(By Jeremy Elliott, PennLive.com) – Central Pennsylvania is a hotbed for Sprint Car racing and will take center stage this week when the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series comes to town.
But a visit by the best drivers in the country isn’t the only reason the region is on the motorsports radar.
Williams Grove Speedway, one of the most historic tracks in the country, is wrapped up in a lawsuit with Sprint Car driver John Westbrook. The trial started Monday with jury selection and opening arguments and is scheduled to last seven days.
Westbroook filed a lawsuit after suffering injuries in a crash at the speedway September 2008 in which he made contact with another car. His car went over the Turn 1 guardrail and down a steep drop-off that leads to an access road.
David Inscho, Westbrook’s attorney, is arguing that a catch fence or higher guardrail would have kept Westbrook’s car inside the track and that the driver would have avoided injuries that left him a quadriplegic.
Williams Grove Speedway attorney Brigid Alford is contending that Westbrook signed a release and in doing so knew the risks.
The case has become a hot-button topic with fans. It’s also being carefully watched by sanctioning bodies and other promoters across the country that are worried about the effects of the decision on their facilities.
“I think the entire industry is watching it,” said Tom Deery, president and chief operating officer of the World of Outlaws. “Just from the sense that they have, essentially, questioned the value of the release, a cornerstone of what have been doing for years.”
“From an industry perspective, it doesn’t change [the World of Outlaws] position with Williams Grove or any other facility we visit.”
The World of Outlaws is owned by the World Racing Group, which also owns a Late Model and Modified series.
As a traveling series, the initial presumption is that the final outcome of the trial might not directly affect the World Racing Group. However, the organization does own and operate three speedways.
Most notable is Lernerville Speedway in western Pennsylvania. The group also has ties to Rolling Wheels Raceway in New York and Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park.
“I have my personal opinions about it as most people do,” Deery said. “The waiver-release is the same document at every track, whether you go to Daytona or your local dirt track.
“I don’t think this will change anything. I think there have been enough situations where the waiver-release withstood challenges, and I’m pretty confident that it is vetted and has served our industry well for the last 50 years.”
Deery reiterated that the World Racing Group has taken safety precautions at the three speedways under its banner.
According to Deery, each track has been updated as far as safety and is in compliance with the insurance company’s suggestions.
“We are always improving our facilities,” Deery said. “I don’t see it changing what we do. Whatever decision is made, it’s not going to change the impact of how we run our business.
“This is an isolated issue. I don’t even know that it is specific to Williams Grove. I think this is lawyers being lawyery.”
Other track promoters are concerned.
Steve O’Neal promotes Port Royal Speedway, a facility in Juniata County that is approximately an hour away from Williams Grove.
O’Neal isn’t jumping to any conclusions. But he is also wary of how a decision could impact his or other racing facilities.
“I’m going to watch it and see what happens,” O’Neal said. “I will say, we are doing all the improvements we can afford to do.
“I just hope it doesn’t get to the point where someone comes in and tells you what you need to do. That will shut places down.”
– Photo credit: Williams Grove Speedway