TRIBUTES have been paid to stock car legend Stu Smith who has died after a sudden heart attack.
The Maestro, as he was known, was widely regarded as the best stock car racer of all time, and entertained crowds for years at the popular stock car and greyhound stadium in Hartlepool.
Stu died two days before Christmas day while he was working at the car sales garage he owned in Rochdale, aged 64.
The six-time world champion still holds a host of records, and family, friends and fans have all been quick to pay tribute to the sportsman.
Stu's two sons, Stuart and Andrew, became stock car drivers themselves thanks to the influence of their "motivational dad."
Stuart, 28, who lives with his girlfriend, Katie Fenwick, who is from the Headland in Hartlepool, said:"His death was very sudden and it was a shock, but the last thing he would have wanted is for people to be milling or moping around.
"He was a showman, and he lived for stock-car driving.
"He was very popular in Hartlepool, and we still get a lot of goodwill messages from people in the town."
Bill Fenwick, a friend of Stu's, who lives on the Headland, said he had an influence on a lot of people, both on and off the track.
Bill, 47, said: "Stu definitely knew how to get the crowd going.
"People would go to see him every time he was in Hartlepool.He was an entertainer, and a gentleman as well.
"I couldn't believe it when I found out about his death, he will be sorely missed."
Stu started racing in 1965, when he was an apprentice mechanic.
He performed at the top throughout his career until he retired in 1986.
As well as the success on the track, Stu became a household name in the 70s and 80s with television appearances on programmes such as Top Gear and BBC series Tears and Gears.
As well as his two sons, he also leaves grandchildren, Jessica, 11, and Rebecca, six.
Stock car racing fans have also paid their tributes online on racing forums.
One posting, by Beth B, said: "He was absolute class in every sense, and the world is a lesser place without him.
"I have so many fantastic memories of him, and every one of them makes me smile."
Another, posted by 'Beaks', said: "My childhood hero has gone to the big race track in the sky.
"Rest in peace Stuart."
Stu's funeral will take place this Friday, January 14, at St Chad's Parish Church, in Sparrow Hill, Rochdale, from 11.30am.
The family would like mourners to allow family and friends into the church before they go in.
Speakers will also be provided outside the church, in case the chapel is full.