INDEPENDENCE — More often than not, the best remedy to dealing with tragic events is a return to normalcy.
That’s what the racing community at Independence Motor Speedway did Saturday night, following the death early Saturday morning of Sport Mod racer Brandon Smith. Racers, crew members and track officials all did what they said Smith would’ve wanted: came out to race, have fun and have a distraction.
“Everybody comes together when something happens,” said speedway co-promoter Todd Summers. “Drivers that have their differences or what have you, that’s all gone. They come together.
“They realize this is a dangerous sport, and stuff happens and it’s unfortunate. But any time you do anything there’s danger. You just notice it more.”
Smith, a Quasqueton native, raced at Independence Motor Speedway on Friday night, finishing fifth in the Sport Mod feature event.
The 25 year-old died in an accident at his shop, while preparing a fellow racer’s car for Saturday night’s weekly racing. The news spread around the racing community after his girlfriend, Stephanie King, made the discovery.
His closest friends and competitors were among those who decided coming to the racetrack was the best decision. That included King, who is pregnant with she and Smith’s first child together. She told a track official she came to the track because she thought that’s what Smith would’ve wanted her to do.
“I heard about it this morning — I woke up and got a call from another racer. I just couldn’t believe it,” said friend Brennen Chipp, who races in the Modified division. “Something like that, you never want to see it happen to one of your brothers you race with. It’s an all-around bad deal, but I’m sure he’d want every single one of us here to be racing.”
Chipp said he, Smith and a group of racers stood in the pit area after the races Friday night and joked about who was going to get a win on Saturday.
Instead, the speedway honored Smith with decals bearing his No. 49, a moment of silence and left the pole position open for the Sport Mod feature race in what officials called the “Missing Car Formation.”
Those who raced Saturday night said there was a new perspective on-track, and didn’t have a hard time focusing on the task at hand.
“We just raced against him Saturday night. Said goodbye and see you tomorrow,” said Jim Buhlman, who raced against Smith in the Sport Mod division. “I think we’ll be able to focus pretty well. I hope people will have this in their minds for the rest of the summer and remember we’re all out here doing this for fun. You never know when it might end, and you really shouldn’t get quite as upset with people.”
If anything, they said, losing their friend gives them extra motivation to win and honor his memory.
“I think it’ll make me want to race that much harder,” Chipp said. “I’m sure he’s up there looking over us. I’m going to drive my heart out for him, that’s for sure.”
And race they all did — albeit through two delays due to rain.
They were able to get all the races in, with the rain creating a very fast and tacky racing surface. A few of the winners said they would donate their winnings to a memorial fund for Smith, which has yet to be officially set up.
Dakoda Sellers won the Sport Mod feature event, the first win in any division of his career. He said he’d “definitely” be donating part of his winnings to the fund.
“I just knew Brandon Smith as the No. 49 Sport Mod. It’s a horrible, horrible thing to see happen,” Sellers said. “We’re going to carry the decal the rest of the year. That’s my good luck charm. I’m going to keep it on there the whole time.”
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