WOODSTOCK, Ga. — It was early in the evening at Dixie Speedway, with people filing in and support classes getting underway on the red clay Georgia oval. It was a typical Lucas Oil Late Model event, with a crowded pit area and a sense of anticipation that it was going to be a tough night of competition.
The TV truck was up and running, the cameras were rolling, and everybody was in place for a broadcast to be shown later on Speed. The adrenaline that fuels a broadcast was rising as rapidly as the pitch of the racing engines, and the autumn chill hurried in as the sun went away.
The cell phone began to buzz, with urgent messages and inquiries from a favorite track far to the north. News came in small bursts, tight and compact and constrained by the new language of text messaging.
Very bad crash. Shane Hmiel. Cage severely damaged. Airlifted.
It was hard, hearing news from 500 miles away with no way to reach out. Bad news in racing crosses all boundaries, and it’s difficult to enjoy our sport when we know one of our own — and his extended family of relatives, friends and colleagues — is hurting.
But our night of racing would go on. A great deal of effort is expended to produce a motorsports broadcast, and everybody involved owes it to the team to be completely focused on the events at hand. For that reason my phone is normally left back at the car, but for some reason on this night I felt compelled to bring it along.
Fate, I guess.
Soon our show got underway and I pushed my concerns for Shane to the back of my mind. There were interviews to do, questions to ask, and an important race to cover. We watched as the heats unfolded, and then the B mains, and finally prepared to cover the 50-lap feature.
Through the natural chaos of covering our event, there were moments when I thought of Shane, praying that my phone would not ring again. In this instance no news is better; I pictured the familiar scene of a hospital waiting area, where friends and family rush to find out more, to offer support, to help each other.
To wait. And to pray.
I remembered how Shane had changed my outlook on some things, and helped me understand more deeply that heart and determination can trump setbacks and mistakes. That redemption can follow rejection.
For the past couple of years since coming to USAC, Shane was a living example that we have inside us the ability to rise above our circumstances and not let anything keep us from pursuing our dream.
To uproot and come to the Midwest and race completely different cars on a completely different surface and to excel as he has, well, he has been superb. To do it with grace and humility, well, that’s been superb, too.
As our race at Dixie played out, lots of things crossed my mind. It was exciting to see Scott Bloomquist clinch his second- straight series title, and it was fun to watch a couple of guys come through the field on a very fast and challenging track.
Jimmy Owens used a provisional and charged to fourth; it seems that nobody can do that quite like Jimmy.
There was also the heartbreak of watching Jon Blankenship race from the tail to challenge for the top three at the finish, only to come up light at the scales.
Amid the festive atmosphere of a race just completed, it was impossible not to think about the difficult news from the north.
But in racing the show goes on because that’s what we do.
Thankfully, the next morning there was encouraging news from Indiana.
Yes, Shane Hmiel has a tough road ahead; but based on what he’s shown us the past couple of years, the man is up to the fight. That much we know.
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