‘Spider’ Ligon, Riverhead racing legend, dies at 76

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Spider Ligon (center) at the homecoming of his son, Fred, a U.S. Air Force Tech Sergeant who returned from Afghanistan in December.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Spider Ligon (center) at the homecoming of his son, Fred, a U.S. Air Force Tech Sergeant who returned from Afghanistan in December.

UPDATE: Visitation for Frederick “Spider” Ligon will take place at McLaughlin Heppner Funeral Home on Marcy Avenue in Riverhead from 2-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. on Jan. 20. On Jan. 22 visitation will be from 6-9 p.m.

A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 23 at First Baptist Church in Riverhead with a burial to follow. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Riverhead Move the Animal Shelter.

Local racing legend Frederick “Spider” Ligon died suddenly Tuesday morning. He was 76.

Mr. Ligon was known for his days as a race car driver at Riverhead Raceway, but was also a champion wrestler in high school in the 103-pound weight class. He excelled at bowling, too, said his brother Richard Ligon.

He served in the Army National Guard in the 1960s, and worked at Brookhaven National Lab for 38 years, retiring only a few years ago, Richard Ligon said.

Spider Ligon tied for the championship in Riverhead Raceway’s sportsman division in 1965 and won the “bomber” division in 1978.

Richard Ligon said he believes his brother was the first black driver at Riverhead Raceway.

“‘Spider’ was an icon in our community when I was growing up, full of life , full of humor, and always involved in the sports community there,” said Carnal Hobson, a Riverhead native who now lives in Virginia.

“He was a talented race car driver and he was a character,” said Ed Densieski, who started racing in 1978 when he was 18. “He was famous for walking around with a cigar.”

Richard Ligon said his brother would actually race with an unlit cigar in his mouth.

“His real name was Frederick, but he was given the name Spider in high school, and it stuck to him like glue,” Richard Ligon said. “If you said Frederick Ligon, people didn’t know who you were talking about. But if you said Spider, everybody knew.”

He got the nickname during a play in high school, Richard Ligon said.

“They wanted a small boy to be hoisted in a basket and he was the smallest one there, so they recruited him to do the skit,” he said. His classmates then began calling him Spider, and “the name stuck.”

Richard Ligon said if someone was doing a fundraiser, his brother was there offering help.

“He had a trailer and he would volunteer to help people moving,” he said. “He was a social butterfly in the community.”

He also was known for caring for stray cats, of which he had “a half dozen at his place,” his brother said.

Last February, Spider had a heart bypass operation and then moved in with his brother. In November, Richard Ligon had a heart bypass himself.

Spider’s son, Fred, a U.S. Air Force Tech Sergeant who had just recently returned from Afghanistan, took him to the hospital after he was found struggling  this morning, but he died later in the day, Richard Ligon said.

Spider Ligon did get to see his son get a hero’s welcome on Route 58 when he returned home Dec. 4, Richard Ligon said.

The family has yet to finalize funeral arraignments.

[email protected]

Looking to comment on this article? Send us a letter to the editor instead.