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Vince Staten: Bob ‘Rabbit’ Adams, gracious in victory or defeat, was always smiling

VINCE STATEN • Jun 11, 2013 at 8:15 PM

Everybody in Kingsport called him Rabbit. Most of them probably didn’t even know his real name was Bobby.

They didn’t call him Rabbit because he was rabbit quick. Oh no, far from it. Guy B. Crawford, his old baseball coach at D-B, used to say that Bobby Adams hit some of the longest triples in the history of the school.

Rabbit was slow, couldn’t leg out a home run no matter how far he hit the ball. He got his nickname because of his red thatched hair and because of his habit of twitching his nose.

Maybe it was because Rabbit didn’t have much speed that he fell in love with speed. He loved speed so much that he started racing motorcycles when he was a kid and kept doing it long after his friends had gotten married and dropped out of the sport.

Rabbit loved speed almost as much as he loved baseball, and he loved baseball.

He played for J.D. Wininger’s Civitan team in the Midget League. Then he got the biggest thrill any 12-year-old kid in Kingsport could get at the time: Roy Harmon drafted him for his Dobyns-Taylor team in the Babe Ruth League. That meant two things: Roy would help Rabbit polish his game. And his team would win. Roy Harmon’s Dobyns-Taylor team always won.

Rabbit arrived at Dobyns- Bennett too late to letter on the 1957 state championship team. But his teams at D-B were good teams. And he was a great hitter, batting second and third in the lineup and playing right field. His play got noticed at UT, which offered him a baseball scholarship.

Rabbit played baseball at Tennessee, and by the time he left Knoxville in 1969 he had earned a doctorate in general-experimental psychology. He was not slow in the classroom.

That’s when he began a long career in teaching that culminated at Eastern Kentucky University, where he retired in 2003 after serving 24 years as chairman of the school’s psychology department.

But Rabbit still loved speed, still loved motorcycles.

In his retirement announcement, the university noted, “In addition to teaching part time, Bob is actively pursuing a second career racing motorcycles.”

Fortunately for Rabbit about the time he was winding down his academic career, vintage motorcycle enthusiasts from around the country were organizing a racing group, the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association. There was a regular schedule of events with points to the winners and standings.

Soon Rabbit was racing on the circuit. And he wasn’t just racing, he was winning. That thing that Roy Harmon taught him.

And not just winning an occasional race. Winning national championships. Just last year he was the AHRMA National Vintage Motocross Series Champion in the PV 70 plus intermediate division.

Two weeks ago, Rabbit was at the Lake Sugar Tree Motorsport Park in Axton, Va., with his cherished ’73 CZ motorcycle. He was in the first lap of the intermediate race when things started going wrong — terribly, horribly wrong.

“Rider down” came over the loudspeaker.

They rushed Rabbit to the hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. Rabbit died five days later. He was 71.

Rabbit’s friends are still in shock, as is the vintage motorcycle racing community. On motorcycle racing forums they’ve been praising Rabbit — they all knew him as Bob — for his generosity and encouragement. Gracious in victory or defeat, and smiling, always smiling.

His friends and family are holding a celebration of the life of Bob “Rabbit” Adams on June 29 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond, Ky.

The family requests no flowers. Just smiles.

Contact Vince Staten at vincestaten@timesnews.net or via mail in care of this newspaper. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten.blogspot.com.

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