Saturday's Rollie Beale 150 at Toledo Speedway serves as the season finale for the United States Auto Club (USAC) Silver Crown Series, and even amid a championship race in which the top two drivers are separated by just a single point, another storyline from the historic 40-year national tour is ruling the motorsports landscape.
Shane Hmiel, who is fifth in the series points standings, sustained critical, life-threatening injuries last Saturday at Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track when his No. 17 car slammed into the outside wall between the third and fourth turns and rolled over several times, damaging the protective roll cage. Hmiel was attempting a qualifying lap for that evening's Silver Crown race.
Hmiel has made progress throughout the week, following several surgeries at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Initially in a fight for his life, Hmiel has responded to commands by moving both arms. Doctors remain guarded, as Hmiel suffered fractures of both the neck and back.
"When you strap on a helmet and flip the switch, it could be your last ride. That's part of this business. If you're worried about getting hurt, it's not the place to be," said Brian Tyler, who is eighth in series points. "It was a freak accident - could happen to anyone of us. This sport is a lot safer these days, but it's still dangerous. You look at it, take a deep breath, say a prayer, and go do your job."
A.J. Fike, who is sixth in the standings, spoke positively about Hmiel, his incident, and his character.
"I actually went out to qualify right before he did," Fike said. "I didn't see the wreck, but I knew it was bad. I'm glad he's alive and I hope he can make a full recovery. You've got to go back on the track, but it's kind of hard not to think about it.
"Shane's a great guy and a great driver, and he's one that you can trust out there on the track."
Fike is confident that the half-mile Toledo track will make for an interesting 150-lap race.
"Toledo's a fun track to run. We've had the chance to run it before, and I think this'll be a better show than in the Midgets and the Sprints. I think we'll be able to get two-wide, and there will be more passing. I think it'll be a good show, and at 150 laps, we'll have to take care of the right rear tire," Fike said.
The ticket office and spectator gates are scheduled to open at noon Saturday, with practice beginning at that time. Time trials begin at 2 p.m., and the USAC Regional Midget Series heats begin at 3. Named for the 1973 USAC Sprint Car champion, the Rollie Beale 150 will close the day and end the 2010 season at Toledo Speedway.
For Tyler, the chance to race in an event named for Beale - a Toledo native - is truly notable.
"It's especially neat because it's got Rollie Beale's name on it. I've been around long enough to know him. I never raced against him but I saw him race. He's a great champion and one of my heroes. To be associated with anything with Rollie Beale is a big deal. It makes the victory that much better. Someone's going to come out a winner, and hopefully I can be the first one," Tyler said.
Tickets are now on sale at Toledo Speedway for $20 in advance and $25 on Saturday. Cash, VISA, and MasterCard are accepted. The advance sale ends at 5 p.m. Friday.