A wreck on the second lap of Saturday’s Highland Home Building Centres 75 for the NAPA Sportsman Series at Riverside International Speedway (NS) has caught the local and motorsports industry media ablaze, no pun intended.
The penultimate round of the series, which splits nine races between the high banked 1/3-mile oval outside Antigonish, Nova Scotia and Sydney, Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Miners Memorial Speedway, was off to a quick start Saturday evening. Former point leader Shawn Waterfield and Dave Timmons set out to an early advantage up front, but behind them, chaos ensued as the field roared off of turn two on lap 2. Sophomore driver Jeffrey Breen lost control of his No. 22 car on the inside line, sending the car back into an oncoming Brad DeCoste and Darren Wallage.
The field behind, comprised of 19 cars total, scattered. Some cars went spinning to the inside of the track, while others slowed up out of turn two. Jeffrey’s brother Corey, the winner of the season opener at Riverside, was collected. So was Phil Barkhouse Jr and rookie drivers Joey Rudderham and James Sample.
Then came along John Delorey, carrying a full head of steam as he exited turn two and came upon the crash scene.
Delorey has raced at Riverside before, but has not raced a stock car in over a decade. He was substituting for his son Daniel, a former Four Cylinder standout at Scotia Speedworld who picked up a Sportsman car three years ago when he was ready to move up a division. John was running in the race to keep Daniel in the points hunt for the series while Daniel worked out west.
John Delorey’s No. 9 struck Wallage’s car first. The impact was hard enough to rupture the fuel cell on contact. As fuel spilled on the track, Delorey’s car made its way to the inside wall, coming to rest on the inside wall concrete and against Rudderham’s No. 67 car.
With the cars full of fuel for the 75 lap race, once Wallage’s full tank of fuel began to leak onto the surface, around his hot car, it would spark a fire. Wallage’s car was struck near the top of the race track, and as Wallage’s car caught on fire it spread down the line of fuel. Cars that tried to back away from the fuel spill, like Sample and Barkhouse, had in turn ignited a fire under their cars.
Barkhouse, a multi-time Sportsman champion within the province and a former Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour driver, had never seen something quite like this before.
“I’ve been racing since 1991 and I’ve run every class of car we have up here. This is the first time I was ever involved in something like this and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”
It was the quick work of the Riverside International Speedway safety and clean-up crew, who were positioned feet from the wreck inside the back straight pit, along with the quick work of some onlookers who helped get the blaze under control and the drivers out of their cars.
One of whom was Barkhouse, who went back into the flames to help his fellow drivers by using a fire extinguisher to help fight the fire.
“Frank Fraser was quick to get an extinguisher and I went back into the fire to try and extinguish Darren’s car because I thought he was still in it. Thankfully, he got out very quickly.”
James Sample grew up just miles from the track he frequented every summer and traded in wrenches for a steering wheel on the NAPA Sportsman Series this summer. The rookie found himself in the middle of the wreck on Saturday afternoon.
“I noticed a car down low as I exited Turn Two,” said Sample as he described the wreck. “The cars began to scatter in front of me. I had seen a gap down low, so I put the brake to the floor and aimed for the gap. Almost as I got stopped, the nine-car (Delorey) hit my right front and pushed us both into Rudderham’s car. My car was still running when we stopped, so I put it in reverse to not pin Rudderham against the wall. At the same time the fire started. My spotter, who was spotting for the first time, had told me to get out of the car, but when I backed up, Phil’s car had come into contact with mine, which lit the fuel on my tires on fire.”
Sample, like the Delorey family, grew up around the Antigonish area and spent most of their summer weekends at Riverside Speedway.
“When I got into the infield and I had realized what had happened, I began looking for John. After I saw his daughter by the ambulance, my heart sank. I saw the damage on John’s car afterward and I got pretty nervous about going back out, even with my crew determined to get me back out there. I was rattled. Eventually my father convinced me to get back and finish the race.
“I’ve watched the video over and over and have spoke to the Delorey family a few times this week. We are really close at the track and are quick to help each other when we can or share a laugh when we need it. It’s been emotionally taxing on a lot of us.”
For Brad DeCoste, this is the second major wreck he has been involved in this season. In July, his car struck and broke the cross over gate on the back straight of the track, which ultimately caused a fire under his car in turn three.
“The first crash (with the no. 22 car) was nothing out of the ordinary,” recalls DeCoste of the accident. “It looked like he had overdrove the turn. After I had stopped, my spotter asked if I was okay, which I said I was but we were done for the night with the damage we had.
“At that point, the nine car hit me. It was like someone dumped a bucket of gas over the car. It was everywhere and it happened quick. I waited for things to stop before climbing out. The safety crew at the track did a very good job.”
As for what happens next for DeCoste, one of the favorites every time the series hits the track at Riverside, is unknown.
“I have to talk with my wife and my family to see if this is something we should continue doing.”
As a closing remark, DeCoste brought up a rule change made by most Maritime tracks for Late Model Sportsman cars, including the NAPA Sportsman Series, banning the exhaust pipes to be run out the door and mandating them to be run underneath the race car and out the back. All regularly competing Maritime tracks with the exception of Speedway 660, as of the beginning of 2015, did not allow cars to run their exhaust out the door.
“I hope it is something they look at for next year. My hope is after all of this that they look at allowing cars to run their exhaust out the door like it was allowed last year.”
As for the drivers, save for being shaken up and some smoke inhalation, all emerged okay. John Delorey was initially transported to nearby St. Martha’s Hospital in Antigonish before being taken to Halifax. His son Daniel said Tuesday evening that he was still listed in stable condition.
Kyle Reid of Sydney, Nova Scotia went on to win the feature over a hard charging Dale Richardson and Timmons. Reid extended his point lead over Darren Price with the victory.
The race served as the season finale at Riverside International Speedway. The NAPA Sportsman Series will conduct their final race of 2015 at Cape Breton Miners Memorial Speedway on Sunday, September 27 at 2 p.m.
-Tim Terry, Special Report for Speed51.com
-Contributions to the story made by Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor
-Photo credit: YouTube Screenshot