Terry Chandler succumbs to brain cancer aged 65

Our NHRA correspondent Anne Proffit pays tribute to someone she describes as “the most giving and caring woman in NHRA drag racing”.

Terry Chandler succumbs to brain cancer aged 65
Tommy Johnson Jr.
Jack Beckman
Terry Chandler
Funny Car winner Tommy Johnson Jr.
Jack Beckman
Tommy Johnson Jr., Jack Beckman
Funny Car winner Jack Beckman
Terry Chandler
Tommy Johnson

Terry Chandler, owner of Don Schumacher Racing’s Funny Cars raced by Tommy Johnson Jr. (Make-A-Wish) and Jack Beckman’s Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T) lost her battle with brain cancer July 4th. The 65-year-old New Mexico native was surrounded by family and loved ones in Florida when she died.

The sister of former DSR Funny Car driver Johnny Gray, Terry Chandler heeded the call of nitro and became a fixture at NHRA races when Johnny, in 2013, ran a tribute car to their late father, John R. Gray, a self-made oil industry titan in the New Mexico and north Texas regions.

“I love to race,” she told AutoWeek in 2015, after financially taking over her brother’s car for driver Tommy Johnson Jr. “I love to win. These god-darned cars, I just love ’em.”

But rather than brand the car with Carlsbad, NM-based Chandler Aviation, owned by Chandler and her husband Doug, Terry decided to make the Funny Car car a “giving car.” Using the blue-and-white starred colors of the Make-A-Wish Foundation – a non-profit organization which provides bucketlist-type experiences to children with life-threatening medical conditions – Terry Chandler hosted “Wish” kids and their families at DSR’s hospitality tents during Saturday qualifying and fulfilled many wishes, including Johnson Jr’s team-enhanced tours of the pit area and his racecar.

When Beckman’s program lost its major sponsor, Chandler decided to fund that car, too, aiding the Infinite Hero Foundation that assists military veterans with extreme disabilities. The latter program was vetted by $100 “challenge coins” that rode with racer Beckman each time he went down the track and were signed and sold to benefit the Foundation; more than $500,000 has been raised through Terry’s efforts on that group’s behalf, most of it through the signed coins.

A pied piper of joy in every NHRA racing paddock, Terry’s open arms to all and her wide smile have been an important asset to NHRA throughout the past few years, as she welcomed ailing children and their parents, recovering veteran warriors and anyone in the pit area who didn’t know they needed a hug until they were in Mrs. Chandler’s presence.

Terry’s illness manifested itself in late winter and she stopped going to races after the third contest of the year in Gainesville, Fla. Shortly after the Las Vegas race, Chandler underwent major surgery to partially remove one of three tumors in the frontal lobe of her brain. An MRI determined she was suffering from glioblastoma cancer. The 2015 recipient of NHRA’s Blaine Johnson Award for dedication to helping others waged a valiant fight for her own part, but couldn’t beat the disease.

 “I never dreamed that I would be blessed in a way that would allow me to help others,” Chandler told the Inland Valley (Calif.) newspaper in 2015, which named her “the most influential woman in drag racing” when it tallied her accomplishments. “Helping people is one of the most important things in the world to me: my daddy, John R. Gray was an extremely giving man, and I learned from him how important it was to bless the lives of others.

“That is why this [sponsorship] means so much to me. I feel very fortunate to be in this position.”

The Gray and Chandler families will hold a private funeral service for Terry; a public memorial is tentatively set for the Labor Day weekend, when NHRA holds its biggest race, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

Motorsport.com sends its condolences to Terry’s family, friends and the great many people whose lives she touched with her extreme generosity and thoughtfulness.

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