‘Racing is one big family’: Shockwaves from death of infield worker at Jacksonville felt at Adams County Speedway


QUINCY — Adams County Speedway officials acknowledged the track has added additional safety measures — with more to come — following a weekend tragedy at nearby Jacksonville Speedway.

Track operators Jim and Tammy Lieurance informed drivers, workers and fans alike Sunday night about immediate and upcoming changes following the death of longtime Jacksonville track employee Ralph Willhite on Friday night.

Willhite, 65, was struck and killed on the infield by a 410 winged sprint car that had lost control after its throttle had stuck. The driver of the sprint car was Jeff Beasley of Mahomet, Ill.

Another Jacksonville track worker, Hank Pollock, whose age was not available, was injured and remained hospitalized with what was termed a “serious” leg injury by Jacksonville promoter Kenny Dobson, who operated Adams County Speedway from 2014 through 2017.  

“We knew late Friday night something bad had happened, but not how bad,” Jim Lieurance said. “I was shaken because racing is one big family.”

Most of the added precautions at Adams County Speedway will keep fans farther away from potential hazardous locations near fencing that is close to the racing surface. Stricter regulations will also be enforced for infield track workers and others whose jobs require a closer proximity to the track.

Many of the new regulations were already in place for Sunday’s racing, with more to follow in the immediate future.

Allen Motley of Pittsfield, who is the flagman at the Quincy speedway and serves as race director at Jacksonville, was one of the first to reach Willhite.

“Terrible, just terrible,” Motley said. “What happened (at Jacksonville) could happen at any track.”

Motley said Wilhite was a friend.

“I knew him very well,” he said. “He was a great, great guy.” 

Dobson released the following information on social media Sunday evening:

“We are going to take the entire month of July off,” he said. “A lot of people just need time to heal — physically, mentally and spiritually. There’s zero reason to rush.

“We are going to take some time and reflect, rest … change a few things, and hopefully allow enough time for that amazing spirit to return — not just for us, but you as well.” 

Dobson said the Jacksonville track will tentatively reopen Aug. 9.

Late model driver Jason Perry of Payson, who has frequented the Jacksonville quarter-mile facility in the past, felt returning to the site would likely be difficult for many.

“I feel horrible for all that were involved,” he said. “It would be so tough to go back. No words can properly describe how I felt (when hearing about the incident).”

Modified driver Dave Wietholder has raced twice this year at Jacksonville. He said the Jacksonville track is similar to Quincy, although it’s a bit more “compact.”

Just a few hours before racing Sunday at Quincy, Wietholder was still trying to sort through what happened in Jacksonville.

“It … makes me sick,” Wietholder said.

Darin Weisinger Sr., a former racer who now serves as late model crew chief for his son, Darin Jr., saw a driver killed at the old track in Macomb in 2008.

“It’s something you never forget,” Weisinger said. “It leaves an empty feeling inside you. It’s a tragedy. A lot of lives will be affected.”

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