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Tragedy at Thunderhill?

Old 10-13-04, 07:34 AM
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Unhappy Tragedy at Thunderhill?

I recieved an email off one of the mailing lists yesterday. Apparently there were 2 fatalities this past weekend at T-hill? One was driving an ITS 1st gen, the other a GTA car. It was during a practice session from what I understand. My condolences to the families of the drivers.
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Old 10-13-04, 10:15 AM
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I saw this somewhere else; this is not my writing:

2 drivers died today at Thill (unfortunately, I was one of only a handful of people to see it--2 other PDC'ers saw it as well) when Robert Smeltzer driving a GTA and another gentleman in a new generation RX7 collided just before reaching the braking zone in T14--the RX7 driver crashed, but was fine. I am not posting this as news, but because 2 good people died doing what we love and because there are things to be learned from this.

Robert was pushed onto the dirt on the left side of the track and shot across T14 to T8 at unabated speed (no slowing down on dirt and gravel). At what I would guess was close to 100mph, the GTA passed directly in front of a gentleman in another, but older generation RX7--the RX7 driver was also at full speed preparing to turn into T8. Robert shot directly in front on the RX7, and the Mazda driver died instantly. Robert's passenger side cage was pushed all the way into the middle of the cockpit.

The RX7 driver had nothing to do with the outcome of the accident--he found a huge and heavy V8 GTA car directly in front of him in T8. Robert was unable to stop a car careening across dirt and gravel at full speed, without scrubbing much if any of it off between T14 and T8.

According to the SM drivers, both broke their necks and smashed their helmets against their steering wheels. Both helmets were smashed in at their chins. Neither was wearing HANS devices.

The Thill EMT response was one of the worst I have ever seen, and proper medical attention was provided by 2 extraordinary Sped Miata drivers--Craig Evans and Tony Silva. The track safety response was extremely slow, and the corner workers had to be asked by the drivers to radio for help and an additional ambulance.

As this was a test day prior to an SCCA event, the track support and safety team was not the normal SCCA affair. With the SCCA crew in place, I have no doubt the response time would have been markedly improved.

I doubt that any EMT or safety crew could have done much if anything to save Robert--our SM drivers said that he had a faint pulse when the arrived. What worries me is that if any of were to have an accident on a test day at Thill, and our survival depended on a rapid response--well, the crew in general supporting the track today just scares me, and I'll leave it at that.

PDC friends--whether you are racing or driving a street car at DE events--PLEASE spend $1000 on a HANS. I can't say they would have kept either driver alive today--that would be speculation about a crash that was the worst I have ever seen at an SCCA event. Ever.

With a HANS, you can at least say that you have done everything possible to protect yourself and go home to your family at the end of a day or weekend of fun.

I used to work next door to Robert Smeltzer at Sears Point--he was a damn good guy, and incredible fabricator and mechanic at Huffaker ,at Tom Gloy's Trans-Am team, and one heck on a GT1/GTA driver. We also went through driver's school together.

F*ck. I love this sport--I have dedicated my life to it, but no matter how many times I have been witness to it, death at the racetrack is hard to accept.
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Old 10-13-04, 11:40 AM
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condolances to all the families........indeed a sad tragedy.......
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Old 10-13-04, 11:55 AM
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Terrible news. My condolences to the drivers' friends and families and to speedturn. I lost a cousin to an auto accident on the road and I can't imagine seeing it happen in front of you at a racetrack.

Many thanks to the Miata drivers who tried to help. I don't know what else to say. Be careful everyone.
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Old 10-13-04, 03:00 PM
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My condolences to the families and friends involved.

There was an accident at an SCCA Test Day over at Heartland Park earlier this year that claimed the life of a Porsche driver.

Be safe everyone.
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Old 10-13-04, 04:27 PM
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I'm very sorry to hear about this. A recreational day turned tragic. My condolences to all who knew these drivers.

I hope that someone is able to learn from this, and prevent this from happening again. I don't know about the layout of T-hill, but perhaps some sort of "soft" barrier should be built to keep cars from careening across the track, and winding up in on another section of the track.
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Old 10-13-04, 05:27 PM
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Yes, I've been following this as well. Good point's Speedturn. I think all us racers need to get side bolsters and a Hans type device. There are several on the market.

My condolences as well to both families.

Let's play safe.
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Old 10-14-04, 02:38 PM
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As I said at the top of my post, those were not my words. I copied that post off of our local car club forum. I don't know the name of the original writer, but I feel sorry for his loss that day.

A lot of good men have died on test days (like Mark Donahue.) The track people do not have full safety crews out on test days like they do on race days. I have run test days when me & my crew chief were the last ones to leave the track, and I was out turning laps as hard as I could. Safety wise, that was I pretty stupid thing I did, but I enjoyed doing it. I don't have a HANS device yet; the price has stopped me so far. I wear one of the ring type foam collars to limit my neck travel; but the HANS device is waaay better.
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Old 10-14-04, 09:28 PM
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Originally Posted by adam c
I don't know about the layout of T-hill, but perhaps some sort of "soft" barrier should be built to keep cars from careening across the track, and winding up in on another section of the track.
My sincerest condolences to all those who were affected by this tragic accident.

Adam is correct, in my opinion. Unfortunately, a set of circumstances came together that cause this to occur. There's not a whole lot of real estate between the turn 14 braking zone and the straight that leads to turn 8. The access road that forms the "west course" (like many new circuits, Thunderhill is configured so that it can be run in several setups to maximize the events that can be held there) has tire barriers to slow out of control vehicles, but the dirt does not. Because the two cars collided braking for turn 14, the GTA car was forced off the left side of the track into the dirt. As you can see from the attached photo, only the turn worker stand has a barrier; otherwise, it's a clean shot to the straight leading to turn 8 in the distance. There definitely needs to be a barrier put up in the dirt to keep vehicles from overshooting into the turn 8 straight.

I don't want this to appear like I'm pointing fingers regarding the two fatalities. Just saying that hopefully something will be done in the future to prevent it from happening again.
Attached Thumbnails Tragedy at Thunderhill?-t14-left.jpg  
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Old 10-15-04, 10:36 PM
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Old 05-18-19, 08:29 PM
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Robert Smeltzer

Robert was my friend. He was a great guy and an even better fabricator. I worked next door to him in Petaluma for many years. I still have a couple of things that he fabricated for me....a few things that he repaired for me and even one or two things that his twin brother gave me after his passing. I took it pretty hard since I saw him and his dog Maggie every day. I still have a pic that I took of him racing his Honda Pilot up next to my toolbox at work. I still miss the guy to this day.
I hope you are resting in peace Robert. You are still missed by many.
Your friend.
Steve
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Old 05-18-19, 11:42 PM
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Nice words
Are you still racing, Stephen?
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Old 05-19-19, 11:29 AM
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Originally Posted by gracer7-rx7 View Post
Nice words
Are you still racing, Stephen?
I wasn't a racer. But I regularly helped Robert prep or repair his car. I was a mechanic in the shop next door to "Precision Fabrication". His old shop on Ross street in Petaluma.
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