'If I can find a car, I'll be there:' Driver involved in scary crash ready to get back on track at Slinger Super Speedway
SLINGER, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Slinger Super Speedway owner Todd Thelen estimates roughly 500,000 laps have been turned at "The World's Fastest Quarter Mile" since the track was repaved in 1974. During those hundreds of thousands of laps, a lot of wrecks have taken place, but not like Sunday night.
"This is the first time something like this has hit the flag stand," Thelen said. "It's unfortunately part of the sport, but it's one of those things that we know it can happen and we're prepared for it when it does happen."
Roughly six laps into Sunday night's pro late model race, a caution in turn two caused the field to check up on the front straightaway. Video obtained by CBS 58 shows the driver of car 01, Ryan Gutknecht, climb over the right rear tire of the car in front and launch into the air for a wild ride that would tear down a significant portion of the catch fence and hit the flag stand.
"When it hit, I knew I was up into the fence," Gutknecht said, back at work on Wednesday with just a sore foot. I had no idea I had hit the flag stand."
Gutknecht said it was a track announcer who had informed him that his car had hit the flag stand, with flag man and junior flagger in the stand at the time. At that moment, Gutknecht said his mind immediately turned from his race car to his racing family.
"The car can get fixed. The car can be replaced," Gutknecht said. "Racing is family. You see a friend of yours go down like that, it's rough. Knowing you had a part in that, it was a scary situation."
The flag man was transported to a local hospital where he was checked and released that night. The junior flagger was shaken but not injured. Thelen says safety precautions in place at the track helped ensure the driver, officials and fans all went home safe.
"It's just common protocol and any race track you go to, there's safety provisions that are always being watched over and we try our best at it and I think that proved on Sunday night," Thelen said. "Even when something bad happens, we have systems in place so people don't get hurt."
Racing for the night was not able to resume with the fence not repairable in such short time. Work is being done at the track all week to get the speedway prepared for the season finale, scheduled to take place this Sunday afternoon. Thelen says the work to make sure everyone at the track is safe is never-ending.
"Racers accept the responsibility, but it's our job to keep the fans safe and that's what we did Sunday night," Thelen said. "Racecars wreck and sometimes it looks really bad, but most times people walk away, and thankfully, this is one of those times where everybody walked away."
Thelen says work is in place to strengthen the catch fencing at the track and the flag stand itself.
"The systems that are in, they've tested time," Thelen said. "But why not make it better and stronger if you can?"
As for Gutknecht, not only did he walk away from the scary wreck, he's hopeful to be back behind the wheel this weekend to try and win a pro late model championship.
"Something like this happens, it's a freak incident, but sometimes it causes improvements which is a good thing," Gutknecht said. "I've never felt in danger getting in the car. If I can find a car, I'll be there on Sunday."
Racing starts at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon for the season finale at Slinger Super Speedway. Gates open at noon.