor.”
Marc Granet, another Miss GEICO team partner who drove the team’s boats alongside throttleman Scott Begovich for many years, added that he appreciated Goodell’s tenacity.
“Gary was above all persistent—he never went small, always shot for the moon,” Granet said. “Some of the funniest moments of our racing team involved G$. Gary loved the spectacle of it all—the boats, the beauty, the glory of the win.”
Jay Riggs also shared his thoughts on Goodell’s passing on his Facebook page.
“I just learned of the passing of our good friend—he was so special to me as well as to so many others,” said Riggs, who owns Suncoast Exotics Automotive & Marine Sales in Sarasota, Fla. “One of the kindest, caring, fun-loving friends I’ve ever known. I know he was a good friend to everyone who knew him and we’re all going to miss him! We sure have a lot of good memories to remember him by…RIP my friend.”
New Jersey’s Joe Nasso added: “I am saddened to say I lost a great friend yesterday, Gary Goodell. Till we meet again.”
Another longtime friend and colleague of Goodell’s, Mike Yowaiski called Goodell a “people person.”
“I was thinking a lot about Gary last night after I heard the news,” said Yowaiski, who hails from Maryland and has raced offshore but is best known as one of the most informed and enthusiastic racing announcers of all time. “Gary was a genuine person who cared a lot about people. He always had my back and supported me as best as he could from the very beginning. I know his health was failing but losing the GEICO deal probably didn’t help his cause. That was his thing and when that went away I think he lost some of his horsepower, if you will.
“I also don’t know if people really know or understand or appreciate what he did for offshore powerboat racing and how much passion he had for the sport, but he really wanted it to grow and he did everything in his power to make that happen,” he continued. “ At the same time, he wanted what he wanted so he could be pretty self-serving. He was a passionate individual, that’s for sure.”
Cole McGowan, a speedonthewater.com associate and a former Miss GEICO team representative (pictured with Goodell), said he was deeply saddened by the loss.
“He was an early supporter of mine and I’ll always be grateful for his friendship,” McGowan said in a Facebook post. “I’ll miss his laugh and love for life. Rest peacefully, G$.”
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