I was severely injured at the Knoxville Raceway on June 30, 2012. Another car broke through the cockpit of my car and shattered by elbow,...
Jamie Ball

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Racers Take Care of Their Families

Racers Take Care of Their Families

Racing has always been about families. It is the cornerstone of grassroots racing, and many times, it is the mom that takes on the role of being the leader, the strong one – the one to lead the family through times of crisis.
We’ve been lucky enough to know many racing matriarchs in our lifetime – Verda Johnson, who raised four children and saw her husband Jon through multiple injuries in including two extended stays in burn centers, and Joyce Ochs – who also raised four amazing boys who follow in their late father’s footsteps keeping a sprint car on track in southwest Kansas.
And then, there is Naomi King. We didn’t know Naomi well when we were growing up, but the King family was a staple in the pit areas of Southwest Kansas dirt tracks where we spent our Saturday nights. They were by extension part of our racing family. King is the ultimate racing matriarch. She suffered an unimaginable loss when her son, Steve, died of injuries suffered in a crash during the 206 Knoxville Nationals. No one would have blamed her if she’d left the race track and never came back.
Instead, King with the help of her husband Danny, daughter Danette Amstein and lots of friends started the Steve King Foundation. They turned their grief and loss into something beautiful – helping racing families heal and a wonderful way to honor their beloved son.
The foundation was set up to assist drivers, crew members and officials who are injured during dirt-track racing. In 10 years, the SKF has given out more than $300,000 in assistance the toughest job – she is the one who reaches out to families in some of their darkest times.
“My mom has the biggest heart, she is the only one that really takes on the very difficult task, especially when there is a death involved, of talking to the family and trying to minister to their needs,” said Amstein. “Because my mom’s faith is so strong – I think God has given her the gift to help others in their worst moments and the foundation has become one of the channels of which she can do that.”
Going to the track together has been the King family tradition for 40 years, and getting back there helped the entire family heal. It was something Naomi instinctively knew.
“My dad didn’t have a car the next year. I think it was May 2007; mom loaded him up and said we are going to the race track. You need your family. That was probably the very best thing she could have done because as hard as it was, those are the people we’ve been around for 40 years,” Amstein shared. “You’ve got your racing family. They welcomed him back with open arms and it was a good thing to be with them. You can compete on the track but in the pits and anywhere else – you can take care of each other. And that is what my dad needed to heal.”
Going back to the track or racing hasn’t always been easy, and it was especially difficult in the fall of 2006 when NCMA posthumously honored Steve King at its 2006 banquet.
“There were some really hard things. That was difficult. But at the same time, they were choosing to honor him, and that was a special moment I think it is still hard – and I guess it won’t ever be easy – but it would be much harder to stay away from the track because you’ve given up a huge chunk of your life.”
The work of the foundation has its challenge with some cases being more difficult than others. Jeff Shepard’s head injury at the Knoxville Nationals in 2007 was particularly difficult.
“It was a hard, hard story because of how raw we were at the time and his injury was similar to Steve’s,” Amstein explained. “He was at the same hospital. Unfortunately, he had the same conundrum that many drivers face when they are injured far from home. The doctor said, ‘we’ll release you but you can’t get in ca car or an RV and you can’t fly home.’ Home was Maryland for him, and it took an air ambulance to get him home. We were young and had no funds but we got the word out and within 48 hours, we had raised almost $20,000 needed to get him home. It was emotionally raw for us, but it was also rewarding to watch him heal.”
Amstein said it is her family’s faith that has allowed them to heal from their loss. “My brother and I had a great relationship, and while we didn’t anticipate a goodbye, we all knew where we stood with each other. My piece of advice is to say what you need to say to family members, tell them that you love them, be open and honest with them so that if one of them is called home before you think it is time for them, you aren’t left wishing things could be said. We are fortunate to not live with any regret.”
The King family has proven the dirt-track racing community is one big family, and they take care of family.

Article Credit: Speed Sport - Haven Kerchner


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