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Lombardi was one fast and crazy Guy

By Chris Anderson
Sarasota Herald Tribune
Published: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 2, 2009 at 8:32 p.m.

He always said he was making memories for her, and now she understands what he meant.

Click to enlarge
Guy Lombardi finally reached his goal of going 200 miles per hour on a motorcycle when he hit 200.836 at Bonneville at the age of 66. FILE PHOTO / 2007 / ROB MATTSON

Has there ever been a father more fun than Guy Lombardi?

His daughter, Gina Tidwell, remembers how the neighborhood kids would squeeze into the trunk of his car, and he would sneak them into the drive-in on Saturday nights.

She laughs at the thought of him covered in shaving cream, pretending to be a mummy and scaring everyone on Halloween.

He owned University Motors on 301 in Sarasota for 40 years -- the quirky car lot with "Go Gators!" on the roof for the airplanes to see -- and she'd work there sometimes as a teenager.

He'd make her pull weeds and wash cars, and she hated it. Then he'd take her to the go-kart track nearby, and it's funny how she remembers that now.

Her father was the guy who once traded a truck to a carnival worker for a boa constrictor named Jack, and the guy who traded cars for a German shepherd and a piano.

"My dad was this crazy, wild, fun guy," Tidwell said.

Her father, Guy Lombardi, died on Oct. 24 while racing a motorcycle at 192 mph. He was 67.

He is survived by the memories he made.

"Seriously, how many people can say, 'My 67-year-old father was killed racing his motorcycle?'" Tidwell said. "It's something to be proud of.

"He died in a way befitting him. If it was anything less eventful it wouldn't be my father."

"I can't be mad," said his son Joseph of Sarasota. "How many people will have a chance to go out like that, doing something that crazy?

"I wouldn't do it and I'm 27 years old."

Tidwell said the family is not exactly sure what happened, but Lombardi died in the shutdown area of the Maxton Mile Race Track in North Carolina.

He had just completed a run of 191.99 mph and was attempting to slow down when the accident occurred.

"In the back of my mind I was prepared for this," said Tidwell, 42, of Charlotte, N.C.

Is it better to live without knowing, or to die with the answer? For Lombardi there was never a question. And so his quest to reach 200 mph atop a motorcycle began.

Sometime around 2007, a friend recommended he watch a movie called "The World's Fastest Indian," starring Anthony Hopkins.

The movie was based on the life of New Zealand's Burt Munro, who dreamed of racing at the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Munro spent decades modifying his 1920 Indian motorcycle and finally made it to Bonneville in 1967. He hit 190.07 mph at age 67.

When Lombardi saw the movie, he wasn't a huge motorcycle enthusiast, and hadn't had a speeding ticket in 20 years.

He was, however, inspired. And so he would go to Bonneville and hit 200 on a motorcycle.

He bought a Suzuki Hayabusa and decorated it in University of Florida colors. He was a proud 1966 UF grad.

In April 2007, meanwhile, Tidwell learned she was pregnant with Lombardi's granddaughter and begged him not to race.

Whenever she voiced her concern he "reiterated again, 'I'm not going to be one of those old men on a couch. I'm not going to have you take care of me.'

'I'm getting older but I'm not getting old.'"

She has yet to watch "The World's Fastest Indian." Maybe one day she will.

"Maybe one day I'll understand why my dad did this," she said.

Lombardi drove to Utah in 2007 with Joseph, and it was the adventure of a lifetime.

For two hours one day, he let Joseph drive the motorcycle on a two-lane highway through the small railroad towns of Nebraska to the foot of the Rockies. It was one of the coolest things he's ever done.

He hit 191.76 mph at Bonneville. And at age 65, he wasn't through.

He finally reached his goal in 2008 when he hit 200.836 at Bonneville. He was 66.

"He was so proud of that," Tidwell said. "He said, 'I'm done. I broke 200. I'm happy. I'm done.'"

Only he wasn't done. He wanted to give 200 mph another try. He planned to race at Maxton in May, but backed out. It was the same thing in July and September.

The last Maxton meet of the year was Oct. 24, and going there was a last-minute decision.

Hundreds of people attended a service and celebration of Guy Lombardi's life on Saturday.

In fact, T-shirts of him were passed out that said on the back: "There is no one crazier than this Guy."

On the front it read: "The World's Fastest Italian."

The family wants to have his ashes scattered at Bonneville, the most peacefully loud place on earth.

Another son, Vince, wants to drive a motorcycle 200 mph down the salt flats, and then pull a chord that would open a container holding the remains.

It would be one last memory from a man who made many.

"He doesn't want to be sitting on a mantle somewhere," said Tidwell.

"He wants to be out in the wind."