Stephen Klinect, one of many Midwest Modified racers who descended on Bristol Motor Speedway last May for the inaugural U.S. Short Track Nationals, was on his way to earning a top 10 finish at the "Last Great Colosseum” when adversity struck his family-run racing team in a vicious manner. One year later, the Ohio racer is ready to seek redemption and head back to Bristol, TN this coming weekend.
On Lap 35 of last year's Modified feature, Klinect and Tyler Nuckles made contact out of turn two, causing the two cars to spin. The resulting melee became one of the most-shared videos from the inaugural Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol. Klinect spun to face oncoming traffic, then was hit three times as others tried to slow for the incident. The ultimate hit sent Klinect flying over the top of Nuckles, landing on all four tires.
His first response was to his spotter, his father Mark.
“Dad, I’m okay.”
"At first I was mad that I got spun then it was a really uneasy feeling looking the opposite direction of the race track and seeing cars come right at you and with my dad on the radio screaming and cussing. I just shut my eyes when the car hit me head on and I knew I was going to get hit again because my dad was screaming right before I got hit in the door. Worst part after the wreck was hearing my dad ask if I was okay. He sounded so scared like he thought I was hurt. That was the worst part of the ordeal. At the end of the video I can hear me say, 'Dad, I’m okay' but by the grace of God I was okay.
“I still watch that video today and can’t believe how hard of a hit it was.”
While Klinect was okay, the No. 16 Modified he piloted was not. With the support of his wife and parents, the owners of Stephen’s race team, he quickly made the decision that Bristol would not be his last race of 2017.
“That night of the wreck my social media blew up. And with having the luck of the in-car camera from Speed51, it made that much more unbelievable. Had a lot of people asking if I needed anything and so on," Klinect explained. "After we got back home last year we had a new chassis a week later. Then it was a slow process getting it all built."
Everything came together in time for Klinect to return to racing before the end of the 2017 season. In just his third race since the crash, Stephen and his family-backed team celebrated in victory lane on championship night at Sandusky Speedway (OH).
“A big weight was lifted off my shoulders. Like okay, I can still do this. We had a lot of bad luck the past few years and that was our first win in three years”
Despite last year’s incident, returning to Bristol for the second Short Track U.S. Nationals was an easy decision for Klinect.
"We were really fast and we had a blast," he stated. "Anytime we can run a race there we will be there. All I can say is, it's Bristol! With the rules and tires being the same we put the same setup we had for last year’s race in as a really good starting point. We have high expectations for this year and feel good about our chances.”
The Klinect’s will be racing with heavy hearts this year, as Stephen’s Grandfather Gerald Klinect passed away in April.
“He was the heart and soul of our race team. He started racing in 1953 and he started it all. He taught my dad everything about racing and setups. Him and my dad have been my teachers. This whole season is for him, especially at Bristol. I know he will be in the car with me.”
The ICAR All-Star Modified Tour-sanctioned Modified division will take to Bristol Motor Speedway for practice and qualifying on Friday, May 18. Teams will get a final practice session on Saturday, May 19 before running their feature.
Race fans can watch all three days of the Short Track U.S. Nationals by purchasing a pay-per-view video ticket at an early bird discount on Speed51.com.
- Patrick Hahe, Great Lakes Region Editor, Speed51.com