INVERNESS — For nearly a quarter century, Robbie Aaron ruled the cozy racetrack in this country town with a roaring engine, a sly grin and his trademark middle-finger salute to competitors.
He didn't win 'em all, but he had more fun trying than most, friends noted Sunday in a Citrus County Speedway tribute to the man whose wicked sense of humor led him to give his team a mischievous nickname with a colorful woodpecker as its logo.
"Robbie would do just about anything to get a laugh out of people," said Mr. Aaron's wife of 27 years, Beverly. "And if you played a joke on him, he laughed just as hard."
Mr. Aaron, a Brooksville resident but a fixture at the track outside of Inverness, died Feb. 6, 2011, at Shands at the University of Florida of a respiratory ailment. He was 52.
To those who raced against him, Mr. Aaron was known as a tough but amiable competitor, a man who would pound their fenders for 20 laps, then help to pound them out again after the checkered flag fell.
"You couldn't ask for a nicer guy," said longtime friend and fellow driver Herb Neumann. "He would race you hard, but he always raced you clean. If you were going to beat him, he was going to make you earn it."
During his 24 years of racing, Mr. Aaron drove in nearly every class, but was especially fond of figure-eight racing, a rough-and-tumble class that puts cars on a collision course as drivers race toward the intersection on the tight, one-third-mile track.
For figure-eight races, Mr. Aaron built a special race car with the driver's seat mounted in the center for better protection in crashes. He drove the car to three class championships.
But his humor and racing prowess combined in a flash of inspiration when he introduced school bus figure-eight racing at the track in 2005.
Mr. Aaron owned a fleet of refurbished buses that he would let other drivers pilot around the track several times a year. Demolition wasn't the goal, but it was often the result.
"No doubt, figure-eight racing was his specialty," Neumann said. "He just hit the accelerator and kept going. Sometimes he would win by two laps or more. It was tough to beat him at his game."
Mr. Aaron was also knowledgeable with what went on under the hood. A mechanic for 30 years with Ringpower Equipment in Brooksville, he spent most evenings working on his race cars behind his Brooksville home.
On Sunday, his racing pals gathered at the track to remember their fallen friend. There was a potluck barbecue where friends swapped stories. Then, fellow drivers took Mr. Aaron's collection of race cars and a dented school bus out for one last lap.
The crowd gathered in the backstretch grandstand honored Mr. Aaron in a manner that likely would have brought a smile to his face: As the parade slowly rolled by, his friends gave him one final middle-finger salute.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or email@example.com.