MINOOKA, Ill. — official series release — Nat’l Midget Driver of the Year photo —
Longtime UMARA and STARS midget competitor Patrick Wilda, Jr., 33, of Minooka died Friday due to injuries from a construction accident.
Wilda was regarded as a loving and caring family man, but also a strong foe on the racetrack. Three-time STARS champion and longtime friend Jim Anderson recalls Wilda as a fierce competitor who used an aggressive yet patient approach on the track.
“We never had any run-ins on the track, but he’d run you as tight and tough as anyone. A few of us have always joked that he’d be a perfect candidate for a tire test driver. He’d always have the car a half-step over the edge,” Anderson recalls.
Wilda began racing at the age of 9 in go-karts before moving to midgets when he turned 16, being named the 2004 UMARA Rookie of the Year. He captured the first three wins of his midget career in 2005 at Grundy County Speedway by winning the “Bob Lockard Memorial” and “Carter/Anderson Classic” races. These finishes led to a runner-up finish in the season points, and being named the series’ Most Popular Driver, along with winning the car owner’s championship. He also finished 3rd in points in 2006, 4th in 2007, and added a USAC Regional 10th place points finish in 2006.
After numerous top five and top ten finishes over the course of three years, Wilda finally broke through for his maiden STARS victory in his 31st start on September 14, 2013. Grundy County Speedway public address announcer Zach Tasker remembers this occasion fondly.
“The night of his first and only STARS win, the Night Before the 400 in 2013, he had to win an attrition filled race and hold off arguably the best driver there has ever been at Grundy County Speedway in a midget, Jim Anderson.” Tasker adds, “I was doing victory lane interviews that night, and after the checkered flag, as usual, I walked down the front straight into position. As I approached, I began to hear something, before Patrick had even unbuckled and got out of the car, I could hear huge screams of joy. It was one of the most joyous victory lane celebrations I have ever seen. You could tell how much he and his family had put into that win. It was almost like there was a weight lifted off his shoulders and he was relieved to get that win.”
Wilda ranks in the top 6 in STARS history in top 5’s, top 10’s, career starts, and fast qualifying times.
The Illinois driver was also a frequent midget competitor in the Rumble in Fort Wayne as well. Wilda had most recently competed in the 2013 Rumble, qualifying for the Saturday finale A-main by winning his heat but retiring early with problems, finishing 14th. In all, Wilda made two career A-main appearances, with his best finish in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum coming in 2006, when he finished 12th.
In 2014, Wilda drastically cut back his racing schedule and became engaged to his girlfriend, Samantha. After nearly 11 months away from midget racing, Wilda returned to STARS competition in August in strong fashion, finishing 3rd in what would be his last appearance at Grundy County.
Plans are underway for the D’Arcy GMC STARS National Midget Series to celebrate Wilda’s memory during the 2015 season, with details to be announced at a future date.
Visitation for Wilda will be Wednesday, February 4 from 2-9 p.m. at the Fred C. Dames Funeral Home in Joliet. Funeral services will take place Thursday, February 5, beginning at 9 a.m. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Kylie Rae Wilda Benefit Fund at Harris Bank, a college fund for Wilda’s niece. Donations will be accepted at any BMO Harris Bank location.
CREDIT: Short Track Auto Racing Series/Rumble Racing Series