Murto: Sprint car racing loses a legend

By Craig Murto

Regional racing lost a legend on Sunday when Sprint Car racer Kramer Williamson died as a result of injuries sustained Saturday night at Pennsylvania’s Lincoln Speedway.

Williamson was competing in a URC 360 Sprint when he flipped his car in turn two during the first heat race. He was airlifted to York Hospital’s trauma center. Doctors reportedly performed surgery to repair internal injuries, but Williamson died Sunday afternoon.

Famous for driving his “Pink Panther” No. 73, Williamson was simply known to fans and competitors as Kramer. He kept his age a secret (he was 63), but is on record as starting his racing career in 1968.

And he was a winner. A three-time URC champion, winner of multiple track championships, Kramer had wins in the 360 and 410 Sprint Cars, including victories with the World of Outlaws. He was inducted into the Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2008.

The spotlight is shining on the dangers of Sprint Car racing. Following Tony Stewart’s crash at Southern Iowa Speedway on Monday night — in which he broke his right leg in two places — as well as the recent death of Jason Leffler in a Sprint Car, the general public sees only the negative. But a lot of top racers learn valuable skills in Sprint Cars, due to the high horsepower-to-weight ratio.

Former Northwest Sprint Car racer Kasey Kahne won the Sprint Cup race at Pocono on Sunday, beating former Sprint Car racer Jeff Gordon on the final restart. Ryan Blaney, son of former Sprint Car regular Dave Blaney, proved to be aggressive enough to win the Camping World Truck Series race at Pocono, his second in the series.

Keep an eye on a young man named Cole Custer. The 15-year-old California native won the K&N Pro Series East/West combination race at Iowa Speedway over the weekend, becoming the youngest winner in series history.

Custer turned his first laps in a Quarter Midget behind Randy Lajoie’s shop in North Carolina. He went on to win a USAC National Focus Midget title at a young age, raced Sprint Cars, then turned to Late Models and at 14 won his very first start at I-10 Speedway in California.

It’s obvious Custer is one of these kids who arrived on the scene with a ton of money behind him. But he also has to drive the car — there are a lot of wealthy kids out there with mediocre talent filling the field. Custer has the ability to drive to the front; remember the name Cole Custer, he’ll be at the top soon as well.

Charlie Kimball proved he deserves to be at the top when he scored his first IndyCar win at Mid-Ohio Road Course. Kimball is the first Type-1 diabetic to be licensed to race in IndyCar, and the first to win a race.

Type-1 diabetes — also known as Juvenile Diabetes — is a condition in which your body does not produce insulin. Type-2 diabetes is really a different disease, in which your body cannot make full use of the insulin it produces. Type-1 diabetics are always insulin-dependant, so it’s fitting that an insulin manufacturer is Kimball’s sponsor. Kimball’s insulin levels are constantly monitored when he is racing.

Journalist Robin Miller stated on TV that the late Sprint Car champion Don Branson — who raced IndyCars for a couple of years in the early ’60s — also was diabetic, but kept it secret because he would not have been allowed to race. I could find no evidence to support Miller’s claim, though I’d believe he was correct because he is certainly knowledgeable and in contact with people in the sport. I suspect, however, that Branson was a type-2 diabetic, as that would be easier to conceal. Regardless, Branson never won an IndyCar race, so Kimball’s claim to be the first diabetic to win in the series is uncontested.

There will be plenty of contests at local racetracks this weekend, as long as the weather cooperates. Shenandoah Speedway will feature a 75-lap Late Model race Saturday night, whereas Winchester Speedway plays host to a 30-lap Super Late Model race and a special event for its Limited Late Model division.

Hagerstown Speedway features its Late Models for 35 laps in the 48th Annual Johnny Roberts Memorial. Roberts was a NASCAR Modified national champion who excelled on dirt and pavement. He was killed in 1965, driving a Modified owned by Bobby Ballantine at Lincoln Speedway.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.