A long-standing tradition at a Missouri dragstrip nearly turned tragic Saturday evening.
The Jeffers Motorsports Park, formerly known as the Sikeston Dragstrip, located in Sikeston, Missouri, has for more than half a century conducted a unique tradition of sending the class winners back up the racetrack following their respective final rounds to celebrate with their crews and have winners’s circle photos taken. And that tradition has gone off without a hitch for much of those 50-plus years.
But on Saturday evening, an apparent communication breakdown led to a dicey situation for a trio of racers: many-time Super Pro track champion Jim Wade had just added another victory to his long resume in his Pontiac Firebird and, in continuing with tradition, navigated his way back up the racetrack, saddling the left lane guardrail. A half a mile away, track officials signaled the next pair of cars forward, unaware of Wade slowly making his way though the darkness back to the starting line.
The two drivers lit the stage beams and took the tree, still unaware of Wade. Even the starter didn’t see the incoming car and halt the proceedings. At the 60-foot mark, the driver in the near lane suddenly caught a glimpse of Wade’s Firebird and took evasive action, veering hard into the lane of opponent Christian Deen.
Noted Deen: “We were watching the tree, we weren’t looking down the track, And his car would be very hard to see a chassis car at the other end of the track at night. Didn’t know he was there until the other guy got in my lane.”
The affected race was re-run once the drivers were given an opportunity to cool down their engines. And, thankfully, a tragedy was averted, largely by pure luck — 20 or 30 seconds sooner and this story may have had an entirely different tone.