Story by Steven Ovens / Photo by Racing New York (Ray Hendershot 11B) – David Ragan’s win at Talladega for Front Row Motorsports. Brian Vickers overcomes personal and professional strife to return to Victory Lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and solidifies his place at MWR with a full-time ride in the Aaron’s Dream Machine for 2014. Ryan Newman, knowing that he currently does not have a ride for 2014, winning the Brickyard 400 at arguably the most famous oval track in America in his home state of Indiana.
These are all examples of feel-good and comeback stories of 2013 in the NASCAR world. Stories that companies like Disney base movies from and make hundreds of millions of dollars. But sometimes the best of these stories take place on the short tracks across America every Friday and Saturday nights, right in our own back yards.
For drivers Paul Guererri, Gil Tegg and Ray Hendershot, the 2013 race season will be one that they will remember for years to come. Each of these drivers, teams and families have overcome physical and mental strife and laid it down at the doorsteps of the Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Some of them have used it as motivation to produce results on the track. For others, just being on the racetrack over the course of 3-4 hours each weekend feels like a victory.
The beginning of 2012 started to shape up like any other race season for Big Block Modified competitor Gil Tegg Jr. The Rochester, NY native planned to run a full season with the stout competition that rolls through the gates of the fast half-mile in Canandaigua, NY. But before Tegg’s 2012 season had a chance to lift off, he suffered a major health setback.
Tegg was riding a motorcycle and suffered a traffic accident. The accident left him with a severely broken right arm, nerve damage to the right arm, a fracture in his neck and alterations of his vision. “It was the toughest thing I’ve ever been through. The rehab on the arm is the toughest part. The neck rehab- you keep a brace on and it heals back up. But the arm was constantly going to therapy and getting in the gym to strengthen the arm and hand back up.”
Simple tasks that we all take for granted became challenges and required Gil to move in with his father. “Things like washing your hair and shaving all became activities that I needed help with. I lived with my dad for almost 2 months. But my mom, dad and sister were all there for me 24/7 and I will never be able to thank them enough for that.”
Even though he suffered a broken neck and laid in a hospital bed being tended to by the best doctors in Western New York, Tegg’s thoughts shifted to whether he would ever race a Dirt Modified again. “I was in the hospital for almost 10 days and one of the first questions I asked the doctor was ‘Will I be able to race again?’ He looked at me like I was crazy, but I definitely thought about that first off.”
This question would be quickly answered as the 2013 kicked off at the track that has become known to locals as “The Land of Legends.” April and May were a struggle, as Gil now needed to relearn how to drive his 800 horsepower Troyer chassis around the fast Ontario County clay. He struggled with vision, which was slightly altered after the accident on his bike. He now wears glasses which help correct his vision. His right arm, now weakened from the accident, continues to improve every time he sits in the racecar. “It was pretty humbling. I had a problem with my vision and I wasn’t sure how that was going to go. Every time I went out I got more comfortable. I felt like I was going to be okay to keep on going forward.”
But on June 15th, everything clicked. Tegg survived a late race restart and was able to reel in his first 35-Lap Modified win in 17 years at CMP. “It was unbelievable.” But just like his recovery from the motorcycle crash, this win didn’t come easy. “I had to cross the scale 3 times because the scales were not lined up correctly. It was a period of 3 minutes that felt more like 3 hours.”
After all the struggle of the accident, the rehab, living with his dad for 2 months- it was all worth it for Tegg to win again at home. “When I pulled back on the track, I could see all the fans standing up and could hear them cheering. It was really special.”
Racing is something Tegg wants to continue to do because of how much fun he has with his family and fellow competitors. “I know I don’t have a resume like ‘Barefoot’ Bob McCreadie or Alan Johnson, but to gain the respect of all the drivers means a lot to me. I’d love to have a bunch of wins, but I’ve had just as much fun with the wins we do have.”
Another great story to come out of Canandaigua this year was a popular win in their Sportsman Modified division. Paul Guererri and his sponsor ‘Gevo’s Rears and Gears’ has long been a staple at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
The statistics on Guererri speak for themselves. He is a 2-time track champion and is the all-time CMP leader in Sportsman victories with 34. The next closest driver in victories has 22. “This has been our home track since 1994. It’s like a family reunion every Saturday. I have cousins and uncles in the sport now and even my kids are getting into it. My son just sat down in a go-kart at Paradise Speedway a few weeks ago.”
The Guererri Motorsports and Giovannini families (owners of Gevo’s) suffered an unexpected loss the week of June 22nd’s racing activity. Barbara Giovannini, wife of John “Gevo” Giovannini, passed away on June 18th. Although Gevo spent this race weekend with family grieving the untimely loss of his wife, Paul was at Canandaigua Motorsports Park trying to give his longtime sponsor something uplifting.
On June 22nd, “that was the same day as the funeral. We were all there together and before we left I told Gevo that I was going to call him later and have a trophy for him.”
But just driving to CMP and getting a win was going to be a very tall task for the driver of the #7. They struggled mightily all year long no matter what track they ran. “It was bad the beginning of the year almost to the point where I was ready to give it all up. We tore the car all apart after a wreck and put it back together. When we put it back together we found something, and have been going pretty good ever since then.”
Paul ran a nearly flawless race, taking the lead on lap 6. It wasn’t until the last 8 laps of the feature that the drama-meter started to peg for Guererri. “I saw the tire was flat for 8 laps and it was off the rim for the last 4 laps of the race.”
Guererri had visions of his storybook victory slipping away from him and the Guererri Motorsports team, but he knew pulling off the speedway was not an option. That’s not what he showed up at the racetrack to do on that night. Guererri was on a mission.
Drivers often look at the lap counter but for Guererri, “”that was the only race I ever looked at the lap counter.”
The fairytale came true for this team on that night. He pulled down the popular victory even with a flat left front tire and dedicated the win to Gevo and family in Victory Lane. Most thought that this is where that storyline would come to an end.
But on June 25th, just 3 short days after his memorable win, Paul Guererri and the rest of the Sportsman field returned to CMP to fill the card with the World of Outlaws Late Models.
This time, Gevo and daughter were in the pit area supporting their driver as they have for so many years before their family tragedy. And on this night, Guererri would park his No. 7 in Victory Lane again. During his interview, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. “That was even better because (Gevo) and his daughter were there with us and got to take pictures in Victory Lane together.”
2013 will be a year that Paul, Gevo, their families and the race team will remember for both good and bad reasons. But through the tragedy, this team carries on and continues to get stronger as the season starts to wind down. The chase for the 2013 championship is on, and Paul sits only 57 points behind the point leader. We will follow this story on RaceChaser and keep you up to speed as the 2013 CMP season comes to a close.
The last driver who has overcome personal challenges by racing in 2013 is our new friend Ray Hendershot. What a great guy to talk to about racing. This guy lives and breathes short track racing, and has returned to the central New York dirt in 2013 after a 37 year layoff.
Hendershot’s story started in the 70’s at the then-named ‘Canandaigua Speedway’. His grandfather Bruno owned a modified and encouraged Ray to come out and help with the car on the family farm and join them weekly at the track.
“My grandfather had a modified that ran the DIRT circuit. They ran Rolling Wheels on Fridays, Canandaigua Saturdays and Weedsport on Sundays. I kept begging my grandfather to let me drive and he finally gave in.”
This weekly tour was one that most on the dirt circuit followed. I personally can remember numerous stories from my dad when he followed the Mr. DIRT Street Stock series running Dundee Raceway Fridays, Canandaigua Saturdays and Weedsport ( now Cayuga County Fair Speedway) on Sunday nights. These tracks made up a large cross-section of the Mr. DIRT championship for home track points.
For Hendershot, the thrill of racing lasted only 2 years. “I raced a total of 2 years and won the Rookie of the Year from Canandaigua Speedway in 1975. After that year, I had to step away in 1976 due to some off the track issues.”
Hendershot took almost 36 years off before having the idea of racing pop backup onto his radar. He also in that break was diagnosed with cancer. First with melanoma in an area of his arm, then followed by 3 spots a short time later in very peculiar places- such as his pulmonary artery. Ray underwent surgery in the early 2000’s before the cancer returned again in 2011-2012. This time it returned as a Stage IV melanoma, requiring Ray to take oral Chemotherapy every day to keep fighting off the cancer.
Even though he had to start his fight against cancer again, Hendershot looks at it with a glass half-full.
“I’m not afraid to explain my disease and I truly want to be an ambassador for skin cancer. I think the more I tell my story, the better the chance is for someone out there to catch skin cancer early on and get it taken care of.”
But the truth of Ray’s disease is that his time is not guaranteed. He wakes up every morning and feels as though he has another opportunity to live a full life each and every day. “You have to say to yourself ‘Take every day’s opportunity and live it to the fullest’. You can’t change the past. Don’t second guess yourself and you can’t do the ‘Woulda, Coulda, Shouldas’.”
This thought process reignited Ray’s love for racing. A friend of his from work drove a Midstate Vintage Car and traveled the NY/PA circuit. But traveling long distances wasn’t what Ray wanted. He wanted to come back home to Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Speaking of his return to CMP, “This has been an experience that I will always treasure for the rest of my life.”
Not only has Ray returned…he has returned and is winning. He got his first A-Main feature win back on May 4th, which was something he had waited 39 years to secure.
“Other than the birth of my two daughters, my first feature win will go down as the third best moment of my life. A couple tears came down my face as we pulled into Victory Lane. I said a little prayer to my grandfather Bruno and said ‘I think you would be proud of me grandpa. I think you would be proud of me’.”
Hendershot since then has reeled off two more wins in the New Legends Sportsman division- a Sportsman rookie class designed to give drivers seat time before moving up to the Sportsman Modified division.
But before Ray could think about moving up to the regular class, now that he got his 3rd feature win, he was given some unfortunate news.
Ray shared the news that his cancer has once again appeared. He shared it with us at RaceChaser, his fans and his many friends via his Facebook page just this week:
“We’re going to fight and be around for awhile. I’m having the time of my life racing again and I want to thank all at CMP for becoming my friend. Plus, I have 1 goal left and that’s to win a sportsman race. If I don’t accomplish this, I’ll take in it’s place the friendship that have been created and the acknowledgement from racers and fans that after 37 years I can still drive a race car. “
And drive Ray Hendershot can. I asked Ray what he wanted his legacy someday to be. Without hesitation, Ray answered, “”I want people to remember me as a Sportsman. Somebody who wanted to come back after 37 years and re-learn the sport as it is in the modern era. I was out there to have a good time and had a goal of not disrupting anybody.”
Those words come from courage and come from a place he has been to before and will travel to again. Good luck to you Ray, I’m proud to call you a new friend.