Typically, flipping a car in the feature spells the end of the night, but not for John Willman. He drove his modified back into the pits, made repairs, and returned in time for the restart.
“Everyone in front of me got sideways when Mike Mahaney tried to save his car while he was racing Matt Sheppard for fourth,” Willman, of Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, said. “I thought I was going to miss the spinning cars, but someone got into me and pushed me into Matt Stangle. My car flipped over, came down on the roll cage, flipped again and landed on all fours.”
Willman was not injured. He sat in an Ultra Shield full-containment seat, with in a Simpson five-point harness, within a Teo chassis. Willman wore a Simpson helmet paired with a HANS.
“When I saw the safety truck arrive, I unbuckled and got out of the car,” said Willman. “I got out of the car, walked around it, and saw that all the tires were up. The roof was ripped off, lying on the track. One quarter panel was off, the other was hanging by a Dzus button.”
After a brief assessment, Willman thought he might be able to return to feature.
“When the track lights turned to yellow, I fired up my Wide Open Technologies spec engine and drove into the pits,” Willman said. “My wife, Beth, was running down the front of the grandstand to see how bad the wreck was. When the announcer talked about me driving into the pits, she turned around and ran all the way to the pits to help me. Ryan Watt’s crew and his son, Logan, ran and everyone started ripping sheet metal off and taping up loose pieces of metal.”
Unbelievably, Willman made it back to the track entrance before the green flew again. The officials were among the surprised.
“I sat there for about three minutes,” said Willman. “There were 14 cars left, mine was the 15th. Georgetown Speedway is notorious for its high attrition rate, so I figured if I’d go out and run the bottom, maybe I could pick up a few more spots.”
The officials allowed him to return. John Willman moved up one spot, finishing 14th.
“I always will do anything to get back on the track,” Willman said. “In the past, I even broke bolts on the back of the crank in a heat, pulled the transmission out, repaired it, and was back for the feature. I don’t stop. I’ll keep going until my car can’t go any longer.”
The Outside Groove Director of Photography has written hundreds of stories since the website’s inception. This year marks his 54th 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.