FORT WAYNE — Family. That is the word most frequently used to describe the relationship among drivers Blaine Miller, Jeff Shelmadine and the rest of the racing community at Baer Field Speedway.
A tribute was held Saturday night at the track for the two men who died in a crash on Interstate 69 Thursday while repairing a broken-down semi. Miller was Shelmadine’s grandfather.
“We’re missing two members of our family tonight,” Baer Speedway spokesman Bob Koorsen said. “We’re spending tonight doing what they loved to do.”
Before the first race, Koorsen addressed the crowd over the loudspeaker and explained the importance of the night.
“Tonight was supposed to be just another Saturday night of racing. Just another day on the calendar,” Koorsen said, “but Thursday, that all changed.”
With the flags flying at half staff, a moment of silence was held in honor of the fallen drivers, followed by the playing of taps.
Bobby Smith, Shelmandine’s mentor at the track, led a ceremonial parade around the track in Shelmandine’s No. 71 car during the playing of the national anthem.
For some drivers, the tribute at Saturday night’s races brought them to Baer Field when they would have normally been racing elsewhere. Other drivers had their own special tributes: one driver renumbered his car (71x), another had Shelmandine’s name on the roof, and others had stickers in the drivers’ memory.
For other drivers, however, Thursday’s events were still too fresh in their minds.
“Part of the family is gone,” said Sheryl Laisure, mother of driver Jeremy Wallen.
“My son has declined to race tonight because of it.”
The deaths not only affected the drivers but other workers at Baer Field Speedway.
Michael McIntyre has been a program manager for the Go-Karts and race videos since 2010.
“The biggest thing about this week’s events is that it wasn’t racing related,” McIntyre said. “There is always danger lurking in racing, but it wasn’t at the track. Blaine and Jeff, they were doing their 9-to-5 job.”
Miller, 65, and Shelmadine, 19, left their mark on Baer Speedway and the sport in Fort Wayne.
Miller was a well-established car owner for drivers including Dave Bice, Steve Christman, Bobby Blount, Brian Ross and “Chargin’ Charlie” Glotzbach.
Shelmadine, a North Side graduate, won the 2009 front wheel-drive track championship and was runner-up in 2010 to Smith. Shelmadine had won four straight street stock features at Angola Motorsports Speedway this season.
“The sport will not be the same in the city,” Koorsen said. “Miller strove for excellence in all ways when it came to his cars. He surrounded himself with the best mechanical knowledge, and others felt honored to work with him.
“If the driver could live up to the quality of Miller’s vehicle, they would be up front. Miller came to the race track to win, and that’s what he did.”