Short track race car driver Tim Schendel has experienced his fair share of ups and downs throughout his racing career, but nothing compares to the devastation he is now facing. Schendel, a Late Model racer on the ARCA Midwest Tour and at local Wisconsin short tracks, received a heart-wrenching phone call early Tuesday morning from his local fire department. Iron Eagle Racing, a team owned by Schendel and his father Ron, had lost nearly everything as a result of a fire that engulfed the team’s race shop.
“We were working at the shop that day and I left the shop at about four o’clock and got a call right around midnight saying that the shop was on fire,” Schendel told Speed51.com powered by JEGS on Wednesday afternoon. “It was already fully engulfed and the fire department was already on their way. It was one of those really, really heart-wrenching feelings and one of those phone calls nobody wants to get regardless of whether you have a shed full of tractors, a barn full of animals or race cars.”
The fire department's investigation into the cause of the fire continues, but as of Wednesday afternoon Schendel said that they have a pretty good idea that the fire was caused by a heating system malfunction.
“The shop had in-floor heat,” said Schendel. “It’s heated with water through the floor and there’s like a tank over on the side of the wall. Something malfunctioned with the heating system and what the fire department suspects is that it just force-fed the whole building full of LP gas and then it was just like a gigantic blow torch burning everything inside. There wasn’t a lot of ash. It was a very, very hot fire.”
Schendel said that he and his father did not own the garage, but instead were renting. An ironic twist to the story is that the team had just settled into the new garage in August after 14 years of housing their race team in another nearby garage.
“Some things kind of changed and we had to move out in the middle of the summer. We just got settled into the new shop in about August and it kind of screwed up my racing during the middle of the season.
“Another twist to the whole thing besides the fire is that recently our truck and trailer was parked at our old shop and it was parked to the side and there’s another business above us, an insulation company, and one of their trucks knocked out of gear and rolled down the hill with nobody in it. It rolled right into our Ford dually and totaled it. It’s like, man, can anything else go wrong? It’s quite a twist of events.”
Thankfully for Schendel, the team’s truck and trailer were parked at a different location during the fire. Additionally, all of his trophies, as well as a few spare parts and tools were being kept in a storage shed following the team’s move from the larger garage they were previously in to the smaller garage they lost on Tuesday morning.
Unfortunately, the family-owned racing team, which has been in operation for over 20 years, will still take a devastating hit as a result of the fire. Items lost in the fire include the turn-key Hamke race car that Schendel recently qualified fourth with during Oktoberfest weekend at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway (WI). Other major losses include the team’s large pit cart, electrical tools, scales, shocks, and wheels, as well as the driver’s fire suit, helmet, HANS device and driving shoes.
Despite the horrible event that took place early Tuesday morning, Schendel remains thankful for recent opportunities that will allow him to stay behind the wheel of a race car in 2015.
“My other good saving grace to all of this is that I started driving for a guy, Salvator Mignognia,” Schendel said. “He had a car and another kid was driving that. The kid that was driving the car evaporated and he (Mignognia) asked me at Madison if I wanted to drive his car one day. Long story short, we created a relationship and raced some more. That car was down at Sal’s shop and our plans are to race about a dozen races next year with Sal, that’s aside from what I had with me and my dad.”
Schendel told Speed51.com that he and Mignognia have not put together a schedule for the upcoming season yet, but they do plan to compete in select events on the ARCA Midwest Tour, as well as select races at nearby Madison International Speedway and Marshfield Motor Speedway.
Since the fire on Tuesday morning, Schendel has had talks with his father and the two still remain uncertain about the future of the Iron Eagle Racing Team. He said the smart thing to do, economically, would be to walk away but that’s not an easy decision for two guys that love the sport of auto racing.
“Me and dad were talking last night and he’s like, ‘Do you think we should just give it up on our end and you can be a driver for somebody else?’ Like Dad was saying, maybe we just call it quits and shut the door and close that chapter in the book,” said Schendel.
“But then last night he’s like, ‘We’ve still got the trailer, maybe we can acquire another car, a pit cart and stuff to keep going.’ He’ll sit there and say we’ve done this for so long and talk about how we just keep getting ticked off, but when he sits back and looks at it he’s got the attitude of, ‘yeah you can kick me, but I’m going to get back up’ and I’ve kind of got that same mentality, too. It’s that racer mentality.”
Over the course of the past 24 hours, Schendel has received a tremendous amount of support from fans and fellow drivers both on Facebook and on the phone. He says that he greatly appreciates all of the support that has been offered to him during this tough time.
“I’ve never been so down in this magnitude with what has happened,” Schendel said. “It’s been great to see the outreach from people offering help. Unfortunately, I could probably walk into what’s left in that building and pick out 20 wrenches that are charred to a crisp and maybe soak them in diesel fuel to bring them to life a little bit. Other than that, everything is gone. Whatever is left is just scrap metal now.”
Schendel has re-visited the site of the fire with friends and family since Tuesday morning and each time he returns to the place he used to call a “second home” he becomes more and more devastated.
“The wound is still really fresh,” said the Wisconsin racer. “Yesterday we were all kind of shell-shocked and during the light of the day we all went to look at it and it’s like, 'Oh my god, really?' There’s nothing left. Then you start digging through the stuff and looking around and it’s like, ‘Oh that was in here, too.’ To keep going through there it was like more and more and more was in here. It’s quite an unfortunate deal. I hope that nobody ever has to endure something like this, that’s for sure.”
If you would like to offer any help or assistance to Tim Schendel and Iron Eagle Racing, please email him at [email protected], call him at 608-487-0021 or visit the Iron Eagle Racing Team Facebook page by clicking here.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo Credit: Iron Eagle Racing Team