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Longtime Toyo exec Knoper dies at 67

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Earl Knoper, a former top executive for Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp., died on June 12. He was 67.

Knoper retired from Toyo on Jan. 1, 2005, after 21 years with the company. His 42-year career in the tire industry included stints with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the former Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. and Montgomery Ward.

Following his retirement, Knoper continued working with Toyo as a consultant, and helped take care of the company's Les Schwab Tire Centers account, plus Toyo road racing activities in the United States.

In February 2006, at age 64, he was named president of SCCA Pro Racing Ltd., the wholly owned professional auto racing subsidiary of Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Inc. He retired from that position five months later.

In an official statement, Toyo said it was deeply saddened by Knoper's passing. "During his tenure with Toyo Tires, he oversaw the introduction of several new products that helped create the company’s successful passenger car and light truck line. One such item, the Proxes S/T for pickups and SUVs, helped revolutionize the sport truck market with groundbreaking sizes fitting up to 23-inch diameter wheels.

"As the sport compact market was also developing at a rapid pace, Knoper secured sponsorships in sport compact drag racing, Hot Import Nights and associations with movies such as 'The Fast and the Furious.'

"Knoper was also passionate about the sport of road racing, including flying one memorable year with his wife, Jan, on the Concord to watch a Formula One race in Monte Carlo.

"In 2001, he signed a multi-year sponsorship with SCCA Pro Racing for Toyo Tires to be the Official Tire of SPEED World Challenge," said the company. "This long marriage between Toyo Tires and the popular racing series continues to this day."

Knoper was living in Dewitt, Mich., at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife, Jan.

The memorial service will be held Thursday, June 18, at Resurrection Lutheran Church, 2110 Brockway St., Saginaw, Mich., at 2 p.m. EST.

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