Visitation and funeral services were privately held for the family and close friends a famed professional wrestler Harley Race Wednesday, Aug. 7, under the care of Price Funeral Home in Maryville, Missouri. Race, 76, died Thursday, Aug. 1, of complications from lung cancer.
Among the family and friends planning to attend the service was Gail McClarnon of Clarinda. She was once married to Race’s nephew, Allen, of Council Bluffs.
“He made a big impression on the wrestling world. He was an eight-time world champion and traveled all over the world. He started from scratch and made it huge. I guess that shows everybody has a chance, even if you start with nothing,” McClarnon said.
The son of sharecroppers Jay and Mary (Stevens) Race, Harley Leland Race was born in Maryville, Missouri, on April 11, 1943. One of six children in the family, he grew up in nearby Quitman, Missouri.
Race is survived by his four sisters – Nadine, along with husband Calvin Clark, of Burlington Junction, Missouri; Marilyn Hiatt, formerly of Clarinda and now living in the Bedford area; Carolyn; and Linda. He was preceded in death by his parents and brother, Tom.
A carnival wrestler in his teens, he became a driver for wrestler Happy Humphrey, who taught him the ropes. However, in 1960, he was forced from the ring due to a serious car crash.
“He said doctors didn’t believe he would walk again, let alone wrestler, but the injury derailed his career for only 18 months,” according to an article in The Washington Post.
After returning to the ring, Race wrestled under the moniker “Handsome” Harley Race and played the arrogant “King of the Ring.” He went on to become an eight-time National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Champion. His final match was in 2014.
Race is one of only six men to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, the NWA Hall of Fame, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
McClarnon said she met race during a family Thanksgiving.
“He was pretty much an everyday Joe. He sat around and talked to everybody. Somebody had an album with old wrestlers in it and he went through and discussed them,” McClarnon said.
In 1999, Race started World Legion Wrestling, which later became known as World League Wrestling, with Karl Lauer and David Marquez. He also opened an academy to train young wrestlers in the sport.
“He taught the old wrestling style like he did,” McClarnon said.
On two occasions World League Wrestling presented exhibitions at Clarinda High School. The exhibitions were presented April 8, 2000, and Oct. 7, 2000, and served as fundraisers for the Clarinda wrestling program.
“We promote the actual sport of wrestling,” Race said in a March 22, 2000, article in the Clarinda Herald-Journal leading up to the April 8, 2000, event. “World League events are not only suitable for, but are fun and exciting for the whole family.”
Following the one of the exhibitions at Clarinda High School, McClarnon said she had her picture taken with Race. She said she also has an autograph from the man who was recognized as “the greatest wrestler on God’s green earth.”
A public memorial service will be held at Race’s wrestling academy/arena at 3 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 11 in Troy, Missouri. Family, friends and fans can attend the memorial.
(Editor’s Note: Ben Summer of The Washington Post News Service contributed to this article)