Andrew Kunas, NWWT & PHRA Publicist
VANCOUVER, Wash. – It’s one of those duties no one in the auto racing world wants to do, but will always do when it is necessary.
Drivers from the IXL Metal Conditioner NorthWest Wingless Tour traditional 360 sprint cars, midgets, and Pacific Hardtop Racing Association dwarf cars, with the blessing of the Arnold Family at Willamette Speedway, will take part in a helmet pass through the grandstands during their events on Friday night, July 30th, raising money that will be donated to fellow members of the racing community who are in need, following one of the most troubling weekends in recent memory.
Marysville, Wash. driver Jeff Bell and Oklahoma driver Wayne Johnson are recovering from severe injuries suffered in crashes at Grays Harbor Raceway in Elma, Wash. during the final night of the Fred Brownfield Memorial on Saturday, their accidents the worst of many hard wrecks that were seen on that bizarre night. Forney, Texas driver Travis Rilat, recently the new father of a baby girl, is in the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after a methanol explosion outside a Sedro-Woolley, Wash. race shop on Sunday. Rilat’s crewman, Tyson Perez from Australia, died of his injuries on Wednesday morning from that same explosion.
The funds raised by the NWWT and PHRA will go to the families of the injured drivers to help with medical and other possible expenses while they recover from their injuries, as well as to the Perez Family, who will likely have hospital bills of their own to deal with as well as possible funeral expenses in their native Australia. Arrangements will be made to send the money to proper accounts. Anyone who wishes to donate any spare cash or change is strongly urged to do so, and it would be greatly appreciated.
Rainouts have resulted in the NWWT sprint cars having only two events this year, and ironically those two main events were won by Bell and Rilat. Bell won the NorthWest Wingless Tour’s unofficial season opener at Grays Harbor Raceway on June 12th, the same night the PHRA dwarf cars were racing there. Rilat, a nationally touring driver who was in town a day early for the Fred Brownfield Memorial, took his wings off and won last Thursday’s NWWT event at the same track.
Bell was racing his Ford Focus midget when he rubbed wheels with another car, just enough to send him on a vicious series of flips entering the front stretch from Turn 4 of the big 3/8-mile clay oval, frightening most of the fans in attendance. Bell broke both of his clavicles, a wrist, a number of damaged vertebrae and suffered a concussion as well. He is, however, expected to recover and is said to be in good spirits.
Johnson, racing his winged 360 sprint car in the ASCS National Tour’s Fred Brownfield Memorial main event, flipped upside down on the back stretch and the torque tube from his car snapped and struck him in the right leg, causing severe damage. Doctors managed to save his leg in surgery later that evening, though he has a long recovery and more possible surgeries ahead of him.
Rilat, who led all but one lap to win the NorthWest Wingless Tour race at Grays Harbor last Thursday, remains in the Harborview Medical Center burn unit, said to be one of the best burn units in the country. Rilat and Perez were severely burned when a barrel of methanol exploded on them outside a race shop in a stunt gone wrong.
When the drivers come back down from the grandstands, hopefully with their helmets full, the money will be emptied into a large 12×18 envelope to be counted later and as of now will eventually be split between the four families. That envelope, sadly, is the same envelope that was used in the helmet pass for Travis Rutz at Willamette Speedway in October. Rutz is slowly recovering from his injuries from a crash in Terre Haute, Indiana in late September.
The PHRA dwarf car group will also collect donations the next night, Saturday, July 31st at Madras Speedway in north central Oregon and hope to do a helmet pass there as well. Local drivers, most especially the sprint car drivers, will be welcomed to join them should a helmet pass be done there as well.
The NWWT and PHRA express their condolences to the family of Tyson Perez, and wish speedy recoveries to Jeff Bell, Wayne Johnson and Travis Rilat, and hope to see the grandstands full of fans on July 30th at Willamette Speedway.