On the afternoon of April 19, 2002, NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner Jack Roush was celebrating his 60th birthday with friends, flying airplanes from a small air strip in south Alabama. Roush’s celebration ended in near tragedy when the small plane he was piloting stuck a power line and went down in lake outside Troy, Alabama. Former United States Marine Larry Hicks was sitting nearby, recovering from a recent bout with cancer and taking in the warm Friday afternoon on his porch. From there Hollywood could not have sculpted a more dramatic moment of fate.
After a lengthy series of medical issues, Larry Hicks passed away, ending his suffering on Saturday, August 3, 2019, a little over 17 years after that fateful encounter with Roush in the lake. Roush’s team will run a special ‘Thanks Larry’ decal on each of his Fords this weekend at Michigan International Speedway, a tribute to Roush’s own personal hero.
"I was sad to hear of the passing of Larry Hicks," said Roush. "Larry was a dear friend, brave soldier and wonderful human being, and if not for his bravery and his heroism I wouldn’t be sitting here today."
Despite the dangerous scenario and the water covered in harmful fuel, Hicks went in, pulled Roush free of the plane, and lifted him to the surface. Hicks grabbed the wing of the plane to hold himself up and, with his other arm managed to resuscitate the ailing Roush.
About 15 minutes later, emergency medical technicians arrived. While saving Roush from the lake, Hicks sustained burns to his skin and lungs from the fuel in the lake, but never hesitated from the task in front of him. Roush would recover from his injuries that day, winning his first NASCAR Cup title a year later.
"As fate would have it, Larry was a Marine, trained in underwater search and rescue," said Roush. "Without hesitation or regard for his own wellbeing Larry went in the water, employed his skills learned in the service and pulled me out. Larry saved my life and he is the reason I’m still here and was able to do a lot of the things I’ve done in the last 15 years. Larry had no idea who was in the water. He only knew someone was in trouble and needed his help."
"That was the kind of person he was," added Roush. "We grew to be close friends over the years and we used to love to go turkey hunting together. The world was a better place having had him and I am not only here today, I am a better person as a result of our paths crossing all those years ago."
Jack Roush would go on to win 188 NASCAR races and seven championships after being pulled from the lake by Hicks on his 60thBirthday in 2002, and in 2019 he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame; thanks in part to the heroic action of Sgt. Major Larry Hicks. Perhaps more importantly, he would go on to enjoy the arrival of five grandchildren into the world; amongst his most cherished accomplishments.
"God wasn’t finished with me yet and Larry was on the spot to make sure of that," added Roush. "I’ll never understand why me, but I’ll always owe Larry Hicks a debt of gratitude that could never be re-payed. Larry Hicks memory will forever live in the hearts of all of those in the Roush family and he will forever hold a dear and special place in all we do, our legacy and our history."