(Updated) Remembering iconic motorsports PR great Denny Darnell

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Courtesy of the Kingsport (Tenn.) Times-News, here are the funeral arrangements for Denny F. Darnell Jr., a.k.a. The General of Motorsports.

Family will receive friends Tuesday from 4 to 7 p.m at Springdale Missionary Baptist Church, 1616 Haga Rd, Kingsport, Tenn. A celebration of his life service will follow at 7 p.m. Burial following graveside services at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Holston View Cemetery.

Those attending committal services are asked to assemble at the church by 10:15 a.m. Wednesday and then proceed to the cemetery. Hamlett-Dobson Funeral Homes, Kingsport, is serving the Darnell family.

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The majority of you that read this will likely not know who Denny Darnell was.

Sure, most everyone in the business end of motorsports — particularly NASCAR, NHRA and the sports car world – got to know Denny at one point or other over the last 30 years.

But those of you who did not know him, or wonder who he was and why the world of motorsports is mourning him so greatly, trust me, Denny was someone you would definitely have liked to know.

He was the kind of guy who taught you lessons that you will carry for the rest of your life.

He was the kind of guy who would take green reporters or fellow public relations people and patiently help them learn the ropes.

He was the kind of guy who always loved a good debate, be it sports or politics. And more often than not, his viewpoint was the right one.

He was the kind of guy who was good at everything he did, but most importantly it was because of the kind of person he was. He treated you as an equal, as a peer, always at the ready with a big smile, a pat on the back and a hearty handshake.

As I write this, I can hear him calling his standard line every time we’d see each other, “Hey, Jerry B., how’s it going?”

Denny passed away Saturday unexpectedly at the age of 70 from an apparent heart attack.

No one saw it coming.

To say the motorsports world is in shock is putting it mildly. Denny didn’t just have dozens or even hundreds of friends, he had thousands.

In this modern day of social media, the memory of a great person is often measured by the number of Facebook testimonials and Twitter remembrances.

Honestly, I stopped counting after 200, because they just kept coming and coming. Denny was that beloved and respected.

Included in the online mourners was a veritable Who’s Who in motorsports, from NASCAR Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty, to NASCAR star Brad Keselowski, all who Denny worked with at one time or other in his career.

As Dave Ongle, of Darnell’s hometown newspaper, the Kingsport (Tenn.) Times-News, wrote after learning of Denny’s passing, “The sport had lost a true gentleman, a consummate professional and, quite possibly, the best PR person in the history of the sport.”

Denny, who began his lengthy career as a sportswriter at the Times-News, was everybody’s friend. I didn’t know him to have any enemies or people that would say anything bad about him.

No matter what job he had, he did it with aplomb and professionalism, from working at the Times-News to being general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, from managing RJ Reynolds’ PR during the time NASCAR exploded in popularity to his days as PR chief for the NHRA, from working with Keselowski to his time as the voice of Dodge Motorsports PR.

I have dozens of stories I can relate about Denny and the nearly 30 years I knew him.

He taught me what a true Southern gentleman was. He also taught me what true class was. He was nicknamed “The General” because of his incredible leadership and people skills.

We spent countless dinners together over the years, with an equally countless number of glasses of wine. Denny was a fascinating conversationalist. He may have come across as a simple good old boy, but he was one of the most intelligent and savviest people I’ve ever met in the business.

We’d often commiserate about how we were on the road so much that we’d often wake up not knowing what city we were in.

One of my fondest memories of Denny was when he introduced an apprehensive Yankee to what barbecued alligator tasted like in the infield at Talladega several years ago. (And yes, it does taste like chicken.)

He was especially kind to my daughter, becoming both a mentor and grandfather-type as she was beginning her own career in motorsports.

Whenever he saw my wife, he would always welcome her with a hug and a hearty, “How are you, Mrs. B?” with a Southern accent that was as smooth as fine Tennessee whiskey.

There’s no question Denny was a great PR person, but even more, he was a great person, period. When I started to write this column, I tried to come up with words that best described the man many of us called Double-D.

Two words came to mind immediately: caring and home.

He cared about everyone he met and knew. He also had such a way about himself that after someone new would meet Denny for the first time, five minutes later they’d feel they had known them their entire lives.

He wasn’t just a PR person, he was a people person even more. “Stranger” was not in Denny’s vocabulary. Rather, a stranger was someone he just hadn’t met and became friends with yet.

“Anything you need, you just let ‘ole Double D know and I’ll make it happen,” he probably said at least a million times in his life.

And he always delivered.

Then there was home, Kingsport, with his beloved Jean. If Denny was a true Southern gentleman, Jean was the true Southern lady. And Denny was such a proud father to their only child, Trey.

One of my most favorite memories of Denny and Jean was in New York for the NASCAR awards banquet in 2007.

It was the morning after Jimmie Johnson was crowned Sprint Cup champ for the second consecutive year.

As I was driving away from the Waldorf-Astoria to catch a plane, I looked to my left and there was Jean and Denny, walking down a New York City street, hand-in-hand, big smiles on their faces, looking like teenagers in love.

My wife, daughter and I all remarked about how they made such a cute couple even after 30 years of marriage. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

And Denny is indeed someone I’ll never forget. The world as a whole – and the motorsports world, in particular – has lost one of the best people that ever was part of it.

As I read all the testimonials to Denny on Twitter and Facebook, one stood out in particular, from Thomas Pope of the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer.

I’ve called Thomas a friend for many years and have always admired his way with words.

But his ode to Denny on Facebook could very well be the best thing Thomas has ever written because it was, just like Denny, so simple yet so true:

“If you didn’t like Denny Darnell (or vice-versa), that’s a sign that something’s seriously wrong with you.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski