Vintage racing lost one of its most avid and dedicated participants on Friday June 27, Henry E. Payne III. After fighting a rare blood disease for most of his adult life it finally took his life; he died peacefully at home. Henry surprised the experts at Duke University and became their poster boy for a very rare stem cell transplant operation. He was only the fourth person to have the operation and the only one to survive more than a few months. He fought hard for almost three years after the operation and making the next race was a major motivation for him. Despite his weakness he could still stay within a few seconds of his best time at every track, including the test track he built at his Florida plant.
Henry started his racing in SCCA in 1959 and raced an AC Bristol and Lotus XV against the likes of Mark Donohue, Roger Penske and Chuck Stoddard. When SVRA had its earliest beginnings at Sebring in the mid ’70s, Henry had found a home for his collection of plastic Porsches and he raced exclusively with SVRA every year until last year. He had one of each – 904, 906, 907, 908, 910, and 917. His son, Henry IV who is a political cartoonist for the Detroit News, began vintage racing with him in the 906 in the early ’90s. Henry treasured the experience of racing with his son.
Henry was one of a small group of racers who bought SVRA from Alex Quattlebaum Jr. in 1990 and served as its first Chairman and as Group Representative for Group 5, remaining on the Board until the sale of the company to Peter McLaughlin in 1997. Henry was elected “Driver of the Year” in 1998 and was also only the second driver ever to be chosen “Driver of the Decade”. Both awards are selected by and presented by the previous “Drivers of the Year”.
Henry spent most of his life in Charleston, WV, where he founded the State Journal newspaper with his brother Robert. He got his BA from Yale and his Masters from Princeton. He started his company, Payne Engineering in Princeton, NJ and later moved it to Scott Depot, WV with the plant in Florida as well. He was a pioneer in the application of solid state controls for heavy machinery and inventor of the Micro-Trickle battery charger. Payne is survived by his wife, Connie Payne; son, Henry E. Payne IV; daughter, Priscilla Carver Payne; brothers, Robert Carver Payne, Stephen Couch Payne and Christopher Randall Payne; and grandchildren Henry E. Payne V, Samuel Leland Payne, Constance Gerstle and Paul Michael Gerstle.