INDIANAPOLIS — The road hasn’t been easy for Craig Dollansky, but earlier this year he finally got the good news he was hoping for.
For more than 20 years Dollansky was a favorite in sprint car racing, earning the nickname “The Crowd Pleaser” for his exciting style and his easy interactions with fans. But throughout his career, Dollansky struggled with a variety of injuries, and chronic pain and difficulties led him to announce his retirement from racing in early 2018.
But a surgical procedure this past summer finally alleviated the issues that had lingered for many years, leading Dollansky to return to competition in 2019.
Dollansky’s injury troubles began at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2003. Making his Indy Lights debut during the Freedom 100, Dollansky crashed and suffered a fractured vertebra, an injury that haunted him for many years.
Dollansky was hurt again in a sprint car crash at Arizona’s Cocopah Speedway in early 2016 but pushed on through his pain. The complications from that crash continued to plague Dollansky, leading him to retire from racing and consider further surgery.
A new surgeon, Dr. James Schwender, correctly diagnosed some previously untreated elements on Dollansky’s spine and the ensuing surgery led Dollansky to return to competition.
“I would be a lot further along if I would have had surgery at the end of the 2016 season,” Dollansky said in a statement. “I’m feeling better than I have in three years. … I really didn’t think I would feel this good again.”
Dollansky’s return is welcomed by a lot of fans, particularly in the northern plains. Dollansky, a native of Minnesota, has been a favorite in the region since his career began in 1996.
His first race is scheduled for March 15-16 during the Lucas Oil ASCS Spring Nationals at Devils Bowl Speedway in Texas. Dollansky will wheel the No. 88 sprinter owned by Danny and Naomi King.
Dollansky will also drive the Selvage Motorsports No. 7 in weekly competi
tion at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway, a development that will intrigue Knoxville fans. Dollansky has long been a favorite there and the Selvage car is a top-quality ride.
Some might question Dollansky’s decision to return to racing. After all, they might reason, he enjoyed a relatively long and successful career and took some pretty serious knocks along the way. Why not just ride off into the sunset?
Easier said than done. When racing has been your life for 20-plus years, it’s not easy to step away, especially if you feel that injuries led you to leave a lot on the table.
Besides, everybody should be allowed to choose their own destiny when it comes to their career or life. If Dollansky feels he can be competitive and once again enjoy doing something he loves, more power to him.
“After being sidelined … I have realized how much racing means to me,” Dollansky’s statement read. “I want to remain involved in racing in some way for the rest of my life.”
Dollansky is one of the good guys of the sport, someone who has been enjoyable to know and work with. His return is a good thing for sprint car racing, particularly for the weekly program at Knoxville. Things certainly got a little bit more interesting on Saturday night.