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Driver Still Critical, but Course Worker Improves at Daytona

February 13, 1990|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Race driver Julius (Slick) Johnson remained hospitalized with critical injuries and course worker Mike Staley was improved Monday, as NASCAR officials attempted to piece together circumstances that led to the accidents in the ARCA 200 stock car race.

Johnson, 41, a part-time racer from Florence, S.C., is in intensive care at Halifax Medical Center, where he is on a respirator and receiving medication to maintain his blood pressure. He suffered a basal skull fracture and a crushed chest in an accident four laps from the end of the 80-lap race Sunday.

Moments later, in a chainreaction incident triggered by--but not a part of--Johnson's crash, Staley, 35, was tossed into the air like a rag doll when he was hit while trying to help a driver whose car had spun to a stop in the infield.

Staley, a lieutenant in the neighboring Port Orange Fire Dept., has been a member of Daytona International Raceway's emergency crew for 10 years. He is also in intensive care at Halifax after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his left forearm.

"I was extremely pleased with the reconstructive surgery we performed on Mr. Staley's arm," said Dr. Albert Gillespie of the Halifax staff. "He is alert and is already on a rehabilitation program."

Doctors also took X-rays of Staley's neck and spinal cord, which proved negative. He also suffered a small fracture of a bone in his leg which will require a brace for a short time.

Johnson's condition late Monday was "neither improved nor deteriorated," a hospital spokeswoman said.

Julius Johnson, who signs his ARCA license as Slick, was in the midst of a comeback after recovering from a serious crash in 1988 at Concord (N.C.) Speedway.

He started in the 50th and last position Sunday in a backup car, a Pontiac Grand Prix, after his original car had been demolished in a crash during practice on Saturday. Johnson was not hurt in that accident.

The 200-mile race for late model stock cars was the season opener for the Automobile Racing Club of America. It had already had six accidents, one of them involving 10 cars, when Johnson's car broke loose between the third and fourth turns and slid sideways into a pack of cars still closely bunched after a restart prompted by a caution period only a lap earlier.

Videotapes show Johnson's car was hit first by David Simko's car, which spun him up into the outside wall and then down into the path of a second car. As Johnson's Pontiac slowed to a near stop, it was rammed on the driver's side by a third car.

Seven cars were scattered along the track in the chain reaction.

"The 95 car (of Johnson) lost it in (turns) three and four, got down on the apron and shot back up the track," said Simko, of Clarkston, Mich. "There was so much smoke everywhere, I didn't know where to go. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

That brought out the caution flag and pace car driver Elmo Langley prepared to pick up the leader, Jimmy Horton, of Hammonton, N.J., who won the race under the caution flag three laps later. During a caution period, laps are run at about 65 m.p.h., compared to the 180 m.p.h. at which the cars had been running under the green flag.

When caution lights went on and the pack had passed the accident scene, emergency crews made their way to the disabled racers.

Staley rushed to the side of Kevin Gundaker's car, which had stopped in the infield grass. He was talking with Gundaker when the second part of the accident occurred.

Bob Keselowski, the defending ARCA Permatex champion from Rochester Hills, Mich., was in the middle of another closely packed group, well behind the leaders, who had slowed down, when his Chevrolet apparently was tapped from behind. That sent him spinning toward Gundaker's car and when he slammed into the side of the stopped car, the impact knocked Staley eight feet into the air. He landed 25 feet away.

Keselowski's car, still ricocheting after hitting Gundaker's, then rolled partially over Staley. That apparently was how he suffered his left arm injuries.

"The cars didn't slow down as much as ARCA would have liked them to," said Bob Loga, competition director for the Midwestern racing organization. "They were on the caution but didn't look like it."

Johnson and Staley were air-lifted to the medical center by helicopter.

Keselowski and Gundaker, of Maryland Heights, Mo., were also hospitalized briefly. Keselowski was treated for an injured leg, and Gundaker was X-rayed after complaining of back pains. They were released Sunday evening.

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