Start Your Engines...
After 18 years of watching her husband race, Evanell Tilton of Williston finally got in the driver seat. She now races in the Summit Racing Series, in which she currently ranks sixth in points, and over the years, she said she has seen her share of crashes.
"I took the challenge and started driving about seven years ago," she recalled. "there's a lot of safety involved, but it's fun if you make sure you're driving safely."
Other racers agreed with her, for such a dangerous sport, crashes are relatively rare.
"I've come close a few times, but nothing ever happened," Bronson's Fred Shasteen said.
Unfortunately over the last four months, two accidents have taken place at the Gainesville Raceway - one of them deadly. Funny car driver Eric Medlen died after a crash in March. Then last week, Thomas Stenftenagel crashed his rear-engine dragster into a wall, resulting in burns over 40 percent of his body; he is currently in critical condition at Shands-U.F.
"Having two major incidents in one year is extremely unusual," Gainesville Raceway's Don Robertson said. "We run literally tens of thousands of runs down this race track every year."
The latest accidents also involved a raceway employee, Kenny Taylor, who was burned while helping to rescue Stenftnagel. Robertson said Taylor has since returned home and is recovering well and he is very proud how Taylor and the rest of his crew reacted to the crash.
"Even the other responding outside agencies commented on what a great job our crew had done," Robertson said. "We're really proud of the job they did."
Inspectors from the National Hot Rod Association are still investigating the circumstances of the wreck, but knowing how well the crew reacted and how well they maintain the strip Tilton said made it that much easier to return to the racetrack.
"It's like falling off a horse, you have to get back up and you have to keep going," Tilton said.
While all present regretted that an accident occurred, one spectator was able to find the bright-side: she said she would rather see just two crashes out of thousands on a closed track than the hundreds that would probably result if racers took to the open road.
By Ted Latiak, WCJB TV20 News.
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