Tears flowed when Reverend Michael “Wombat” Walrod (left) interviewed race winner Hunter Longnecker. Longnecker had just won the Jake Durbin Memorial IMCA sport mod feature at Stuart International Speedway in Iowa. Longnecker knew Durbin, who had passed away in 2018 as the result of suicide.
“I looked up to Jake as a fearless driver, a mentor,” Longnecker, 24, of Ogden, Iowa, said. “I bought my sport mod from him. My sister, Tara, who also raced in the sport mod division, and I looked up to him. He always had time to answer our questions. He was family to us.”
Hunter Longnecker continues to struggle with Durbin’s death.
“Every lap of that race, I said, ‘Why Jake? Why did you do that? Life is too short as it is,’” said Longnecker. “Don’t make life shorter by committing suicide. Jake left everyone else wondering what we did wrong. The only person who got closure was Jake.”
Longnecker’s speech hit home for Walrod. Walrod lost his only son, Clinton, to suicide in 2002.
“There needs to be more people like you who can talk about suicide,” Walrod whispered to Longnecker in victory lane.
Walrod, of De Soto, Iowa, has attended the races at Stuart since 1964.
“I knew Jake very well,” Walrod said. “We texted back and forth three days before he passed. He was in a low spot. I made him promise me he wouldn’t hurt himself. That’s one promise I wish had never broken.”
The full-time minister often gets called to funeral services for those who have taken their life.
“That fact that [suicide] is not talked about does no good,” said Walrod. “The key to understanding suicide is facing the fact that there is no understanding it. I had no one in my life tell me what to expect or how to continue on with life. I speak from experience.”
Walrod tries to help grieving families and friends of suicide victims.
“You can’t dwell on the ‘whys’ or ‘what-ifs’ — they will eat you alive,” Walrod said. “Hunter [Longnecker] took the words right out of my mouth. Suicide has to be talked about, not hushed up. There is always someone to listen to you — local clergy, a police officer, a teacher, or a guidance counselor.”
Walrod said he’s available 24/7 to talk about suicide. He encourages folks to reach him at 515-240-8705 or at [email protected].
This year marks the Outside Groove Director of Photography’s 51st year of covering auto racing. Adaskaveg got his start working for track photographer Lloyd Burnham at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway in 1970. Since then, he’s been a columnist, writer, and photographer, in racing and in mainstream media, for several outlets, including the Journal Inquirer, Boston Herald, Stock Car Racing, and Speedway Illustrated. Among Adaskaveg’s many awards are the 1992 Eastern Motorsport Press Association (EMPA) Ace Lane Photographer of the Year and the 2019 National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) George Cunningham Writer of the Year.