The truth is very simple. One sprint car crashed into the infield of the racetrack where dozens regularly watch from behind the turn one infield K-rail and a sturdy cable protective fenced area. The car flew high over the fence and careened towards the scattering group, where only two of many were unable to escape it's path. This tragic accident has left the racing family in mourning. The event was cancelled and the stunned crowd sent home.
The next chapter is not easy. As an eyewitness to the tragedy, along with many other fans at the PAS on Saturday night, I am still overcome with the visuals that play over and over in my mind in slow motion. Paul and Helen Bagley are gone and we wonder why. That question is always asked when we lose a loved one, and for the racing community, this is very crushingly true, especially in his case. Some suggest they were called home. Some say it was their time. I'll leave it at that.
When Paul lost his son Jeff at Ascot in 1989, he could have given up sprint car racing, but he didn't. Instead he and Helen got even more involved in racing. He put together an award to honor his son's memory and continued on. Along with close friend Harlan Willis, photographer Steve Koletar, and a few more assisting Paul & Helen, the Jeff Bagley Memorial award was born. Over the ten years that the award was presented, it was the one of the highest awards in sprint car racing and sanctioned by the Knoxville Sprint Car Hall of fame. Tom Schmeh, the museum's leader, would make the presentation ceremony part of his travel schedule each year. The honored recipients were Rich Bubak, Glenn Howard, Billy Wilkerson, Don Turl, Danny Pivoveroff, Steve Wiliby, Ralph Tracy, Gale Forester and Bill & Evelyn Pratt. I was lucky to be one of the recipients, and will always cherish it.
The inscription on the award was very special. It read: "Jeff Bagley Memorial, Awarded annually to an individual on the national Motorsports scene who best exemplifies the spirit of the late Jeff Bagley. A 100% effort throughout the season no matter what the circumstances may be. The willingness to help their fellow competitors even at the expense of their on individual performance. A consistent positive attitude towards automobile racing, maintaining the idea that we are all here to have a good time above and beyond everything else. Jeff Bagley was a racer."
Paul and Helen then went on to sponsor a annual Memorial race for Jeff, held at Ventura Raceway, starting in 2001. Cory Kruseman won the first edition and the 3rd edition was scheduled for May 3rd. Sadly, it will now honor them, as well.
The official SCRA press release is as follows:
SCRA SADDEN BY TRAGIC LOSS... by Robert Mayson...
PERRIS, CA, APRIL 26, 2003 - Tragedy hit the Perris Auto Speedway Saturday with the deaths of two of the most revered people within the Sprint Car Racing Association (SCRA) community. Paul and Helen Bagley, Hesperia, were killed after being struck by the car driven by Jack DeArmond, Jr. (Corona). DeArmond's car made contact with another car at the start of the B-Main Event and flipped high into the air, clearing the infield catch-fence before striking the Bagleys. Paul, 74, was pronounced dead at the scene. Helen, 72, later died at Riverside County Regional Medical Center. DeArmond was also transported to the hospital with possible back and neck injuries. "This is the saddest day in SCRA history," said SCRA President Ron Shuman. "The world lost two wonderful people and there are no words to describe the grief so many people are feeling today. Paul and Helen were two of the most remarkable people I have ever met. They were loving and compassionate people who were, and will always, be admired by the entire racing community. Their absence will leave a void that will never be filled." Paul and Helen's son Jeff lost his life in 1989 driving a sprint car at Ascot Park (Gardena). Since his death, Paul and Helen remained actively involved in sprint car racing by sponsoring cars and raising money for various races. One of the races they donated and raised money for was a race held annually at Ventura Raceway honoring their son's memory. Ironically, this year's Jeff Bagley Classic is scheduled for next Saturday (May 3rd). The remainder of the evening's racing program was postponed following the accident. No announcement has been made as to when the balance of the program will be rescheduled.
Accidents happen in racing and even though this one devastated everyone who was there and many across the country, it was handled the right way, except for the local news media. The stories in print were full of untruths and misinformation. Why can't the media verify the story before adding to the facts. The track has safety fences on the infield that most dirt tracks across the country don't feature. They did their job, but fate is cruel and the press wasn't fair. Perris Auto Speedway is as safe as any racing facility can be. It is racing, a dangerous sport, and things happen. We can't look back now, we must go forward, as I am sure they would want us to.
Paul and Helen were financial supporters for many special SCRA events, including the Wagsdash and the Kindoll Classic, where additional money was raised to pump the purse. They loved racing and went to enjoy themselves, seldom missing a race. They had a smile for everyone and were a welcome presence in the pits. This loss is shared by everyone in the racing community. Our prayers go out to the family and all who knew them. May they rest in peace.
Jack Dearmond Jr, least we forget about the driver, has a broken back, broken neck and some cracked ribs. After surgery, he will be in a halo for about 3 months. The crash was not is fault, but he will pay for the horrendous crash with his injuries. Jack was shielded from the results of his crash until the police informed him. He did not take it well, as you can imagine. He is in for a long recovery, physical and mental, and needs your thoughts and prayers.
There is no other news worth talking about, so see you all at Ventura on Saturday. Lets pack the place to honor and remember Jeff, Paul and Helen properly.