Joan Feller, a INEX Legends Car driver involved in a serious crash at Iowa’s Hawkeye Downs Speedway on Friday, July 31, succumbed to her injuries Wednesday afternoon according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
Feller’s Legends Car struck another competitor’s car head-on in Friday’s event at Hawkeye Downs. She was unresponsive at the scene and was taken to an area hospital in critical condition. According to a GoFundMe page set up by Feller’s family, doctors informed the family that she would not recover due to the severity of her injuries. A report on Twitter from Jeremiah Davis, a journalist for The Gazette, on Tuesday afternoon said that Feller was kept on life support by the family so that her youngest daughter, who was away on a school trip, could say goodbye.
The accident happened on the quarter-mile inside the facility when one car, driven by 12-year-old Sammy Smith, spun in front of Feller’s machine. Feller hit Smith head-on. Smith was uninjured.
Feller was transported to Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was reportedly transferred by helicopter to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
A fellow driver in a different division lended a helping hand as officials worked to extricate Feller from her machine on Friday night.
“I was actually strapped into my car getting ready to line up for our feature event,” said Brian Gibson, a Late Model driver at Hawkeye Downs, and also a Cedar Rapids Fire Department Battalion Chief. “One of my crew guys told me I may as well get out because there was an accident and it looked like it would take a while. So I got out and then he came back and told me that I may want to head over to the scene. At that point one of the corner workers was already en route to get me to head out there.”
Gibson has assisted with the response training of the Hawkeye Downs staff ever since the last serious crash at the Speedway in 2014 when a man died in a RV race during the Race ‘Em or Wreck ‘Em event.
“Since then our fire department, our safety team, our transporting ambulance agency and the administration at the Hawkeye Downs facility got together and we went over everything and reviewed everything,” Gibson told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I was instrumental in that to make sure that we had everything reviewed. In the spring I gave all of our firefighters here a class on race car safety. All of our guys understood how a HANS device works, how a five-point harness works, how the cars are constructed and how you would get somebody out.”
He explained that when he didn’t exactly know to expect to see when he arrived at the scene of the accident.
“It was a quarter-mile event and it was a Legends car,” Gibson said. “What I was expecting was that there was enough damage to the vehicle to where we couldn’t get the driver out. That’s what I was expecting.”
However, that was not the case. Gibson was quickly briefed on the situation, and then went to work to help remove Feller from her race car, which was made more difficult because the door was jammed.
“The attending paramedic from the ambulance service said we had an unresponsive driver and they’re not sure if we have a pulse,” Gibson explained. “He said to me, ‘We need to get her out and I’m struggling with the helmet, so can you give me a hand?’ I said sure, let me in there. I stepped in from there.
“The speedway team had already secured the area with fluids. They had stay-dry down on any fluids and oils so the scene was safe. They’d also already started cutting the roof off the car in case we needed to get her out that way. The door was jammed. The chassis had evidently sprung a little bit. Once they made the second cut the frame relieved itself and the door popped open.”
Feller was a special education school teacher at Wilkins Elementary School in Marion, Iowa. She had worked within the Linn-Mar school district since August 2002.
Feller had reportedly saved for the last three years to buy a race car to achieve her lifelong dream of being a race car driver.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help with the funeral expenses, as well as the college tuition for Feller’s youngest daughter who is set to begin school at the University of Iowa in a few weeks. That page can be found here: http://www.gofundme.com/6x6x3upnp8
“This is really just a truly tragic accident,” Gibson said. “Her dream was to race a race car. She finally was able to do that this year. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount, additional information from Matt Kentfield, Speed51.com Executive Director
-Photo Credit: Joan Feller Memorial Fund