As Ryan Blaney rounded the final turn at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday to clinch his first NASCAR Cup Series championship, nobody was cheering harder than the Deery family.
Situated on the C-Posts of Blaney’s No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang during the title race was the name of the late Jody Deery, the family matriarch who operated Illinois’ Rockford Speedway for more than five decades until she retired in 2020 at age 95.
Chuck Deery, who followed in his mother’s footsteps as a track manager himself at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway for 36 years, messaged his seven siblings before the race to discuss the significance of Jody’s name being on Blaney’s car for such a pivotal moment in his career.
There were plenty of emotions permeating from the Deery children as they all contacted each other after the race.
“My cheeks hurt because I was smiling so much,” Chuck said. “For what my mom contributed to the sport, it’s hard to put into words what [Sunday] meant, but we’re definitely on cloud nine. Having a horse in the race was also good, so it was just fun.”
Jody’s name was on Blaney’s C-Posts as part of the Home Track Heroes program spearheaded by Advance Auto Parts. Throughout the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs, Home Track Heroes, nominated by their peers for contributions made to the track and community, appeared on Blaney’s cars.
Jody more than embodied the characteristics of a Home Track Hero during her prolonged tenure overseeing the day-to-day operations at Rockford.
After assuming ownership of the facility in 1966, Jody and her late husband Hugh worked tirelessly to transform Rockford into a premier short track hub in the Midwest. Even after Hugh’s passing in 1984, Jody remained stalwart in their mission, as Rockford boasted a vibrant weekly racing culture that persisted up until the track’s final race weekend on Oct. 28-29.
Rockford’s National Short Track Championships, which were introduced the same year Jody and Hugh took over the facility, regularly attracted many of the best drivers around the country. Mark Martin, Dick Trickle, Jim Sauter and Ramo Stott were among those to emerge victorious in the prestigious event.
Jody was a leader in the short-track racing industry. And it’s fitting as her home track of @rfdspeedway just wrapped up its final season of operation.
– NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) November 2, 2023
Away from the track, Jody was known for her generosity and desire to help others in need. As part of her will, 16 different organizations received $20,000 from Jody, which included the Catholic Women’s League of Rockford, American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.
Susan Deery, who served as Rockford’s president in the track’s final years, said her mother’s charitable work was the catalyst behind her and Chuck nominating Jody for the Home Track Heroes program. Jody was always Susan’s hero from childhood into her adult years and was thrilled when she found out Jody’s name would be on the No. 12 for Phoenix.
The notoriety Jody obtained from Blaney’s championship showed Susan just how beloved her mother was not only in Rockford, but also the broader motorsports community.
“[Jody] is a legend,” Susan said. “Sometimes when you’re in the middle of everything, you don’t realize the significance a person can have. People who don’t even watch racing were messaging me to say how excited they were. The amount of conversation she generated [on Sunday] a year and a half after she passed proves she is a hometown hero.”
Although Susan never communicated directly with Blaney during the process, she expressed her gratitude toward the Cup Series champion and Advance Auto Parts for everything they have done this year to ensure people in the short track industry like Jody get the recognition they deserve on the national level.
For Tom Deery, whose experience in motorsports includes executive roles with NASCAR and the World of Outlaws, Sunday’s Cup Series finale carried additional emotional weight outside of his mother Jody due to his previous connections with Blaney’s father Dave and his uncle Dale.
Knowing how talented the elder Blaneys were, Tom felt that Jody would be in good hands when it came time to settle the Cup Series championship.
Had a feeling…. pic.twitter.com/isCjYxIiwP
– Thomas Deery (@twdeery) November 5, 2023
“I’ve known Ryan for years being on the World of Outlaws side,” Tom said. “Dave, Dale and I have talked about family and their operation of Sharon Speedway, so we had a lot of things in common. Ryan comes from a great legacy that is so involved with short track racing, so for him to make this happen is frosting on the cake.”
Blaney’s triumph on Sunday capped off a year filled with mixed emotions for the entire Deery family, all of whom have had to come to terms with Rockford’s closure after a successful legacy that is older than NASCAR itself.
Despite this, Susan found some solace in how everything turned out Sunday. While Blaney fought off Kyle Larson and William Byron for the championship, she was busy overseeing the final event at Rockford, a car show and a swap meet.
The ending may have been unorthodox, but Susan considered it fitting that one of Rockford’s final moments was having its beloved long-time operator Jody be present in spirit while a key member of NASCAR’s newest generation celebrated a pivotal career milestone.
“We had this happening while NASCAR wrapped up its 75th season with Jody taking [Blaney] to his championship,” Susan said. “It was just a perfect day and a perfect evening, which is something I think everyone will remember. You couldn’t have written it any better.”
As Rockford faces imminent redevelopment, every member of the Deery family is doing their part to ensure the legacy of the track and Jody are remembered for generations to come.
Chuck said Jody was a trailblazer in many regards when it comes to building a cherished short track atmosphere as an owner and operator. As more women take on similar roles at short tracks around the country, Chuck has no concerns about what kind of impact Jody has left behind.
“A woman in the business can make it work successfully,” Chuck said. “Jody gave women in motorsports inspiration to show that it’s not just a man’s world out there. For the entire racing community, she showed how to operate a short track successfully through hard work.
“Jody led by example as a woman leader in this industry.”