By Joe Buckles
The checkered flag has fallen on what appears to be another successful year at the Terre Haute Action Track. Unfortunately, it came to an abrupt and near tragic end.
The wild, multi-car accident in the All-Star Sprints feature Sunday evening cast gloom over the season finale activities at the Wabash Fairgrounds.
Track officials were visibly upset at the chain of events that sent two drivers to the hospital and damaged the front straightaway catch fence to the point the race was halted eight laps shy of its scheduled distance.
The event appeared to have been snake-bitten from the moment it was postponed back in July.
Three previous race dates were wiped out by inclement weather.
To the credit of local and All Star officials, they elected to go one final try after the show fell victim to the elements Saturday. Knowing they would be competing with NFL football and NASCAR on the same afternoon they raced Sunday.
. What was to transpire in the main event was not.
“We’re thankful we had a heckuva of season. But you never want to have a season end this way with such a bad accident,” offered Action Promotions official Brian Dorsett.
“It’s one of those days you walk away sad because someone is hurt and families are affected by it. Racing takes a back seat right now,” Dorsett added. “This is our first time as promoters to see this bad of an accident. Fortunately the safety crew and fence did what it was suppose to do. That no fans were injured. It was just a freak accident.”
Not everyone saw it quite that way. Those critical of the present day “buy a ride” trend by an increasing number of young drivers say the turn of events only fueled the need for tighter controls on driver eligibility.
Two of the three drivers involved in the crash were teenagers. The age of driver Travis Rutz, the most seriously injured, was 21.
Some say the sanctioning bodies and promoters aren’t doing enough to govern the lack of inexperience that has made its way into high-speed circuits.
Dorsett was quick to point out that they had no say on who was or was not eligible to compete in Sunday’s race. That was in the hands of Club All Star Sprints officials.
Feature winner Terry McCarl addressed the touchy issue once the two drivers were taken to Regional Hospital and the carnage was cleared from the track.
“I think promoters need to take a page back in history when a young driver drove stupid or was out of control. A promoter went and talked to them, warned them. If they kept it up they would sit you down for a week,” McCarl said. “No one has the guts to do that these days. And it just not the younger guys.”
“These sprint cars are dangerous. I don’t care what you say, when you’re 15 or 16 year old you don’t realize the expense or risk involved. You’re a kid and think you’re going to live forever,” added McCarl, who is the father of two teenage racers. “With the safety we have today it’s great to see guys walk away from some bad accidents, but sometimes it gets a guy complacent on how dangerous these cars can be.”
As a former driver and track promoter Bob Wente is well versed with the issues involving with the influx of young drivers hoping to make a name for themselves in racing.
“I can understand how they must feel there at Terre Haute, but as promoters they have no liability. That goes with the sanctioning body. If it had been an unsanctioned event, that would have been different,” Wente said.
“The parents of these kids have no perception of the dangers they are putting these kids in. They are competing against men who are racing for living. With sprint cars, it’s not like you’re racing go-karts on a Sunday afternoon. It can be very dangerous.”
McCarl wasn’t about to apologize for inheriting the win when David Gravel blew his engine and triggered the frontstretch melee.
“We’ve had our share of bad luck this season, so we’ll take the win. Sometimes luck goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. He [Gravel] had us covered until the accident. You don’t like to win that way.”
The veteran driver savored the fact he had notched another win at one of the country’s most prestigious ovals. He had previous wins at Eldora (Ohio), Knoxville (Iowa), Williams Grove (Pa.) and Chico (Calif.).
“I’m sort of a historian. I had the Dirt National won here in 2000, but lost it on the last lap. So this win means more to me than anybody here in the pits.”
He’ll be back with car owner Tod Quiring next season as part of a two-car effort. His teammate is expected to be World of Outlaws veteran Craig Dollansky.
“There’s a lot of musical chairs going on right now. When the music stops I don’t want to be left standing without a ride. Mr. Quiring is a great guy to drive for,” said McCarl.
Joe Buckles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.