It was billed as a Celebration of Life for Dusty Park, and much of the afternoon felt like a celebration. There was laughter and sharing stories among the several hundred people who gathered Sunday at Pahrump Valley Speedway to remember him.
An integral part — often the driving force — of the youth soccer and racing communities, Park knew a lot of people, and to hear everyone talk it was obvious that to know Park was to be a friend of Park. So remembering him brought up a lot of stories about the positive impact he made during his 39 years.
And then people began to take the microphone and speak. And it suddenly became a lot harder.
Speaker after speaker choked up as they spoke in glowing terms about their experiences with Park. But some things stood out, even through the uneven voices and occasional tears, such as Park’s selflessness and generosity, his sense of humor and his willingness to look for the best in people chances among them.
Everyone in attendance knew of the first two, but it was the third that perhaps best illustrated Park’s character. And for Anthony Martin, the father of Amber and Dusty Park’s first grandchild, it was especially personal.
“When Koreylyn and I got together, it kind of didn’t go the way it should have,” Martin told the crowd. “Dusty had every right to dislike me, have no respect for me. But he gave me the chance and still welcomed me into his home. I appreciate him for giving me that chance.
“I’m thankful that he got to meet his grandchild. He only got to hold her one time, but I guarantee she’ll remember that forever.”
Martin will make sure of that. But Park was able to offer the same generosity of spirit to people not quite so close to him, such as Robby Woods, who described himself as one of Park’s “more distant friends.” Woods talked to the crowd about how, growing up in Pahrump, he had “kind of a loud, foul mouth” that brought on a lot of criticism. Not from Park.
“Dusty never made me feel criticized,” Woods said. “He never made me feel better than, or less than, he always just treated me like family. … He tirelessly gave himself to everyone around him.”
And when you were accepted by Dusty Park, you got the selflessness and generosity that defined him. Woods had an anecdote that captured that spirit.
“A couple of years ago I was making some panels for my Pro 2, and I didn’t have a bead roller, as embarrassing as that was,” Woods recalled. “I called Dusty, and he said, ‘I’m at work. Just go over to the house and pick it up. It’s in the garage.’ He left the garage unlocked.
“I called him and asked, ‘Hey Dusty where are all the dies?’ and he told me what drawer in the toolbox they were in. That bead roller and those dies are still in my shop, and I still use them every day. I probably still owe his wife some money, unless she wants them back.”
You don’t have to know what a bead roller is and why it needs dies to understand the point. Mi bead roller and dies es su bead roller and dies, if you will. Amber Park didn’t want them back, and the laughter from Woods’ line brought back another of Park’s prominent characteristics: the desire to make people laugh.
Amber Park traced that back to their wedding, which set the tone for their 14 years together.
“We were trying to decide what we were going to walk out to,” she said. “Dusty had some ideas; I don’t remember what they were. After a few songs I said, you know what? I kind of feel like ‘Highway to Hell’ is going to be appropriate.
“We didn’t tell very many people that that’s what we were going to walk out to. After the shock of hearing his first name was Michael when we were saying our vows — and multiple people looking around like, ‘Oh my gosh, I think she just said the wrong name!’ So then walking out to that, that was the goal. Everybody was laughing, and that was that goal. We had a blast that night, and that’s kind of how it went after that.”
Park’s near-constant jokes were a common theme, as several speakers laughed and cried almost simultaneously. It was that kind of day.
“People ask me, ‘How do you live with this guy? How are you not dying all the time from laughing?’ ” Amber Park said. “Well, you know, he doesn’t tell that many jokes at home. And they’re not always funny.”
Joel Dean handled the microphone for the event, which started with 25 cars driving five laps around the track in honor of Park’s car No. 5.
“The first time I ever met Dusty was in the Nugget parking lot,” Dean said. “I was walking with my life, my girlfriend at the time, and he looks at me and goes, ‘If you break her heart, I’m going to break your face.’ And I was like, ‘Whoa, nice to meet you too, bud.’ That’s where it started.”
That led to a lot of late nights in the garage working on race cars. “I didn’t know how to work on them, but I acted like I did.” And the friendship grew from there.
“We’ve eaten a lot of good lunches together,” Dean told the crowd. “If you’re at Romero’s, get a quesadilla for Dusty.” A voice from the stands called out, “Cheese only!” Dean responded, “You’re not wrong. Give that guy a Dr. Pepper.”
A cheese quesadilla and Dr. Pepper for himself, anything he had or could do for anybody who needed something for everybody else.
“He just wanted to make sure that everybody could do whatever it was they wanted to do if kids were involved,” Amber Park said. “It didn’t matter what it took for him to make it happen. He wants to do for everybody.
“We definitely didn’t always see eye to eye, but you can’t deny his heart. … I was never willing to hold that back, so I always just stood behind him and tried to support him the best I could.”
Sometimes that cost money, but Park never seemed to care much about that.
“He would take every kid out from soccer out to dinner, on his own dime most of the time,” Dean said. “He’d come back and say it was like $300 for dinner. I was like, they have money. Some do, some don’t, it’s not a big deal. I made memories. And that was Dusty. Always making memories.”
Dean told the crowd about one such $300 night at Buffalo Wild Wings, to which Dean had a loyalty card. Park used Dean’s number to let Dean have the rewards earned by the spending.
“I told him it’s free to sign up,” Dean recalled. “He said I used your number. Take your family out to dinner.”
But Park left far more than that on the table over the years. His aunt, Nancy Park, told the crowd about a time her nephew picked her up from the airport and the conversation turned to the Junior Trojans Soccer Club, Park’s baby, something he hoped would ensure that no Pahrump soccer player would have to travel to Las Vegas to play top competition.
“I said, so you’re the director? And he said, yeah I’m the director,” Nancy Park said. “Are you taking a salary? No. My other granddaughter plays competitive soccer in Arizona, and I said, ‘You know those directors in Arizona get at least $85,000 a year, and you’re not taking a salary?’ ‘All I want to do is make sure every kid can play soccer at their competitive level.’ ”
That last sentence was said through tears. “We will miss what a generous man he was,” she said.
Although soccer came first with Park, he put in enough time and effort at Pahrump Valley Speedway to make anyone think cars were his only hobby. So it was easy for owner Chad Broadhead to host the Celebration of Life at the track.
“They just called me and asked me if they could hold it here where he was involved, plus with everything that Dusty was involved with they needed a bigger area where people could come and social distance,” Broadhead explained, although the nature of the occasion meant social distancing wasn’t really practiced. “We’ve got plenty of room so people can come and pay their respects and say goodbye to Dusty.”
Broadhead said he knew Park for 15 years, remembering when many people would hang out together because all of their shops were near each other.
“We all worked on race cars and we all got to be very good friends,” Broadhead said. “We decided to go ahead and start the Mini Dwarf class. We got it going, and Dusty came by and asked if he could step in and take over the class. Dusty loved kids. He spent a lot of time and effort and helped a lot with that class.”
It was therefore appropriate that almost one-quarter of the cars driving the memorial laps were Mini Dwarf cars. The laps were led by No. 5, driven by Park’s son, Kohlzin, while Martin raised a checkered flag from the passenger side window.
“Kohlzin’s my crew chief,” Dean said. “He’s the one that makes my car go around. He will be fast, and he will be just like Dusty. He was a rocket ship right out of the box. He was always the guy to catch.”
Amber Park shared a bit about her husband’s battle over the last year of his life.
“He did a very good job of hiding how much pain he was in, because I didn’t even fully know,” she said. “This last year, even in December when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, he was terrified. He was terrified because he was going to miss out on these kids. That was all he could think about.
“He put up a good fight. It wasn’t easy on him by any means. It was a long eight days in the hospital.”
And immediately after being discharged from the hospital, Park was thinking about what he could do next.
“After he got out, once again, minus the coronavirus hitting, the first couple of weeks it was, ‘When can we get back to soccer?’ That’s all he cared about. When can we get back to soccer? When can we get a race car? He worked on trying to find Kohlzin a race car the last three months. ‘I want to get him a race car.’ He’s got two years still. ‘But we’ve got to be able to build it.’”
Dusty Park is done building race cars, but he will be at the speedway and on the soccer fields for years. And dozens of people in Pahrump will help keep that memory alive.
“I encourage you guys to make memories with your kids, and with who you have now,” Dean said near the end of the event. “Because all we have know is the memories that we had.”
Martin’s closing sentence summed up the day perfectly. “You live through all of us.”