As much as race car drivers are protected, cinched tight by a five-point harness inside a unique cockpit of custom tubing, the sport is dangerous.
The saying goes, “Racers are safer going 125 mph and battling wheel to wheel only inches apart on the race track than the average person going 65 mph on the freeway.” Maybe that is true in comparison to crashes and maybe it isn’t, but an undeniable truth is that every time a driver straps in, he or she is risking death.
Peter Murphy and those closest to him swallowed that pill in July 2013 when the Australian winged sprint car driver nearly died following a vicious crash at a dirt oval in his home state of California.
“I don’t have any memory of that night,” Murphy said. “I don’t have any memory from eight or nine weeks after. I got hit in the head by another car. I was running second to (Jonathan) Allard and got tangled by a lapped car. Another car got in the cage and hit me in the head. It took them five minutes to find my pulse.
“It was a big deal when we crashed. There are not too many people who get airlifted from a track and live. The doctors told me I can’t race anymore because if I get hit in the head again, even a simple hit would end everything. It was a long process. I had to learn how to have a shower. I had to learn to tell time. I had to learn so many things again. I had to learn mathematics. I had to learn how to walk.”
The unnerving incident ended Murphy’s 25-year racing career. In addition to relearning some of the simplicities of life, Murphy had to adjust where his passion of racing fit into his new plan.
“By October or November, I went to a race,” he said. “I went to a race at Tulare and I figured I could roll in there and nobody would know I was there. It took me an hour to walk a bloody 100 feet.
“The Scelzi family got me to come and mentor Dominic a bit. I was helping with the setups. They helped me a lot to get me going that very next year. I couldn’t bend over so I couldn’t work on the car, but I could tell them what I thought.”
Murphy has tried a little bit of everything involved with racing and he found an interest in promoting.
He signed a five-year lease to be the promoter at Keller Auto Speedway in Hanford, Calif., prior to the 2020 season.
“I got it at the prime time to get a race track and get shut down with the way the world is rolling,” Murphy quipped. “Once we get through this, it will be golden.
“I’ve got a lot of people that back me up, a lot of partners that help. They want to see sprint car racing survive. In California it’s hard to do anything in normal life. We paid all our bills last year, so I believe we were successful.”
Murphy is part of a growing list of former drivers who have hung up the helmet in favor of a promoter’s cap. One of the newest to join the club is Shane Stewart, a winner of 36 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series features.
Stewart and longtime racing supporter Kevin Rudeen purchased Oklahoma’s Port City Raceway in January.
This marks the first time that Stewart will be a promoter and it’s a big change from his routine of driving.
“I think I’m done done,” he said. “The thing is I’m super competitive and I don’t feel like I can be competitive if I jump into a car once or twice a year. Those one or two races I could possibly jump in are really big-paying races. I don’t feel like I could be competitive doing that. I’m content right now just concentrating on the race track. This is a huge step for myself and my family. There is so much that goes into preparing a race track from year to year. We’ve been blessed to have Mike and Megan Eubanks, the previous owners, sticking around and helping us.”
A little more than two decades earlier fellow Oklahoman Tommie Estes Jr. made a similar move by ending his 23-year racing career and turning toward race promotion.
“I was through driving,” he said. “I was worn out driving. The last seven years I raced for people I had to do all the maintenance on the car, mounting tires and washing.
“Toward the end of my career I wanted to be involved in racing somehow, someway. It just happened the week after I decided to quit racing Emmett (Hahn) at ASCS had a job open up for a scheduling person. It wasn’t race directing, just work in the office and go home, doing the scheduling. I thought I’ll do that because it keeps me involved in the racing.”
Estes was on the road within a year as the series director, overseeing the ASCS National Tour and the several regional series. Approximately a dozen years later, Estes left ASCS and landed a high-profile gig as the promoter at Dodge City (Kan.) Raceway Park.
“When I left ASCS in March of 2011 I had nowhere to go,” he said. “I didn’t have that job lined up at Dodge or anything. I’d asked Emmett for a raise at the end of 2010. He said, ‘I can’t.’ And I said, ‘You have to understand I can’t do this anymore.’ I got Matt (Ward) going the first part of 2011 and I didn’t have the Dodge deal at that time. The day after I left ASCS, I got a call.
“It got a whole lot easier for me. Being a series director you have to deal with 30 or 40 promoters and other events around the country. When I started doing Dodge, they were calling me and I could say we can do it on this date.”
Last year, Estes stepped aside from Dodge City Raceway Park. A few months later he was announced as the new dirt track manager at the revamped I-70 Motorsports Park in Odessa, Mo.
“When I left Dodge City, I didn’t have this on my radar,” he said. “I started a trophy business (because) I was giving away 13 a weekend (at Dodge City Raceway Park). I bought me a shop to put all my trophy stuff in. Brian Brown had the guy who owned I-70 give me a call. I respectfully declined. We had another conversation a few days later. I told him I’d come up and visit with him.
“I raced here in the ’80s. It was a big five-eighths deal. When I left, I still had no intention of doing this. On Dec. 31 about 5 o’clock, I took the job.”
With Estes changing venues, it allowed Craig Dollansky, who is tied for 12th on the World of Outlaws victory list with 66 triumphs, to sign a lease to promote Dodge City Raceway Park.
“It was something I had my eye on for a few years,” Dollansky said. “Once it opened up, I pursued it and signed a five-year contract. My wife (Julie) is very much involved and doing a great job. I was born in Kansas. We like where it’s at.”
Dollansky, whose father was in the military, was born in Junction City, Kan. His family moved soon after, but he triumphantly returned when he captured a World of Outlaws victory at Dodge City Raceway Park in July 2011 during a time when he was racing as a full-time Outlaw while also dabbling in event promotion.
Dollansky and his family promoted World of Outlaws events at Princeton (Minn.) Speedway and Clay County Fair Speedway in Spencer, Iowa, for several years before shifting the focus back to driving for the remainder of his career.
“The only reason we stopped was it was very difficult to be a competitor on the tour and doing events,” he said. “Once my racing career was over, it’s something I enjoy and have a passion for.
“From managing race teams and we’ve had different businesses along the way, it’s about key people being assembled. Julie and myself will be hands-on. We have a great team coming together.”
Dollansky notes he is focused on unique, outside-the-box promotional ideas.
“You learn a lot throughout your career as a driver,” he said. “We learned a lot of different things here in the U.S., but also in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“We have a good schedule with a variety of events. We have flat track motorcycles, our weekly racing, a tractor pull. We have some two-day special events for our sprint cars and modifieds, things of that nature. I’m a fan of all motorsports.”