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“A Tribute to an Iconic Raider & NFL Fan Azel Grasty Sr.; AKA The Oaktown Pirate”

Azel Grasty kid

“In Honor of Azel’s birthday 10/5; RIP”

Today was just one of those days where not much goes right.  Nothing seemed to work and go well. I came home, opened up an ice cold Bass beer and read the news hoping for a story that would make me smile.  I first found out that one of my favorite Hispanic actresses Elizabeth Pena was dead at 55.  What a great career and what a cool lady.  I then got another shocker.  One of the all time iconic Oakland Raider fans had also passed.  I couldn’t relax before writing a little about him.  His name was Azel Grasty Sr., AKA the Oaktown Pirate (Raider).

The Oakland Coliseum; (I’m not calling it that other name) is the most unique environment in the NFL.  I’ve been to other stadiums and what I love about Oakland is the diversity of the fans.  Let’s be real; if you watch a game in places like New England, Denver, and New York; most of the fans are white.  In Oakland, all walks of life are there.  Black, brown, white, red; and with so many that dress up, silver and grey too.

Raider fans are like no other so when one of the iconic fans passes on, I always remember the glory days.  I love history and the Raiders history is of legend, and in those times there was no place like the Oakland Coliseum.  During the fall the overcast gray skies, the fans dressed in black, and the enclosed stadium made it more like a thunderous tomb than somewhere to play football.  Don Shula and the Dolphins players hated everything Raider; the fans, the players, the colors.  Don Shula once called Oakland hell, and Chiefs head coach Hank Stram said he was going to call the governor of California and make him stop allowing inmates from San Quentin to be released on Sundays so that they couldn’t come to any more games.  Steelers coach Chuck Noll hated the Raiders so much in time he refused to mention them.   He felt the Raiders were the criminal element and evil and so were their fans.  He once called John Madden before a game to complain about rats in their dressing room.  Coach Madden laughed and said, “really?  There are some in our dressing room too!”

In the first 11 years at the Oakland Coliseum the Raiders were 66-9-2.  The House of Thrills was not the place to be for opponents.

I remember many years later being on a business trip in Denver and Cincinnati and wearing a Raider sweater and people by the dozens booing me at the mall.  It was so much fun being hated.  Now I know what Ty Cobb meant.  It was wonderful!

Even though I’m a writer trying to be honest and un-biased, my family’s roots are deep in the tradition of Oakland Raider football.  My father as a young man would go to the Raiders games at Candlestick Park and Frank Youell Field and told me stories of how the Raiders front office staff would go to local restaurants and give away tickets just so people would come.  Their fan base was built from the ground up and in time, the waiting list for tickets was in the thousands.  Many of the players didn’t make a lot of money and most had off season jobs and many became friends with the fans and even work with them.  My dad became friends with a few of them and in his dealings as a Teamster; he had the opportunity to get to know them better.  The bond between Oakland Fan and player was as deep rooted as any sports relationship in history.  The “gatherings” among fans and players in Santa Rosa during training camp still would make a truck driver blush.  It was just a special time.  To many fans the Raiders were their team.  In Oakland they were our family.

No place was louder and more intimidating than the Oakland Coliseum.  As the great George Atkinson once said, “you come into our house you better be prepared to fight, and fight all of us”.  No team had a better fan base.

That’s why every year when I hear the news of a great long time Raider fan passing, it really hurts deep.  As the years go by we are losing more and more of them.  Time can be a cruel mistress.

One of those iconic fans was Azel Grasty Sr. who passed away at the age of 57;  much too young of a man to leave us.

Azel was like most Raider fans that dress up; he was unique.  His Raider fan persona was the Oaktown Pirate, dressed up in full silver and black pirate gear.  He even had contacts that made his pupils look different.  Many major news outlets like ESPN and Yahoo sports did stories about him and other fans and showed photos of them.  Azel enjoyed kids, and fans of all ages, and loved having a good time.  Azel donated a lot of his time to others and was very proud of his involvement in youth football.  There is a sweet video on Youtube of Azel meeting some youth football players at the Oakland Coliseum.  I met him a couple of times and he couldn’t have been nicer and funnier.  He really loved people.  He also served our country and was a U.S Veteran.

I think what is funny too is that the more menacing, evil, and scary some of the Raider fans make themselves up to be, they usually end up being the complete opposite.  Azel was that way too.  When he was dressed up as the Oaktown Pirate, you would think little kids would be scared of him, but every game kids were coming up to give him high fives, or take a picture with him.  His heart was as big as his smile.

There are so many photos of him on Yahoo, ESPN, facebook and Twitter that you could fill a book.  He never took himself too seriously and loved mingling with others.  He was kind, fun, and showed what being a fan is all about.

I was really appreciative of all of the great things people said about Azel on social media.  Even with the frustration, anger and rants of some Raider fans through all of the losing, they still remain some of the kindest, warm hearted and down to earth people you’d ever meet; especially during bad times.  Azel would be touched I’m sure.

One Twitter follower direct messaged me and said that the Coliseum is going to be a little darker with another one of it’s fun bright lights gone. I thought about it and messaged her back and said that she was probably right.  But doesn’t the sky look a little brighter.  Rest in Peace Azel; you were a good Raider fan who made people of all ages smile; but more importantly you were a good man indeed.

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“After 41 years of pain, the nightmare from the Indy 500 for Swede Savage’s daughter ends in Smiles”

swede savage

I truly believe Swede Savage would have done for Indy, what Dale Earnhardt Sr. did for Nascar.

I never was much into auto racing until I saw a story that was done by ABC sports about 5 years ago.  It was about an up and coming driver that had passed away in 1973, but he was unlike any other driver of his day.

David Earl “Swede” Savage Jr. was not your typical southern good ol boy race car driver.  With most drivers coming from the south or midwest, Swede was the typical Southern California boy.  He was tall, good looking and had a cool way about him.  He was nice and humble and many felt he would be one of the huge break out stars in the indy circuit.  Swede was a four sport athlete with a racers heart, first racing as a 5 year old in the soap box circuit.  Many were predicting the 1973 Indianapolis 500 to be his coming out party to stardom.  He was the guy girls wanted to date, and the racer guys wanted to be like. Dale Earnhardt had that marketing aura and I think Swede was a marketers dream.

More than a few race fans felt that the 1973 Indy 500 was cursed. The rain was a huge factor cancelling the race for two and a half days.  There had also been a fatal accident during a practice run.   Salt Walther was also critically injured on Monday with some spectators having to be hospitalized for burns from the fuel that was flown into the air. At the end of the race, 3 people would be dead, one racer critically injured and several fans were hospitalized.

In one of the most horrific wrecks you will ever see, on lap 58 the rear wing of his car came loose in turn 4 and it made the car unstable.  Jim McKay’s voice raised immediately when he saw this and it’s hard to listen to.  Swede’s car turned directly into an infield retaining wall at full speed hitting head on.  The car exploded and a huge plume of fire and smoke rose.  He ended up near the upper wall and the fuel leaked all over and caught on fire; debris was everywhere.  It seemed like a lifetime before they could get the fire out with fans screaming for the firemen to hurry.

 

Here is rare footage of the accident from the wall.

If the nightmare wasn’t bad enough crewmember Armando  Teran ran across the infield to help the drivers.  He was run over by a fire truck driving going the wrong way at 60 MPH and was killed instantly.  He was hit so hard his body flew high up into the air and the Indy 500 crowd screamed in horror.

 

When Savage began to move, Jim McKay was stunned.  Swede actually was joking around with those helping him and he went into the hospital with hopes for a recovery. Sadly in 33 days he was gone.

There still remains a mystery on what killed him.  Doctors said it was tainted blood that gave him hepatitis and caused his liver to fail; or his kidneys failed. His father and family have said it was pulmonary damage from the fire and the lack of oxygen that was given to him.  In the end even 100% oxygen could not keep him breathing.

Sadly Swede Savage left an unborn daughter.  His wife eventually would give birth to Angela.  They had another daughter Shelly who tragically died in 1995 from Leukemia. Swede also had a son John.

His daughter Angela has lived with pain for a long time.  She said she was born with a broken heart and never got over the loss of her dad.  She once said she thought she’d be sad forever.  She had battles with drugs and alcohol as early as 10 years old and never had peace.

On the coaxing of a race car fan who wanted her to see why her father loved Indy racing so much, she began to think of going.  With a groundswell of financial and moral support, social media friends raised money for her to go to the Indy 500 this year.  When Indianapolis Motor Speedway Management found out about it, they contacted her and paid for the basics of the trip including a memorial car for her to drive in honor of her father.

Angela went with her husband Scott and Swede’s brother Bruce.  A documentary book and movie are now in the works for all of Swede’s loving fans.

I had always been a little bitter that Indy did not do more to commemorate Swede but I can understand it.  I was very happy though to see many Indy people and former racers embrace Angela and Bruce during interviews. You could see their joy in talking about him. I think this gives the fans, as well as his family the closure they’ve longed for. Angela was all smiles and she wore her fathers old racing uniform today.  (Angela’s interview starts at minute 24)

Angela stated in an article,”What I want to do now is to take the open wound, sew it up and celebrate; cap it off with joy!”.  For Angela, the drivers and the fans, the closure and celebration of his life heals many wounds.

Swede Savage, his adoring fans, and his family deserve nothing less.