IRVINGTON, Ala. — Currently leading the Sportsmen division point standings at Mobile International Speedway (MIS), some Gulf Coast racing fans would think that it has been business as usual for Lee “Red Dog” Reynolds so far this year.
However, in the months following a scary accident in December during the Sportsmen feature of Snowball Derby weekend at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, it has been anything but normal as he has faced multiple battles to even get the chance to be back behind the wheel of a racecar.
It’s been a journey with as many ups and downs as a roller coaster. One that has tested his determination and patience—but it all proved worthwhile on May 23 at MIS when his famous No. 32 returned to victory lane after scoring his first feature win since the accident.
Broken Hearts, Broken Car
Like the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR, the annual Snowball Derby at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida is the crown jewel of short track racing in the Gulf Coast region. Every driver in the area dreams of someday visiting victory lane there during the four days of racing action that take place at the speedway every year in early December.
The admiration for the event, and the desire to be victorious there, rings true for Reynolds as well. And following a very successful season at nearby Mobile International Speedway, the Theodore, Alabama resident had plenty of momentum leading into the Sportsmen division feature on the opening night of Derby weekend.
Having a fast car in practice, confidence was high for Reynolds and his team before the race. What they didn’t know; however, was what lied ahead just six laps into the 50-lap event—a moment that would turn their worlds upside-down.
Tangling with two cars after attempting to go three-wide to pass them both, Reynolds was sent careening towards the retaining wall and eventually made hard contact with it on the backstretch.
“I got put to the rear [for the start of the race],” explained Reynolds earlier this week. “They dropped the [green flag] and we had a fast car. I saw these two cars in front of me battling it out, so I went to go on the outside of them and try to make it three-wide. About the time I tried to go around them, they both made contact. I don’t know who it was, but I wheel-hopped, which sent me airborne into the wall.”
The vicious accident resulted in a lengthy red flag period as safety workers had to cut the roof off his car to get him out. He was then sent to a local hospital for further treatment.
“I don’t really remember a whole lot after [the contact], just what people have told me,” he continued. “I was kind of in and out, but I remember riding down the road in the ambulance and then waking up the next day.”
After a short time in a coma, Reynolds was diagnosed with a concussion. Despite being hooked up to multiple machines and confined to a hospital bed, he was concerned about his car being destroyed more than anything.
Walking away with just the concussion, Reynolds was lucky—but with only three months left until the start of the new season; he had his work cut out for him.
On the Comeback
Following the accident, Reynolds’ car was terminal. Besides the roof having been cut off so the safety crew could tend to him, it was also missing other body panels as well as the chassis being damaged beyond repair.
In the blink of an eye, a proven car that propelled him to multiple poles and feature wins was relegated to nothing more than a heap of sheet metal. Reynolds and his crew were faced with the daunting task of attempting to replicate the proven history of their old car – and even worse—they had only three months to get it on the track.
Before they could think of building the new car though, Reynolds had to decide whether or not he even wanted to continue racing. The decision; however, would be an easy one.
“I never gave it a second thought,” said Reynolds. “It never crossed my mind about quitting racing. I wasn’t scared because I don’t remember any of [the accident]. I had people at the track who told me, ‘Man, I never thought I would ever see you back over here’ and I told them ‘I don’t remember it.’”
Following the quick decision, and updating to the latest safety equipment following his family’s recommendation, the race to complete the new No. 32 car got underway—but it would be met with multiple challenges.
Return of “The Dog”
Despite a valiant effort by himself and his crew during the offseason, Reynolds’ new car was not ready for the start of the 2015 season in March. His ability to complete a full season and compete for the Sportsmen division championship was in doubt.
Then, at the eleventh hour, he struck a deal. One of the many people who played a pivotal role in his return to racing, Brandon Tipton gave up his No. 88 car, which allowed Reynolds to race it until the new car was finished.
As part of the ARCA Racing Series weekend at MIS, Reynolds made his first start of the season in the No. 88 on March 21, but was only able to muster a fifth-place finish. He backed it up a week later by finishing fifth again.
On April 25, Reynolds debuted his new car, and the results came quickly. Finishing third in the 25-lap feature, he assumed the lead in the championship standings and currently remains there.
One month later, on Memorial Day weekend, the checkered flag not only waved on his battle back from the accident, but also for the driver, as Reynolds scored his first win of the season. The result stretched his lead in the standings to 52 markers over second-place as the long summer stretch of the season begins.
Although it was much more difficult than it looked, and required a lot of help from his friends and family, just that quickly Reynolds returned to his previous form. “The Dog” is back, and judging by his performance as of late, it could be a long summer for his division foes.
Reynolds made it a point to mention that his return back to racing would not have been possible without the help and support of his friends, family and sponsors; which include his wife, Rachel, daughter, Janie, friends Jason Huffmaster, Mark Barnhill and Roman Upshaw, Lookout Graphics, and his sponsor Maeco Fabrication. He is also thankful for Tim Bryant and the crews at Mobile International Speedway and 5 Flags Speedway for their hard work and dedication to local short track racing.
Gulf Coast racing fans can catch Reynolds and the rest of the drivers who call Mobile International Speedway home in action on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month at the speedway. Racing returns to Alabama’s fastest half-mile on June 13 with a doubleheader from Pro Late Model division, a demolition derby, as well as feature races for the Pro Trucks, Sportsmen and Bombers.
-Mobile International Speedway Press Release. Photo credit: Bruce Nuttleman/Speed51.com