Steve Kellogg came to Holland Motorsports Complex on Saturday to help his friend John Nelson man the front-stretch starter’s stand and handle the flagging duties for the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour Holland 100. Kellogg did more than that, coming to Nelson’s aid in a time of extreme need.
In one of the scariest incidents in Holland history, a two-car accident caused the Modified of Patrick Emerling to climb the wall and strike the front-stretch starter’s stand with Nelson and Kellogg on it. The stand, along with about 25 yards of catch fence from the stand down through the front stretch, was heavily damaged.
Nelson, who was waving the checkered flag, appeared to be falling toward the track below but Kellogg reached over and pulled him back, preventing a dangerous fall. Despite the damage to the starter’s stand and the surrounding catch fence, no one was seriously injured.
“All I know is that John was waving the double checkered flags at the end of the race and I just heard a big bang and looked at John and he was going down and I grabbed him. It was instinct; that’s all it was,” said Kellogg.
The drama began on the last of the 100 laps of the Holland 100, as leader Pete Brittain crossed the line to apparently beat a closely trailing Matt Hirschman. Brittain would later be disqualified for an altered tire, handing the win officially to Hirschman.
Meanwhile, Andy Jankowiak and Emerling were racing for third place. As the pair approached the checkered flag, side by side, they tangled with both going airborne. Emerling went into the catch fence and struck the starter’s stand, while Jankowiak spun toward the infield. In the aftermath, the two cars came to a stop just past the flag stand with severe damage.
Immediately, several Holland safety workers, officials, track security and emergency medical personnel came to the flag stand area to assist Nelson and the two drivers and to keep the spectators away from the accident scene. No spectator injuries were reported.
The remainder of the race program, which included the NASCAR Late Models and the NASCAR Pro Modifieds, could not be run due to the damage.
A few minutes after the incident, Nelson, who was alert, was placed on a backboard for precautionary measures and taken to a nearby hospital. The last report is that he needed a few stitches but was otherwise OK.
Nelson serves many roles in the sport. He is not only an ROC official but also works for DIRTcar on the DIRTcar 358 Modified Super DIRT Series. He formerly served as race director at Elegant Builders Raceway Park in Lancaster.
Kellogg is a veteran official at various speedways who is also a columnist for the New Jersey-based Area Auto Racing News.
“I have been on the flag stand several times over the years at various tracks but after tonight I just made up my mind that I’m never doing it again,” said Kellogg. “They called me and asked me to help out tonight and this is the first night that John and I ever worked together. He’s fine with just a few cuts and bruises.”
The accident was a tough way for the race to end for both Jankowiak and Emerling. They had different views about how their accident began.
Jankowiak “just went full throttle and bumped me in the corner and then we went onto the straightaway and instead of going straight he just turns right and climbs me up into the wall and junks the car,” said Emerling. “Now there’s nothing left of it.”
“I saw a hole there and I went for it,” countered Jankowiak. “I felt like I came off of the corner low and I gave him a little bump in the corner.
“He gave me another shot in the right rear when we got on the straightaway and it sent my car right and I couldn’t get off him. I hate that it happened. We were both racing hard. I’m just glad that the starter, John Nelson, is going to be OK. He’s a good friend, we all love him and that’s where my mind is. It was a good race. It was a bummer to end the day like that.”
Jankowiak was credited with a second-place finish and Emerling with a third in the Holland 100, according to Holland officials. Emerling is an up-and-coming driver who also competes on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Jankowiak is a rookie in the Modified division; he had success in a Sportsman the last few seasons.
The day began in trying fashion for Jankowiak. He hit the wall in practice and had to make repairs but was able to finish third in his heat race.
An hour after the race, Holland General Manager Tim Bennett spoke about the last-lap incident.
“I was very proud of our group here tonight,” said Bennett of his staff. “They assisted on the scene the way they should and I’m glad that John will be OK. We’re going to rebuild the damaged area this week and have double features for those two divisions next week.”
Saturday’s incident was the second in the track’s 54 years involving the front-stretch starter’s stand. Several seasons ago, former Holland chief starter Dave Sutton was knocked out of the stand when it was struck by driver Jack Gentner. Sutton suffered a broken femur.
The good news Saturday at Holland was the arrival of 24 ROC asphalt Modifieds, up from the 16 that came for the 100-lapper last season. Two Sportsman cars, driven by Kevin Miller and Ed Weber, ran with the Modifieds to bring the Holland 100 starting field to 26 cars.