I was not at Thunder Road on Sunday, and I’m damn glad of that.
I was at Devil’s Bowl Speedway, working my full-time job, less than two hours before the start of our biggest event of the year, when my phone buzzed.
The message that came in was from my friend and WDEV Radio broadcast partner, Tom Corbett: “I think I just watched two officials get killed.”
Not knowing any further details about the Thunder Road accident — but knowing that just three weeks earlier I was at a wedding with Dean Gallison, one of the people who was hit by that flying racecar, that uncontrolled, 3,000-pound missile — I feared the worst for my friends.
I was shaken to the core, and I wondered what could happen at Devil’s Bowl later that afternoon.
Luckily, there were no fatalities at Thunder Road. Still, Tom Corbett and thousands of other people won’t soon forget what they witnessed. And sure enough, as you read this, Dan Douville sits in a hospital bed at Dartmouth-Hitchcock with a halo screwed into him, holding together the fractured skull and stabilizing the broken vertebra in his neck that he suffered when he flipped his Sprint Car out of the park at Devil’s Bowl.
Chances are good that Danny’s bed at Dartmouth is located very closely to that of Jonathan Lemay, the other official whose body was so savagely thrashed by that car at Thunder Road. Lemay — by far — received the worst of the injuries, not that it necessarily matters.
Twice I’ve been present at a racetrack when a death occurred. I knew both people who passed, and I knew — as the events were transpiring — that I was watching them die. I imagine that emotions like the ones I had experienced were draped over Quarry Hill on Sunday like the same heavy, black cloak that I had worn.
What I can’t imagine are the nightmares that Stephen Martin must surely be having. In the blink of an eye he went from being a championship contender to becoming the helpless passenger of that flying car. Stephen Martin is a gifted, gritty driver, but at age 17 he is still a child who was simply having some fun and doing his job, racing his car as fast and as hard as he could, when it all went so terribly wrong. He should be in everyone’s thoughts as much as those who were hurt.
But listen to me on this: We need these incidents to happen from time to time.
We need reminders that motorsports are dangerous. We certainly do not need people to get hurt or killed, but we need to be tested. We must not think “it won’t happen to me” and ignore the warning signals. We must embrace the bad times and learn from them. We must be forced to think, to improve, to innovate, and to change the standards, and to hold accountable and eliminate the root of any failure. We must always be trying to make the tracks, the cars, the equipment, and the procedures safer.
It is a terrible shame that three people were injured on Sunday, but in time there will be good things that come from these incidents.
We needed to be shaken.
Bear Ridge Speedway – Bradford
-LAST WEEK: Dan Douville won Saturday’s Sprint Cars of New England feature and hometown driver Kevin Chaffee took his fourth DIRTcar Sportsman Modified win. Corinth’s Melvin Pierson won the Sportsman Coupe race and Ryan Christian took the Limited Late Model win. Jason Porter was the Four Cylinder winner, Fairlee’s Todd Dunham won the Twin State Dirt Stock race, and Jon LaForest won the Enduro. -THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with four weekly divisions and the USAC Dirt Midget Association. Devil’s Bowl Speedway – West Haven
-LAST WEEK: Orwell’s Tim LaDuc won Saturday’s Sportsman Modified “Ron Casey Memorial” race and Castleton’s Johnny Bruno took the Limited Sportsman feature. West Rutland’s Scott FitzGerald won the Super Stock race and clinched that division’s championship, Milton’s Shawn Moquin won the Mini Stock feature, and Fletcher rookie Evan Roberts won his eighth 500cc Mini Sprint race. On Sunday, Rocky Warner won more than $14,000 in the “Vermont 200” Sportsman Modified event and Plainfield’s Will Hull won both the Sprint Cars of New England race and the Devil’s Bowl Sprint Car track championship. -THIS WEEK: Racing is Sunday at 6 p.m. with five weekly divisions and spectator races. Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl – Barre
-LAST WEEK: Matt Kimball won Saturday’s Northeast Mini Stock Tour race, Barre’s Jeff Martin Jr. won the Street Stock feature, and Essex Junction’s Mike Mitchell was a first-time Road Warrior winner. Sunday’s Labor Day Classic program was postponed after a serious accident in qualifying; the event has been rescheduled for Saturday, September 14 at 5 p.m. -THIS WEEK: No racing scheduled. REGIONAL RACING
Albany-Saratoga Speedway – Malta, New York
-LAST WEEK: Kenny Tremont Jr. won Friday’s DIRTcar Modified feature as Marc Johnson won the championship. Darryl Nutting won the Sportsman Modified race and Connor Cleveland was named champion. Vergennes’ Kaleb Shepard won the Four-Cylinder Single Cam race. -THIS WEEK: Racing is Friday at 7 p.m. with five weekly divisions including the inaugural $5,000-to-win Fall Pro Stock Classic.
-LAST WEEK: Thunder Road’s Labor Day Classic was postponed during qualifying. The event has been rescheduled for Saturday, September 14 at 5 p.m.
Claremont Speedway – Claremont, New Hampshire
-LAST WEEK: Dana Smith won Friday’s final NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Sportsman Modified feature of the year and Brian Robie won the championship. Aaron Fellows made it 14 Late Model Sportsman wins in 14 races. D.J. Shaw won Sunday’s Granite State Pro Stock Series race, NHSTRA “Battle of the Belt” wins went to Jimmy Renfrew and Emerson Cayer in the Street Stock and Mini Stock divisions, respectively, and Jacob Perry won the Exit Realty Pro Truck race. -THIS WEEK: Racing is Friday at 7 p.m. with four weekly divisions.
Fonda Speedway – Fonda, New York
-NEXT EVENT: Saturday, September 14. Glen Ridge Motorsports Park – Fultonville, New York -LAST WEEK: Tucker O’Connor won Saturday’s Crate Modified feature. -THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with nine weekly divisions including the rescheduled “Vengance” 50-lap Modified race.
Lebanon Valley Speedway – West Lebanon, New York
-LAST WEEK: Kenny Tremont Jr. won $25,500 in Saturday’s “Mr. DIRT Track USA” Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modified race and Whitey Slavin took the “Mr. Crate Track USA” race for Sportsman Modifieds. -THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 5 p.m. with five divisions.
Monadnock Speedway – Winchester, New Hampshire
-LAST WEEK: Todd Patnode and Joel Monahan split wins in Saturday’s twin NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Sportsman Modified features. Will Kuhn won the Late Model Sportsman race to end Vernon’s Solomon Brow’s streak at 11 consecutive wins. -THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with five weekly divisions including a second round of double Sportsman Modified features, plus Pro-4 Modifieds and vintage racers.
Plattsburgh Airborne Speedway – Plattsburgh, New York
-LAST WEEK: Steve Bernier won Saturday’s DIRTcar 358 Modified event and clinched his second-straight track championship. Connor Cleveland won his seventh Sportsman Modified feature of the season, but East Corinth’s Adam Pierson was named the champion. St. Albans’ Jason Bonnett, a former Tiger Sportsman champion on asphalt, scored his first dirt win in the Novice Sportsman race. -THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with the DIRTcar Sportsman Modified Series and the DIRTcar Pro Stock Series both in town, and the Super Stock and Strictly Stock championships will be decided.
RumTown Speedway – Rumney, New Hampshire
-LAST WEEK: T.C. Forward won Saturday’s Sportsman Modified feature. -THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 4 p.m. with four weekly divisions, the Granite State Mini Sprints, and the Champlain Valley Vintage Dirt Modifieds.
Speedway 51 – Groveton, New Hampshire
-LAST WEEK: No racing scheduled. -THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with five divisions including a 75-lap Late Model race.
White Mountain Motorsports Park – North Woodstock, New Hampshire
-LAST WEEK: Oren Remick won Saturday’s 100-lap Late Model race. Barton’s Shane Sicard took the Flying Tiger win and Waterford’s Andy Hill won the Dwarf Car race. -THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with championship finales four weekly divisions and the Flying Tiger Triple Crown Series.
Justin St. Louis is a motorsports journalist, publicist, broadcaster, historian, and former driver. Email: email@example.com / Twitter: @Justin_StLouis