Brownstown's Icebreaker halted by flurry of flips
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
BROWNSTOWN, Ind. (March 20) — While a bulldozer and other track-packing equipment vainly tried to firm up the spongy surface at Brownstown Speedway before Saturday’s Indiana Icebreaker heat races, Mike Marlar observed the track workers and reflected on his time-trial laps a half-hour earlier in the evening.
“When I qualified,” the Winfield, Tenn., driver said, “I spent most of the time trying not to tip over.”
As it turns out, avoiding rollover accidents was easier said than done at the high-speed, rugged conditions on the first day of spring at the Jackson County Fairgrounds quarter-mile oval proved too dangerous to complete the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event. After three Late Model rollover accidents in preliminaries — including one that required a medical helicopter to take an injured driver to a Louisville, Ky., hospital for observation — series and track officials postponed the remainder of the program to May 2. | RaceWire
“We’ll race another day. We don’t need to get anybody hurt," series director Rick Schwallie said after huddling with promoter Jim Price to make the decision. “It’s tougher than a rainout, it’s tougher than anything we’ve ever had to do. But I stand firm that was the right thing to do.”
A huge season-opening crowd headed for the gates after the announcement, disappointed in not getting to see the Late Model feature and program’s completion, but aware that drivers were competing in borderline conditions.
“It’s just a bad situation,” four-time Lucas Oil champion Earl Pearson Jr. said just before the postponement was announced. “I’m sure (Price) and Rick Schwallie, they’re in a bad spot here, with what to do, because it’s a standing-room only crowd. What do you do?”
Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, was among heat winners and looking forward to starting up front in the 50-lap main event, but he completely understood the postponement.
“It was getting to the point where it was pretty dangerous for people. I would’ve raced if they’d raced, but I think, at this point, they were trying to be more safety-oriented and this is obviously the biggest thing they’ve gotta do for safety here,” Moran said. “After having to life-flight someone out and everything else — I think they flipped three cars, and I don’t know the last time they flipped three Late Models in one night.”
Moran called the conditions as “fast as I’ve ever seen here by far,” adding that officials were “just really trying to look out for us, safetywise as drivers, and the car owners and stuff. Like I said, I’m bummed we don’t get to race, but at the same time, we could be saving someone’s life or saving someone’s team from going under. I think they’re just trying to look out for everyone tonight.”
The first rollover accident came on the opening lap of the first heat race when the car driven by Larry Greer of Bowling Green, Ky., pirouetted exiting turn one, violently landing on its wheels after a wild ride. He climbed out sore but otherwise OK and was briefly checked out in the track ambulance before heading home separately from his team’s hauler in a passenger vehicle with his wife, crew members said.
In the third heat race, Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., was driving hard into turn one on the third lap when his car also got upside down, twisting violently and coming to rest right-side up with heavy rear-end damage. He took a brief ride in the track ambulance but wasn’t injured.
Finally, in the first consolation race, the driver who races under the pseudonym Fast Eddy of Lebanon, Ohio, flipped wildly between turns one and two in a wreck also involving youngster Tristan Chamberlain’s car. Officials cut rollbars to remove Eddy from the car and a helivac flew him to Indianapolis for further evaluation about 9:15 p.m. According to a social media post by the Lucas Oil Series, he was awake and alert when he left the track in an ambulance.
While officials were tending to Eddy, Shirley was nearby in the pit area removing components from his crumpled car and glad that he escaped injury.
“I thank the Lord I’m not being helivacked out of here,” Shirley said. A moment before, a series official told Shirley he was in line for a series provisional starting spot for the main event, but he didn’t have to think twice: “No provisional needed here.”
Former track champion Joe Godsey of Edinburgh, Ind., knows the Brownstown track surface is often slick and slow during summer events, but he wasn’t surprised at seasonal conditions that allowed Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., to lower the track record in qualifying with blazing 12.509-second lap.
“It’s just what we expected. We was watching the forecast and knew it was going to rain all week, so you know it’s going to be juiced up, you know?” Godsey said while strapped into his car for the second consolation race that was never run. “You just try not to hit anything the wrong way. You know what you can get without taking too big of a chance, I guess.”
Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., said he definitely wasn’t taking big chances in his runner-up finish in a heat race.
“I didn’t feel safe at all. I felt sketchy the whole time. I was driving pretty easy. I was trying to hit the holes straight, which isn’t the fastest way around, because if you hit ‘em crooked that happens,” he said, gesturing toward Eddy’s accident. “I was erring on the side of slow instead of the side of dangerous.”
Casebolt added that when “when you hit a hole, it’s just too many G-forces, I guess, for how high our center of gravity is.”
Shirley wasn’t sure exactly what caused his car to get upside down.
“(Kyle) Strickler pushed (exiting turn four) and I got a good run on him and I just set to go in the corner and it just (went) up, up and away,” Shirley said. “I honestly don’t know what went wrong because I didn’t bounce ... I didn’t hop. It wasn’t like I went in there and threw it sideways and it dug and then flipped. I don’t understand why it did what it did at all.
“I was glad just to be right-side up. When you flip, the last thing you want to do is be upside down," he noted, adding that “it’s crazy tonight. They got way too much water and way too much rain during the week to be putting up with this.”
Car owner Bob Cullen was already making plans to invest in new equipment.
“Bob’s been wanting to get rid of this car anyway,” said Shirley, whose teeth were initially a little sore because he clenched so hard during the wreck. “We’ve got a new one at the shop. I just talked to him a minute ago and he said he’ll order another one on Monday and we’ll get back at it.”
Pearson wondered if competitors could’ve taken it easy and completed a 50-lap main event, but he was wary before hearing that officials postponed the race.
“You just hate to see it,” Pearson said. “This guy just got airlifted out of here and I don’t even know what condition he’s even in, but you look at his race car over there and apparently they cut him out of it. I don’t know. It’s just a bad situation. To see (so many cars) flip over already ... we’re probably going to see some more.”
In his heat race, “I just kind of drove as straight as I could,” Pearson added. “The biggest problem is, you can’t really see the holes, and you go in there and just pitch the race car and the right-rear digs into the hole. That’s when you’ll flip over.”
Schwallie said the focus of the track and series was absolutely on safety.
“At the end of the day, everything is about making our cars safer, doing the safer thing,” he said. “That’s a difficult decision to go do. Very difficult. When you have that kind of crowd that’s spent their hard-earned money to come out and enjoy races with us, but you have to think through what’s practical, what we want to see, and when one’s entertainment becomes just over-the-top dangerous.
“We had three cars flipped. That last one, we used our (driver-removal) equipment for the first time we’ve ever had to. The things we’ve put in place for an accident scene were right, and they were all there. The crew we had, the people we had there were the right people. All of that’s the right stuff. You hope you never have to use it, but we had to use it tonight.
“How are you supposed to look these racers in the eye, and for them to think you’ve got their back, when it’s that bad? We can’t lose sight of what the end game is.”
Correction: Fixes Eddy's hometown and hospital location to Louisville sted Indianapolis.